Colombian Peace Talks Resume with Decisive Backing from the International Community

Feb. 25, 2015

As the Colombian government and the FARC-EP resumed their next round of talks in Havana today, they received a strong boost of support with the designation of Bernie Aronson as U.S. Special Envoy to the Colombian Peace Process.  He already has plans to meet with the parties in Havana during this round, which ends on March 7.

The announcement of Aronson’s  appointment came on Friday, Feb. 20.  In a midday press conference, Secretary of State John Kerry introduced Aronson, noting his distinguished diplomatic career in hemispheric affairs, and his role in helping to resolve the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua, for which he earned the State Department’s Distinguished Service Medal.  Aronson was former assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs from 1989-1993 under Presidents Bush and Clinton.  

The decision to appoint a special envoy to the peace process, according to Sec. Kerry, responded to a request by President Juan Manuel Santos last December.  Kerry noted, “After careful consideration, President Obama has come to the conclusion – which I share, needless to say – that first, while significant obstacles remain, a negotiated peace in Colombia is absolutely worth pursuing and absolutely worth assisting if we are able to; and second, as Colombia’s close friend and ally, the United States has a responsibility to do what it can in order to help Colombia to achieve that peace.”

Watch the press conference and view the announcement here:

President Santos was quick to express his appreciation for the appointment of the envoy, and for the prestige that Bernie Aronson brings to the job as a business man and as someone with experience related to peace processes. (See Santos’s statement here.)

The FARC, which has been calling for U.S. engagement in the peace process since the talks began, also welcomed the appointment.  In a statement released shortly after the announcement, the FARC-EP peace delegation sustained that a more direct role for the United States in the peace process is a “necessity,” given the “ongoing presence and impact of the United States in the political, economic and social life of Colombia.”  They noted that the United States can now “contribute to the establishment of social justice, real democracy, and the overcoming of inequality and misery, which is the way to open the certain path to peace.” (Read the communiqué here.)

Reactions in Colombia

Here in Bogota, U.S. ambassador Kevin Whitaker told me he thought Bernie Aronson was an “ideal” choice, given the strong bipartisan support he enjoys in the United States, his long-standing experience in the region, and his experience as a negotiator.  In the NGO community, there is a strong sense that this is a good move and it is understood as a bold statement of support for the peace process.  I announced the news as it was breaking to a meeting I was facilitating with our partners at the National Autonomous University of Bucaramanga of some 30 women mediators from 9 regions all around Colombia.  The women’s reactions were favorable.  They were nonetheless curious about who Aronson is and what the role of the special envoy might be.  In more than five decades of war and four peace processes with the FARC (and numerous others with other groups), this is the first time the U.S. has appointed a special envoy, a sign that the process is seen as solid and likely to produce results.  (The U.S. Institute of Peace published a special report on the role of special envoys that can be viewed here; view the program here.)

Most people I have talked to here seem to be pleased with the news.  The feeling is that the United States has been a strong support for the Colombian government in its execution of the war, and it should be a part of its solution.  Many hope that the appointment will send a message to exPresident Alvaro Uribe that the United States–both Republicans and Democrats– is no longer interested in a military solution to the conflict and is putting its full weight behind a diplomatic solution.

Issues at Stake

The issues that are on the table in this round of talks include some of the toughest yet to be encountered.  The solutions reached may require U.S. (and international) support.  At  stake, for one, is the fate of the insurgents following the signing of an accord.  FARC negotiators reiterated in the press this week their longstanding position that they would not negotiate their way into jail.  All of the FARC Secretariat have pending extradition orders.  There is understandable concern that they could be extradited to a U.S. jail, as were a dozen paramilitary leaders following their demobilization some years ago.  Some feel that the United States might be able to give assurances that if a deal is reached on this point, it will be honored.  “If Aronson is capable of ensuring that those who have the capacity to promise that there will be no extraditions in his country do so, this hurdle will be overcome,”  noted one analyst.  (See La Silla Vacía).

Another theme in the conversations in Havana is how to handle drug-trafficking charges and whether the United States will accept the framing of drug trafficking as a political crime.  The FARC have asserted that narcotrafficking has helped to finance their insurgency, which, under Colombian law, could classify it as a crime related to rebellion. Pres. Santos has endorsed this position, but the Colombian public has found it hard to swallow, given the extensive nature of the crime.  U.S. support for Santos’s position, which would allow FARC leaders to engage in politics in the future, could help unblock this particular issue.

There is also the general issue of what the international community will accept in terms of transitional justice measures.  This is the first peace process to be conducted in the shadow of strict regulations of the International Criminal Court that limit negotiators from offering general amnesties and require States to investigate, judge and sanction war crimes.  The threat of ICC action in the aftermath of a peace agreement that is not sufficiently punitive could help ensure that victims get their due, but finding a solution that will not cause the FARC to leave the peace talks is tricky.

In a forum this week sponsored by the newspaper daily, El Tiempo, and the Universidad de El Rosario, lead negotiator Humberto de la Calle discussed the problem of public opinion.  With some 80 percent of the Colombian population favoring jail terms for the FARC, on one side, and the FARC reiterating its longstanding position that they will not serve one day of jail, on the other, the challenges for finding a solution that will be acceptable to the Colombian public and the international community are vast, and solutions have yet to be agreed to.

View the program in Spanish here:

Today, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was in Bogota, where he has been speaking in support of the Colombian peace process.  I am off to hear him speak a forum on truth commissions–another pending issue for Colombia’s negotiators–sponsored by the Kofi Annan Foundation and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).  They will launch the release of ICTJ’s publication, Challenging the Conventional: Can Truth Commissions Strengthen Peace Processes, in Spanish.

 (A version of this article was posted earlier today on the U.S. Institute of Peace Olive Branch Blog.) 


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32nd Cycle Ends in Havana

Havana, Cuba

February 16, 2015

On Thursday, Feb. 12, the latest cycle of peace talks between the government of Colombia and the FARC in Havana came to a close after 10 days of discussions that focused on the final two substantive items on the agenda — victims and the end of the conflict.  I was in Havana doing research on the peace process and had the opportunity to talk with the parties and to attend a number of related events.  

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The government delegation awaits the presentation of the report by the Historical Commission on the Conflict and Its Victims. (Photo by Bouvier).

Visiting Havana, one can’t help but be impressed by the seriousness of the process, the commitment of both parties to finding solutions to end the conflict, and the climate of dialogue and engagement that has been created between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.  The kind of mutual respect, active listening, consideration, and give-and-take between the parties–at the service of ending the conflict once and for all–that is occurring in Havana provides a model for what is needed in Colombia.  Gerson Arias, from the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, told me that in earlier peace processes, each side came armed with its own list of agenda items.  This time around, he said, the parties put aside their individual agendas to start fresh in the creation of a common agenda, and they defined a framework agreement with an agenda they believed would be possible to complete, and an explicit commitment to ending the conflict.  This new approach seems to be yielding positive results that could be seen in the latest round of discussions in Havana.

2015-02-12 CUBA TALKS SIGN 00.09.58-1In the 32nd round, reports by the historical commission on the conflict and its violence, the sub commission on gender, and the technical sub commission on ending the conflict show that the talks continue to make steady progress.  In addition, in this round, the parties received representatives of women’s and LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex) organizations, and the FARC announced that it would stop recruiting youth under 17 years of age.  Finally, leaders of Colombia’s leftist alliance known as the Broad Front for Peace visited Havana to discuss the monitoring and verification of the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire, which began on Dec. 20, 2014, and the FARC announced that it would continue to uphold the ceasefire.  (See the Broad Front’s last monitoring report on the ceasefire here). 

Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims

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Historical Commission on the Conflict and Its Victims presents its report to the peace table in Havana. (Photo by Bouvier).

On Tuesday morning, Feb. 10, the 12 commissioners and 2 rapporteurs of the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (HCCV) presented their long-awaited reports to the negotiating teams in Havana. (Click here for a list of the commissioners.)   Later that day, Eduardo Pizarro and Víctor Manuel Moncayo, the two rapporteurs, presented an overview of the commission’s work at a press conference at the Hotel Occidental in the Miramar section of Havana.

View the press conference here:

The reports of the commission address the topics mandated by the Colombian government and FARC delegates to the peace table last August, namely:

  • the origins and causes of the conflict,
  • the factors accounting for the persistence of the conflict, and
  • the impacts of the conflict on the population.

The rapporteurs were charged with synthesizing the reports and producing a final report on the areas of consensus and disagreement they found therein.  It proved impossible within the four-month time frame assigned (later extended to six months) for the two rapporteurs to reconcile the twelve reports and produce a single common narrative.  Instead, the rapporteurs each produced their own additional report.  (Download the final reports here.)

The Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims is the thirteenth commission on the Colombian violence established since 1958.  Nonetheless, it is unprecedented in a number of ways.  It is the first such commission to be established jointly by two parties at a negotiating table as part of a peace process.  Unlike a truth commission, it was established in the midst of the conflict, without benefit of any prior peace accord.  Construction of trust has proven difficult but not impossible in this context, and appears to have been more successful in Havana than in Colombia, where the ongoing war continues to generate skepticism and polarization about the process, as well as growing efforts to dialogue and find convergences.

Me and María Emma Wills, commissioner on the Historical Commission on the Conflict and Its Victims

Me and María Emma Wills, commissioner on the Historical Commission on the Conflict and Its Victims

Secondly, the mandate of the HCCV is unique.  Truth commissions are often established after peace accords are signed as a measure of symbolic reparations and fulfillment of the victims’ right to truth.  The primary purpose of the HCCV was to help the negotiating teams define the nature of conflict violence in order to craft better agreements to address the rights of the victims.  Implicitly, the process was also expected to shape the political context within which a final peace accord could be reached.  A better understanding of the complexity of conflict violence necessarily broadens the scope of discussion beyond the FARC to analyze the full range of all of the  state and non-state actors that bear responsibility for the conflict and its perpetuation.  This re-positioning of the FARC as one of numerous actors with responsibility for the conflict and its perpetuation should open the possibilities for new agreements, and greater measures of truth, justice, and reparations for a larger number of victims.

Third, both the process and participants engaged in the HCCV were unique.  While truth commissions generally entail extensive participation of and testimony by victims of the conflict, often with some benefits from a cathartic process, the HCCV did not engage or seek to engage victims as part of its process.  Instead, the HCCV was designed as a vehicle for independent academics to provide their objective assessments of the conflict based not on new research but on their accumulated knowledge and prior research on the Colombian conflict. (See the profiles of the commissioners here.)  While victims might be expected to benefit from the findings in the reports, or the particular recommendations that might be generated, Colombian victims were the audience, not the agents, of the HCCV process.

Clearly, there  is and will be no “official story” of the conflict.  The reports reflect the conflict in all its complexity, the multiplicity of interpretations to which this complexity has given rise, and the infinity of responsibilities yet to be assigned.  The reports should help the parties move forward in drafting the chapter on victims for the final accord and defining responsibilities, reparations, and guarantees that the violence of the conflict will not be renewed.  The HCCV may also provide analysis and data that could serve as inputs for a future truth commission.

Both sides expressed pleasure at the process and in the results.  The expectation is that these reports will pave the way for further dialogue and truth-telling, and will open a national dialogue in Colombia about the causes and consequences of violence, and the ways to prevent it.  As María Emma Wills, the sole woman on the Commission, told me, “The way out is through the recognition of the gray areas.”  (La salida se da por el reconocimiento de los grises.)

There will be much intellectual and emotional work needed to break through the polarization of positions, and the work of the HCCV should help give momentum to this process. (For a more detailed analysis of the content of the report, click here.)  

Peace Commissioners Receive Women and LGBTI Representatives

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Bibiana Peñaranda, Red Mariposas (Photo by Bouvier).

On Wed., Feb. 11, the peace teams of the government and the FARC re-convened at El Laguito, a high-security complex of diplomatic residences in Havana, where they heard testimonies from the heads of five Colombian women’s organizations and one organization that works for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual (LGBTI) persons.

The delegation was the second in an anticipated series of three delegations to Havana organized by the Sub commission on Gender.  (The press conference from the first delegation in December 2014 has been newly posted here.)   This session’s delegation included:

Nelly Velandia, ANMUSIC, and Ruby Castaño, Coordinación Nacional de Desplazados

Nelly Velandia, ANMUSIC, and Ruby Castaño, Coordinación Nacional de Desplazados. (Photo by Bouvier).

  • Nelly Velandia, Association of Peasant, Afro-Colombian, and Indigenous Women (ANMUCIC);
  • Ruby Alba Castaño, the Women’s Department of the National Coordinator for the Displaced
  • Fatima Muriel, the Weavers of Life Alliance, Department of Putumayo;
  • Bibiana Peñaranda, “Butterflies with Wings” network;
  • María Eugenia Vásquez, National Network of Women ExCombatants of the Insurgency;
  • Wilson Castañeda, of the Affirmative Caribbean Corporation.
María Eugenia Vásquez, Red Nacional de Mujeres Ex Combatientes de la Insurgencia

María Eugenia Vásquez, Red Nacional de Mujeres Ex Combatientes de la Insurgencia. (Photo by Bouvier).

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Belén Sanz, head of UN-Women-Colombia (Photo by Bouvier).








Wilson Castañeda, Caribe Afirmativo. (Photo by Bouvier).

Wilson Castañeda, Caribe Afirmativo


On Wed. afternoon, the delegation held a working session with the sub commission on gender chaired by María Paulina Riveros for the Colombian government and Commander Victoria Sandino for the FARC.  They were accompanied by international gender experts Belén Sanz (head of UN-Women in Colombia), Magalys Arocha, Hilde Salvesen, and María Emma Wills.

Members of the Gender sub commission after the press conference with the Colombian delegation of women and LGBTI leaders.

Members of the Gender sub commission after the press conference with the Colombian delegation of women and LGBTI leaders.


Later in the day, the delegation held a press conference and urged the parties at the peace table to consider a bilateral ceasefire.  They called on the Santos government to declare an indefinite truce and to accelerate talks with the ELN and the EPL insurgencies.

Read the delegation’s  communiqué here and view their press  conference here:


Technical Sub Commission

In a joint communiqué on Feb. 12, the delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC announced that they had reached agreement on the guidelines and rules for the technical subcommission on ending the conflict. (Read the guidelines here.)  The subcommission (see its members here) is charged with analyzing experiences and generating initiatives and proposals on the bilateral ceasefire and the setting aside of arms.  It will be receiving experts on these topics when it meets on Feb. 27 in the next round of talks, which starts on Feb. 23.

On Fri., Feb. 14, Colombian government negotiators on the Technical Subcommission joined members of the Colombian military high command and dozens of high-level officials for their own high-level meeting in Cartagena.  There they listened to international experts on DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration) from Nepal, El Salvador, Northern Ireland, among others.  (See Semana’s analysis of the meeting  here.)

The new guidelines recently established for the technical sub commission also make provisions for creating whatever mechanisms might be necessary to consider the other themes which the 2012 framework agreement identified as integral to the “end of the conflict.”  These topics include:

  • Guarantees for the reincorporation of the FARC-EP into economic, social and political aspects of civil life, according to their interests;
  • The review of the situation of persons deprived of liberty, accused or condemned for belonging to or collaborating with the FARC-EP;
  • Intensifying the fight against criminal organizations and their support networks, including the fight against corruption and impunity;
  • The review, reform, and institutional modifications necessary to confront the challenges of peacebuilding;
  • Security guarantees; and
  • The clarification of the phenomenon of paramilitarism, among others.

 FARC Announces End to Recruitment of Minors Under 17 Years Old

In a press conference on Thurs., Feb. 12, the FARC-EP peace delegation announced that the FARC would unilaterally cease recruiting youths under 17 years old.  View their announcement here:

The announcement created a mixed reaction.  The gesture was seen by many as an important step toward de-escalating the conflict.  It clearly responded to growing demands from civil society groups for the insurgencies to stop child recruitment.  It was symbolic in that it was made on the fourteenth anniversary of the enactment of the Protocol for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Yet many questioned why the FARC was stopping at age 17 and what would happen with the child soldiers already in the FARC ranks.

President Juan Manuel Santos noted that his government “valued” the FARC’s gesture as “a step in the right direction,” but that it was “insufficient,” considering that the established age for minors is 18 years of age.  “I don’t understand why they stopped half way,” he said.  (See Santos’s statement here.)

In discussions with the FARC leadership following the press conference at the Palacio de Convenciones on Thursday morning, FARC commander Iván Márquez had predicted that their gesture would be considered insufficient. “Everyone always wants more,” he said. “But we need gestures from the government too.”  I asked what kind of gestures they wanted. “We want them to respect conscientious objectors and to stop the ‘batidas,'”  he told me, referring to a recruitment practice the Colombian military have used in poor neighborhoods, and “to stop using minors under 15 years old to infiltrate the guerrilla.”  (Read the FARC press statement here.)

The gestures requested by the FARC echo some of the demands of civil society as well.  A recent decision by the Constitutional Court of Colombia ordered the Army to resolve the situation of Reinaldo Aguirre, a conscientious objector who has been accompanied by the Mennonite organization, Justapaz. (See the Court finding T-455-14 here.)  The sentence constitutes an important advance and sets a precedent for the recognition of youth who wish to exercise their rights for reasons of conscience (C.O. status) and avoid obligatory military service. (Read the Justapaz press release on this topic here.)

Final Observations 

Some parties in Havana privately expressed frustration that the visits last year of the five delegations of victims and the visits of representatives of women’s and LGBTI groups have delayed progress on reaching agreement on the final points of the agenda.  Yet such visits play a critical role in ensuring that the peace process will be brought to a successful conclusion and that peace accords will lead to sustainable peace.  First, it is no secret that there is a disconnect between the advances being made in Cuba and the skepticism reigning in Colombia.  The visits of the victims, like those of the women’s and LGBTI organizations, can help to bridge this divide and give civil society a greater stake in the process.  These visits also constitute symbolic collective reparations to groups that have faced historical exclusion, discrimination, and persecution.  In addition, such visits are an important investment in the future.  The communities and networks the delegates  represent are critical multipliers in educating the public and generating support for the peace process.  The more they know about the process, the better able they will be shore up support for it, and the more effectively they will be able to assist with the ratification process and the implementation of any agreements reached.

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Colombia Peace Forum Program on Reintegration: Join USIP Live

Jan. 27, 2015

As representatives of the Colombian government and Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP) and their teams prepare for the 32nd round of negotiations to be launched on February 2nd, two substantive issues remain on their agenda.  First, the parties need to establish processes that ensure that victims of Colombia’s decades-long internal armed conflict will be able to secure their rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees that violations won’t be repeated.  A second item relates to the steps needed to end the conflict, including the mechanisms for setting aside arms and facilitating the transition of former combatants and their associates back to civilian life.  While reforms in the security sector reforms are ordinarily an integral part of most peace processes, they are explicitly off the table in Havana, but they (and the implementation of any peace accords reached) will be an important part of  the broader context of transitioning Colombia from war to peace.

The next session of the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Colombia Peace Forum will address these themes in a program on “Paths to Reintegration” in Colombia.  The event will take place at the U.S. Institute of Peace (2301 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037) on Thursday, Jan. 29 from 2-4:30 pm.  Join us in person or virtually in real time (connect here), or join the conversation via Twitter at #ColombiaPeaceForum.  RSVPs are required.

At this event, participants will engage with policy makers and discuss the successes, pitfalls, and challenges of DDR processes in Colombia.  An initial panel will analyze Colombia’s past demobilization and reintegration efforts, and a second will discuss policy recommendations presented in a new International Crisis Group report, “The Day after Tomorrow: Colombia’s FARC and the End of the Conflict.”  (Read the report here).

The program will feature:

  • Virginia M. Bouvier
    Senior Advisor for Latin American Programs, United States Institute of Peace
  • Alejandro Eder
    Former High Commissioner for Reintegration
    Former Alternative Plenipotentiary at the Havana Peace Talks
  • Mark Schneider
    Senior Vice President and Special Adviser on Latin America, International Crisis Group
  • Katie Kerr
    Deputy Director-Colombia, International Organization for Migration
  • Sandra Pabón
    Team Lead, Reintegration and Prevention of Recruitment Unit, Office of Vulnerable Populations, U.S. Agency for International Development-Colombia
  • Michael Duttwiler
    Legal Analyst, Transitional Justice, Mission to Support the Peace Process, Organization of American States
  • Kimberly Theidon
    Senior Fellow, Latin America Program,  Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  • Adam Isaacson
    Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy, Washington Office on Latin America

Hope you can join us!  

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Peace Process Gearing Up for the Next Round

20 January 2015

From Jan. 15-18, representatives of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP held planning meetings to exchange proposals on the methodologies to be followed in the upcoming cycles of peace talks.  On Jan. 18, they released a joint statement announcing that the 32nd round of peace talks with the FARC will resume in Havana on February 2.  Conversations will continue on a number of different fronts simultaneously:

  • The delegations will continue their work on the issue of Victims.  On February 10, members of the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims will turn in their reports to the negotiators and the rapporteurs of the Commission will present their summary report on where there is consensus and where there is not regarding the causes of the conflict. (For more on the commission, click here.)
  • The FARC and government delegations will define the goals and methodologies for the work of the technical Sub-commission on the End of the Conflict.
  • The Gender Subcommission will continue its work and will receive a second delegation of organizations in Havana on Feb. 11. (See my post on the first delegation here.)

Government negotiator Humberto de la Calle announced that the delegations’ planning meetings days earlier had been carried out in a climate of “mutual respect and dignity,” and that both delegations “maintain a decided determination toward the end of the conflict.” (Read his statement here.)  De la Calle underscored the complex path ahead:   “On transitional justice, as might be expected, we still face considerable differences…. We believe, nonetheless, that there is room in the area of alternative penalties that impede impunity and allow victims’ rights to be satisfied to the greatest extent possible.”

Delegations Evaluate Progress in Peace Talks

Both the government and FARC negotiating teams have engaged in their own evaluations of the peace process.  On Jan. 5, following three days of meetings between the Colombian government negotiators and a highly select group of international advisors at a “spiritual retreat” in Cartagena, Pres. Santos announced that there would be a shift in the government’s negotiating strategy, an implicit response to the unilateral ceasefire declared by the FARC in December.  No longer would the government “maintain the military offensive as though we were not negotiating and negotiate as thought we were not fighting,” said Santos.  Instead, Santos announced, there will now be a more explicit relationship between what is happening in Havana and what is happening in Colombia.

The FARC for its part has been engaged in its own review of the peace talks.  In a roundtable discussion on Jan. 10, two members of the FARC delegation–Commander Jesús Santrich and Commander Victoria Sandino–assessed the current peace process.

In the program, Victoria Sandino characterized the peace process in Havana as “positive.”  She counted among the successes the general framework agreement, three partial agreements, the growing popular support for the process, the  establishment of the commission on the history of the conflict and its victims and the sub commissions on gender and ending the conflict, as well as the five visits of victims’ delegations and the symbolic act of reconciliation with a delegation of victims of the Bojayá massacre (see below).

The FARC leaders also discussed the remaining challenges for the peace table.  These include what they call 28 “whereas” clauses (salvedades) that have yet to be addressed.  In addition, the FARC negotiators noted that the question of how the accords will be ratified is still pending.  Jesús Santrich noted that the Legal Framework for Peace and the Referendum Law approved by the Colombian Congress and sanctioned by Santos in late December, have no standing with the FARC, as they were not defined or approved at the peace  table.  Santrich nonetheless left the door open for reconciling the FARC’s desire for a National Constituent Assembly with the Referendum favored by the government.  This is an important development, and there are indications that the government is also considering a variety of options that could accommodate both sides.   A referendum might be used to ratify the agreements, and a National Constituent Assembly could contribute to their implementation.  These are healthy signs that when it comes time to address the final item on the peace agenda, creative solutions that address the needs of both sides are likely to be found.

Gestures for Peace

In the past month, Colombian peace efforts have continued apace, and a number of other developments and “gestures for peace” have surfaced that are worth noting.  I have referenced many in earlier Tweets that run on the right side of this blog.

Peace Talks to Accelerate

There appears to be a desire on both sides to pick up the pace of the talks–though frankly the pace at the table has been steady and intense. On Jan. 15, President Santos announced that he had instructed his negotiators “to accelerate the pace of these talks, these negotiations, in order to finish this armed conflict as quickly as possible once and for all.” (Read Santos’s statement here.)

Another gesture of peace is that the parties are considering the particulars of how a bilateral ceasefire might be enacted.  Santos has called on his team to initiate “as quickly as possible the discussion on the point of a bilateral and definitive ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.” (See his statement here.)  General ® Oscar Naranjo, one of the government negotiators, underscored that the bilateral ceasefire would be definitive and “will begin only when Pres. of the Republic considers that the conditions for it exist.” (Read an interview with Naranjo here.)

Preparation for a ceasefire is not a simple matter.  Procedures and strategies must be developed to deal with the inevitable violations that might be launched by spoilers on either side. (To get a flavor of the debates under way around the ceasefire, see the write-ups in La Silla Vacía.)  Humberto de la Calle has noted that the “de-escalation and bilateral, definitive ceasefire require a careful, complex, progressive work that opens a climate of comprehension among the citizenry” and “provides protection and security to Colombians.” (Read his statement here.)  Here, independent verification will also be critical.

Unilateral FARC Ceasefire Holds

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed the ceasefire announced by the FARC-EP beginning Dec. 20 (after initially calling it a “rose with thorns”).  While he has rejected independent verification (see the government response here), Pres. Santos noted on Jan. 5 that the FARC have fully complied with the ceasefire. (See his statement here.)  Nontheless, the FARC have reported military provocations in the Chocó, Antioquia, Guaviare, Cauca, Huila, and Caquetá regions and called on the international community and the Broad Front for Peace for independent verification.

FARC Apologizes to Victims of the Bojayá Massacre

Prompted by the latest visit of the fifth delegation of victims to Havana in December, FARC leaders issued new apologies acknowledging wrong-doing and their intent to make amends to the victims of the Bojayá massacre, which occurred on May 2, 2002 in Chocó, causing the death of at least 74 people (including 48 minors)  in a confrontation between the FARC and paramilitary groups.  Colombian government lead negotiator Humberto de la Calle called the meeting between victims from Bojayá and the FARC “without precedent” and a “valuable step,” noting that “recognition of responsibility is the essence of our challenge to achieve the maximum satisfaction of [victims’] rights and to advance toward the end of the conflict.”  (See De la Calle’s statement here.)

  • Read the Dec. 18 statement on truth, justice and reparations presented by the communities of Bojayá-Chocó to the peace table in Havana here.
  • Read the FARC’s Dec. 18 apology to the people of Bojayá here.  
  • Read President Santos’s response to the FARC’s gesture here.
  • Read the Center for Historical Memory’s report, Bojayá: Guerra sin Límiteshere.

FARC Releases Carlos Becerra Ojeda

With the facilitation of representatives of the governments of Colombia, Cuba, and Norway, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, a protocol was put in place for the release on Dec. 25 of Carlos Becerra Ojeda, a soldier who the FARC captured in combat on Dec. 19 in the department of Cauca.  (See FARC press release here.)

Last of FARC Military Top Commanders Joins Talks

On Dec. 28, Joaquín Gómez, commander of the FARC’s Southern Block that operates in Caquetá, Putumayo and part of Nariño, was transferred to Havana to participate in the FARC negotiating team and the technical sub commission on ending the conflict. (See communiqué here.)  With Gómez’s arrival in Havana, all of the key FARC commanders from across the country are now engaged in the peace process.  The FARC-EP delegation noted that the presence of Joaquín in Cuba “is a new gesture of peace from the FARC.” (See press statement here.)

ELN Talks Slow to Launch 

It will be important that a peace deal with the FARC is complemented by a peace deal with the ELN, and some of the issues, particularly around transitional justice, will be the same.  In early January, President Santos invited the ELN insurgents to join the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire and “to reach agreement as soon as possible on the points of the agenda” that have been under discussion in exploratory talks during the last year. (See Santos’s statement here.)  In the aftermath of its Fifth National Congress, ELN leaders asserted their willingness to consider setting aside their arms, and this is an important step forward that President Santos has characterized as “positive”. (See my earlier post here.)

On Jan. 19, the ELN called on President Santos to declare a unilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities. (See statement here.) Earlier statements by ELN commander Antonio García suggest that discussions have temporarily stalled after some 15 meetings and three long cycles of exchange in the past year, with each cycle lasting an average of 2-3 weeks.  García criticized the government’s expectation that the ELN would simply demobilize, noting that the parties have discussed civil society participation, democracy, and victims, but have failed to address the structural changes needed for peace and the end of the armed conflict. (Read more here.)

Time to Engage for Peace

With the talks about to accelerate, it is time for the public to put its weight behind a political solution to the war and to prepare itself for an end to the armed conflict. An alliance of 260 Colombian, European, and U.S. social organizations applauded the various steps that have been taken in recent weeks that suggest movement toward a peace agreement with both the FARC and the ELN.  They  urged the ELN to undertake “positive actions that demonstrate their commitment to peace” and called on the government to reaffirm “its interest and disposition to advance in a dialogue process” with the ELN.  (Read their statement here.)  Such roles that encourage the parties to stick with it can be helpful.  For many who have been harmed by the long course of war, it will not be easy to accept the presence of ex-combatants into the social and political life of the nation, and they will need time too to prepare.  De la Calle called on Colombian society to “open its spirit to the framework of reconciliation,” noting that “we must all must sacrifice something. … We must offer the opposition the olive branch.”


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Peace Talks with the ELN?

January 12, 2015

As the FARC and government prepare to move ahead with the next round of talks in Havana, it is worth stepping back to look at the evolution of what may become a formal peace process with the National Liberation Army (ELN).  This process is likely (at least initially) to be separate from, but closely linked to, the current process in Havana, and is something that civil society leaders have long solicited.

ELN Willing to Consider Abandoning Arms  

This week, political pundits in Bogota continue to grapple with the meaning of the Jan. 7 announcement of ELN top commander Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista (“Gabino”) that the ELN had concluded its Fifth National Congress in clandestinity, affirmed its commitment to a political solution to Colombia’s armed conflict, and agreed to set aside its arms pending confirmation of the “real will of the Colombian government and State to end the conflict.”  The final statement of the congress (read it here) noted, “For more than 50 years we have taken up arms because we understood that the legal channels for popular struggle were closed: we continue to think the same today. The government has proposed its disposition to put an end to the armed conflict and for that [reason] has summoned the insurgency.  We will attend this dialogue to analyze the real disposition of the Colombian government and State; if in this review we conclude that arms are not necessary, we would have the disposition to consider whether we would stop using them.”

In an interview with “Gabino”, the latter affirmed, “If the dialogues that we are carrying out with the government today reach satisfactory agreements, which is what we expect, the ELN will continue fighting within the definitions that these agreements outline; because the peace accords are a take-off point for continuing to fight for all the objectives and dreams that the Colombian people have.” (See interview with “Gabino” here.)

The statement, which was made fifty years to the date of the military launch of the National Liberation Army (ELN) with the insurgency’s siege of Simacota in the department of Santander, did not live up to the anticipatory hype in the press and on social media of previous weeks.  The media had suggested that the ELN were poised to announce a major initiative, and much of the press focused on the shortcomings of the statement, which fell short of the expectations created in the press that the ELN might announce a unilateral ceasefire, the date for the launch of formal peace talks, or a decision to end kidnappings or the recruitment of minors. (See related Semana article here.)

Significance of the ELN Statement 

Unfulfilled expectations aside, the ELN’s statement can be considered a positive sign.  It represents an evolving position of ELN unity and internal cohesion around strategic interests that favor peace.  Given that the National Congress is considered to be the “maximum authority” of the ELN, the Fifth National Congress’s backing for pursuing a political solution to the conflict will give the ELN leadership greater authority with which to negotiate should formal talks be launched.  This body is responsible for formulating the insurgencies’ policies and strategies, and its decisions provide guidelines for operations for the coming years (the ELN held its last National Congress in 2006).  (See related press release here.)

All of the key regional commanders of the ELN — including hard-liners such as Carlos Antonio Marín, aka ‘Pablo’ o ‘Pablito’, head of the Eastern Block of the ELN in the oil-producing Arauca region — participated in the latest Congress. The conclusions thus represent a consensus across the different regions of the country to embrace formal peace talks with the government.  Ariel Avila, an analyst with the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, underscored that the ELN, given their organizational structure, have traditionally had a hard time reaching agreement.  He observed, “Although people expected more and the ELN could have said more, it is important that such a decentralized, “federalist” structure would reach an agreement in which it would opt for a political exit and peace”.  (Read an interview with Avila here.)

Prospects for peace talks with the ELN are also strengthened by the continued leadership of Nicolás Rodríguez at the helm, and the integration of urban ELN leaders and hard-liners into the new ELN directorate (COCE).  Rodríguez was one of the founders of the ELN fifty years ago and a long-time advocate of peace talks.

Context of the Recent Announcement

The recent statements by ELN leaders and the conclusions of the Congress are perhaps best understood within the context of an evolving relationship between the ELN and the government of Colombia.  Last June, President Santos announced that secret, exploratory talks with the ELN had been underway since January 2014, after a series of prior conversations in 2013.  (See Santos’s statement here.)  Santos promised that the process with the ELN would be “serious, dignified, realistic, and efficient.”  In a joint statement, government and ELN representatives who had been engaged in the exploratory talks expressed their “reciprocal will to continue the exploratory phase in order to agree on an agenda and establish peace talks to arrive at the signing of a final agreement.” (Click here for their joint statement).

President Santos nonetheless laid out what would be required to advance to formal talks.  Unless the ELN met the “necessary conditions,” said Santos, the government “will not take the next step, which is the initiation of a formal peace table.”  These conditions, which were met by the FARC in their process, include agreement that:

  1.  The goal of the talks is to end the conflict;
  2.  The process will include disarmament;
  3.  The agenda will include themes specifically related to the conflict, like victims’ reparations, which has already been agreed;
  4.  The talks will be outside of Colombia, without a bilateral ceasefire, and without a demilitarized zone.

The statements subsequent to the ELN’s Fifth National Congress suggest that the ELN is now ready to meet the first two conditions.  Advances on the third item–establishing a common agenda–appears to have been more problematic.  While last June the parties announced their agreement that victims and the role of civil society in the peace process would be the elements of the agenda, the parties have yet to make public any further progress that they might have made in this regard.  (Click here for their joint statement).

Fleshing out the agenda and finding agreement on the scope of the talks is not easy but it may well be the key to the eventual success of peace talks.  The ELN has sought a process that would address a broad spectrum of substantive and procedural issues on its political and social agenda.  These include questions of national sovereignty, mining and extractive industries, environmental concerns, democratization and popular participation, and human rights.  (See related article by National University professor Carlos Medina Gallego here.)  President Santos has said that basic Constitutional principles, the economic model, and the Armed Forces are not under discussion.  Like the FARC, the ELN is known to favor a national constituent assembly over the government’s proposed referendum.  These differences are significant, but not insurmountable, and will need to be negotiated.  In this regard, the development of a solid agreed framework agreement is particularly important, as the FARC process has shown.  A good framework agreement will provide the road map and methodology that allows the parties to navigate through the rocky terrain of their differences.

On the fourth and final condition raised by Santos in June, the ELN appears ready to accept that the talks would not require a bilateral ceasefire to move forward, while ironically, the government may be moving toward accepting the need for a bilateral ceasefire.  Nor does there seem to be much contention around holding the peace talks out of country.  The ELN and Colombian government previously held formal talks in Havana under President Alvaro Uribe’s government.

Furthermore, the parties have assembled a small group of nations to accompany and serve as guarantors for an ELN process.  These countries include Ecuador, Brazil, and the four countries accompanying the FARC process (namely, Cuba, Norway, Venezuela, and Chile).  Ecuador has already served as a site for the exploratory talks and the location for formal talks could include any one of the aforementioned countries.

Challenges Ahead

This does not mean that peace talks with the ELN will be clear sailing.  The concluding statement of  the Fifth Congress underscores implicitly that the ELN is not looking merely to demobilize, but will continue to insist on the structural changes for which they have been fighting for fifty years.  In their peace process, the FARC has worked to secure agreements for similar structural changes.  (They reiterated this position in a statement on Jan. 8).  Both groups expect their engagement in a successful peace process to change the exclusionary and inequitable conditions that gave rise to their insurgency movements in the first place.

Ironically, the Colombian population and the international community widely accept the need for the kinds of changes that both insurgencies are proposing.  A study by the University of Vanderbilt showed that nearly 85% of the Colombian population surveyed in 2012 found the country’s income distribution to be unfair and more than 70% of the respondents believed the government should address this gap.  A recent Colombia Reports article notes the latest appalling statistics on income inequality, land inequality, and rural inequality in Colombia, including Colombia’s current status as the eighth most unequal country in the world.  (See the post here.)

While it would be naive to think that peace accords would immediately solve all of these inequalities, they could help channel national consensus toward this end.  The peace accords could guarantee that mechanisms for non-violent change and progressive politics are able to function effectively, and that, once insurgents lay down their weapons, they can safely continue to seek change within the Colombian political system.

Growing Consensus on the Need to Engage with the ELN

Furthermore, there seems to be a growing consensus that peace in Colombia requires agreements with all of the armed actors.  In this regard, President Santos has said, “A comprehensive peace process that includes both the FARC and the ELN is the best guarantee for victims and for the country that this conflict has ended for ever and that it will never happen again,” Santos noted furthermore, “We must be clear that there is only one conflict and therefore there is only one process to end the conflict.  There can’t be two models of disarmament, nor two processes of endorsement, nor two exercises for the clarification of the truth.”  (See Santos’s statement here.)

Gabino has agreed that the ELN needs to be part of a comprehensive peace process, though the ELN are clear that they want their own process.  Two months ago, the ELN leader affirmed that there will likely be a convergence of the processes with the FARC and the ELN.  “It’s about a single peace process with separate tables for a certain amount of time that at some moment will converge into a single negotiation,” he observed.

Civil society leaders have been increasingly vocal on the need for a peace process with the ELN (and periodically, the EPL as well).  In December, a few dozen notable politicians and civil society leaders and organizations expressed their concern that six months of exploratory talks still had not yet lead to formal talks. (See their statement here.)  “This concern,” they wrote, ” comes from our conviction that, without a process with the ELN, peace in Colombia will not be complete.”  They urged the government and ELN teams leading the exploratory phase to move judiciously to the next phase of formal peace talk, and not to deepen the disjuncture between the two processes by advancing the peace talks in Havana while delaying peace talks with the ELN.  Others are urging the ELN not to miss the window of opportunity.  (See Carlos Velandía’s recent articles in Semana and El Colombiano.)  The longer they wait, the less likely they will get the full process they so desperately want.


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Feliz Año Nuevo

1 enero 2015

Estimados lectores–

Me siento profundamente agradecida por las bendiciones que he recibido este año–la salud, mi familia, y amigos y colegas que me nutren, entre otras.  Me da inspiración permanente el trabajo que Uds. y otros hacen para que “la paz en tierra” sea algo más que algunas palabras lindas en una tarjeta de Navidad.

Ha sido un privilegio poder acompañarles y ser testigo del proceso de paz en Colombia. La transformación de una sociedad que emerge de medio siglo de guerra no es tarea fácil. Sin embargo, con dos años de conversaciones en la mesa en La Habana, acuerdos provisionales hechos, iniciativas crecientes de las partes para acertar y aceptar responsabilidades en el conflicto, alianzas de la sociedad para rodear el proceso y buscar caminos justos y sostenibles de paz, y la implementación de un cese de fuego unilateral por parte de las FARC–que sigue vigente pero vulnerable según una “alerta temprana” de las FARC ayer (ver aquí)–—hay que decir que terminó el año con augurios de esperanza.

En 2015, seguiré el monitoreo de los desarrollos en y sobre Colombia, y en las mesas de conversación en La Habana.  Les invito a compartir sus experiencias, sabidurías, y desafíos del año nuevo.  Bienvenida también la retroalimentación e ideas que pueden tener sobre cómo mejorar este espacio de diálogo y pedagogía de paz.

Mientras muchos de nosotros seguimos en la celebración del año nuevo, los negociadores, las comisiones establecidas en La Habana, las delegaciones que están por ir a Cuba, y los garantes y acompañantes del proceso siguen con sus tareas.  Les deseamos mucha fuerza.

Mientras tanto, les deseo a cada uno de Uds. un año feliz con el espíritu renovado.  Que 2015 nos encuentre más cercano a la realización de nuestros sueños colectivos de paz y un mundo más justo.  ¡Feliz año nuevo!

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Happy New Year!

Dec. 31, 2014

Dear Readers–

As this year draws to a close, I am grateful for my health, a loving family, and supportive friends and colleagues.  I continue to be inspired by the work that so many of you and others are doing to make “peace on earth” more than just the words on a holiday card.

It has been a privilege to accompany and bear witness to the Colombian peace process.  The re-birthing of a society seeking to emerge from decades of war is no easy task.  Nonetheless, with two years of conversations at the peace table in Cuba on track, civil society engaging in conversations to define new paths forward, continued efforts to ascertain and accept responsibility for wrongs committed on all sides, and a unilateral, indefinite ceasefire in effect in Colombia since Dec. 20–precarious though it might be (see FARC’s “early warning” that “the truce is under siege” in Antioquia here)–2014 is ending on a hopeful note.

This year I will continue to monitor developments in Colombia and at the peace tables in Havana.  I  invite you to share your experiences, insights, and challenges, and welcome your feedback and ideas for improving my blog.

As many of us relax and continue to celebrate the new year, the peace negotiators, the various sub-commissions that have been established in Havana, and the international guarantors continue their work.  Stay tuned for updates and latest developments in my next blog.

In the meantime, I wish each of you a joyous new year and a renewed spirit.  May 2015 will find us closer to realizing our collective dreams for making the world a more peaceful and just place.  Happy New Year!

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