April 11, 2017

The peace accords with the FARC-EP have been signed, and the legislative and judicial processes required to put the accords into practice are well under way.  The FARC-EP troops in 26 transitional zones have been registered and have already begun turning over their weapons to the United Nations mission.  Listen to my podcast interview with Holly K. Sonneland, posted today by the Americas Society and Council of the Americas (AS/COA), for more details.  (You can read Holly’s write-up and intro here.)


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April 5, 2017

Between Friday night, March 31, and Saturday morning, April 1, torrential rains caused three rivers near the capital city of Mocoa, in the southwestern department of Putumayo, to overflow their beds.  The flash floods, coinciding with Colombia’s traditional rainy season, caused an avalanche of water, mud, trees, stones, and waste to crash into Mocoa, wiping out one entire neighborhood and devastating 16 others.  Deforestation may have aggravated the situation.  Mortality rates have surpassed 300 people, with almost as many  injured (including 70 people who were hospitalized), and hundreds of other people missing.

The headlines are heart-breaking, all the more so because the tragedy had been predicted by environmentalists for some time.  On Monday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declared a state of economic and social emergency in Mocoa.  That official status allowed resources to be immediately shifted to address the crisis, and search and rescue operations were deployed.


Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, point person for the emergency, is directing relief operations for the government.  Mercy Corps, which has members in Mocoa, is monitoring the situation and has attested to the need for food, potable water, blankets, and basic hygiene essentials such as soap and toothbrushes, as well as psychosocial support.  Leaders from around the world–including U.S. President Donald Trump and UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierres–have called President Santos to express their solidarity with Mocoa and to offer their support.  Within Colombia, solidarity networks are  generating mechanisms to assist, and calls for donations and volunteers in a range of specializations are going out.  Reconstruction plans are already underway, and seek to leave the impoverished region of Mocoa with new housing, an aqueduct, hospital, and an energy plan.

For those within Colombia who wish to donate, see options here.  For those outside of Colombia, Mercy Corps, UNICEF, Colombian Red Cross, and Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) are among those accepting and channeling donations to Mocoa.  The Colombian Embassy has also set up a bank-based process for contributors.

Natural Disasters and Peace Processes

The floods have come at a critical point in the Colombian peace process, as embattled  legislation is finally getting off the ground to facilitate the translation of the peace agreements into practice, and as FARC troops prepare to leave behind their weapons and  the vestiges of war.  President Santos, whose popularity dipped below the 20% mark last month, now has the opportunity to demonstrate his administration’s responsiveness to this oft-forgotten “other Colombia,” and simultaneously to assist one of regions hardest hit by conflict violence.  The administration would do well to investigate the contributing causes, and to take measures now to anticipate and prevent similar tragedies in the many other “Mocoas” that are susceptible to winter rains, have undergone deforestation, or show themselves to be otherwise at risk.

Natural disasters, and a government’s response to them, can either exacerbate or relieve conflict.  The discovery that President Anastasio Somoza and his cronies had pilfered international aid sent to Nicaragua following the 1972 earthquake in Managua fueled the Revolution that brought the downfall of Somoza.   On the other hand, across the globe in Indonesia, a tsunami  in late 2004 kickstarted a peace process between Aceh insurgents and the Indonesian government, who jointly responded to the overwhelming disaster, leading the parties to talks that ended a three-decades old war.

In Colombia, Mocoa may prove a symbol around which highly polarized political forces can find common ground.  The FARC’s immediate offer of assistance to the government in its reconstruction efforts is a positive gesture and a sign that Colombia is moving toward a new era.  In today’s highly contested pre-electoral environment in Bogota, the divides between political parties appear to be deeper than were the divides between the parties around the peace tables in Havana.  Perhaps conversations about how to come together to support Mocoa could help to build the dialogues needed to underpin a broader and more sustainable coalition for peace.  It’s worth a try…


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March 24, 2017

Check out the panel at the University of Cartagena, sponsored by the U.S. Institute for Peace’s Generation Change Program, launched this week in Cartagena, Colombia.

Speakers included:

  • Luis Felipe Botero
    Technical Advisor, Territorial Peace Team for the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace
  • Juliana Antía García
    Participation and Peacebuilding Advisor, United Nations Development Program (UNDP-Colombia)
  • Rebecca Ojedele
    Generation Change Fellows Program, Nigeria
  • Aubrey Cox, Moderator
    Senior Program Specialist, USIP

Join the conversation #GenChangeColombia.

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February 6, 2017

After three years of exploratory talks, the Colombian government and the country’s largest remaining insurgency, the National Liberation Army (ELN), are due to open formal negotiations tomorrow in Quito, Ecuador. The beginning of the long-delayed talks represents another significant breakthrough in prospects for peace in Colombia, even as the government starts implementing the terms of its agreement last year with the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP). The ELN talks also offer a new kind of opportunity for public participation in peace processes.

“The rejection of the first peace agreement with the FARC revealed the tremendous gap between peace talks in Havana and the citizenry back home, as well as the polarization of the population. The ELN talks offer an opportunity to address these divides.”

The government and the ELN already had set an agenda and methodology for formal negotiations, but the launch has been delayed repeatedly. A major obstacle was the ELN’s continued detention of Odín Sánchez, a former Colombian congressman from the Chocó region. The ELN released him last week, in exchange for a government pardon for two jailed rebels. Other factors that delayed the start of formal talks included new government conditions after the two sides had announced terms for the process, and the unforeseen renegotiation of the peace agreement with the FARC after voters rejected it in an Oct. 2 plebiscite. Colombia’s Congress ultimately approved a renegotiated pact with the FARC.

The new talks with the ELN are likely to be difficult for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they will begin without a ceasefire. But several factors could increase the likelihood of success.

First, each side has named a new head for its delegation–Juan Camilo Restrepo for the government and Israel Ramírez Pineda, aka “Pablo Beltrán,” for the ELN; they are likely to bring fresh perspectives to the table. Second, both teams include women, whose meaningful participation on negotiating teams has been shown to speed up the process and to increase the longevity and legitimacy of agreements. Third, the Catholic Conference of Bishops has named five bishops from ELN-dominated regions to a Peace Council that is on standby to assist as needed. They could be particularly helpful considering the ELN’s origins in social justice teachings of the Catholic Church. Fourth, the international community–represented by Ecuador, Norway, Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil and Chile–and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will accompany and guarantee the process, as a similar grouping did with the FARC talks.

Finally, civil society, in its many iterations, is likely to play a pioneering role. The rejection of the first peace agreement with the FARC revealed the tremendous gap between peace talks in Havana and the citizenry back home, as well as the polarization of the population. The ELN talks offer an opportunity to address these divides.

The new model emerging challenges the conventional sequencing that puts peacemaking (negotiations) before peacebuilding. Instead, the negotiating teams have put social participation in the peace process as the first item on the agenda in Quito. President Juan Manuel Santos also has sought representation on the negotiating team from the party of former President Alvaro Uribe, a key opponent to peace talks with the FARC, in recognition that the negotiations may outlast Santos’s term and that any accord reached will be more stable if it enjoys broad-based support.

Research has shown that engaging civil society in peace talks produces better results, and civil society already has been pivotal in the ELN process. Civil society leaders served on a commission with representatives from government and the military that crafted the solution to the last impasse with the talks, securing, among other achievements, the release of the ex-congressman.

How civil society might contribute in the formal talks remains to be seen. Continued dialogue will be necessary to address local and regional conflicts; to engage the business sector, local government authorities, and communities; and to link regional peace agendas to the national peace process. Already communities are discussing proposals for participatory mechanisms, such as “cabildos abiertos” (open town hall meetings) and a national dialogue for peace. The ability to keep communications open with the negotiating table and to move towards agreements that are implemented in a timely manner will be key to putting the conflict to rest once and for all.

Virginia M. “Ginny” Bouvier is a senior advisor for peace processes at USIP and editor of Colombia: Building Peace in a Time of War; she blogs at “Colombia Calls” (vbouvier.wordpress.com).

This post was originally published at the Olive Branch, the blog of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

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November 24, 2016

At 11 am in the Teatro Colón in Bogotá today, Thursday, November 24, Colombian government and FARC-EP negotiators signed the Final Agreement for the Ending of the Conflict and the Building of a Stable and Lasting Peace.  (Read their joint communiqué here.)

The Colombian Congress will provide the mechanism for endorsement of the new accord.  (Read Santos’s speech here.)  This will entail an up-or-down vote in the national Congress on the entirety of the Accord.  Details and procedures are still being worked out, but the vote is likely to take place soon, given that the Congress will recess for the holiday season on Dec. 16. (Read more here.)  Some of those who opposed the original peace accords signed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC-EP Commander in Chief Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (aka Timoleón Jiménez or Timochenko) in Cartagena on Sept. 26 continue to oppose the new, revised agreement.  Given that President Santos and his coalition enjoy a majority in the Congress, the new peace accord is expected to be approved easily there.

A New Accord Reached 

In the aftermath of the Oct. 2 plebiscite that rejected by a hair the Cartagena agreements, the President launched a national dialogue that generated weeks of intense discussions and some 500 proposals.  In early November, government teams reviewed and organized these inputs for discussion with the FARC-EP, and returned to the table in Havana.  (See my previous posts.) There they worked around the clock for nine days with their FARC-EP counterparts and crafted a new agreement that addresses the concerns manifest by key sectors of Colombian society.  Consultations with politicians and civil society leaders have continued in parallel throughout these weeks of negotiations in both Havana and Colombia.

On Nov. 12, the government and FARC negotiators announced that they had reached agreement on a new accord.  (Read the new accord here.)  The revised peace accord incorporates  changes in 56 of the 57 thematic areas where modifications had been solicited.  Revisions include corrections, clarifications, modifications, and changes in focus and in content. (See summary of changes by peace commissioner Sergio Jaramillo here; compare the versions here.)

With a new accord completed, President Santos called for his negotiators to return from Havana immediately and make themselves available to meet with the leading opponents of the Cartagena accords.  The latter included Senator and former President Alvaro Uribe, ex-President Andrés Pastrana, Conservative Party leader and former Min. of Defense Martha Lucía Ramirez, former Comptroller General Alejandro Ordóñez, and a range of Evangelical Protestant religious leaders.  Pres. Santos put his negotiators at the service of the NO politicians with an invitation to review jointly the considerable changes that had been made in consideration of their inputs.

The NO That Won’t Let Go

Negotiations between the government and the NO proponents on the other hand reached a new level of intensity this week.  On Monday, Nov. 21, after a week of delays and no-shows, the NO leaders held a six-hour tete-a-tete with the government delegation to discuss the new document.  The government team has produced a matrix showing each of the NO proposals and how they were addressed in the revised peace accord. (View it here).  The Ideas for Peace Foundation has also done a broader  analysis of the YES and NO proposals.  (View it here.)

With prominent members of the NO sector arguing that the changes were merely “cosmetic,” it was unclear whether the new agreement might be subjected to another round of inputs and further negotiations. From the beginning, the FARC maintained that the new agreement was definitive; the government hesitated before confirming this to be the case.  Nonetheless, it soon became clear that the government had the responsibility of reaching an agreement with the FARC-EP, had done due diligence in engaging in meaningful consultations with all stakeholders, and would work toward a national accord for the implementation of the agreements, but not for further revisions of the agreements themselves.  Timochenko and a dozen members of the FARC-EP negotiating team flew to Bogota on Monday, Nov. 21, with the assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in anticipation of an official signing of the Nov. 12 accord by President Santos and Timochenko.

A Definitive Accord

While most of the groups who had been consulted since the plebiscite were satisfied with the changes and adjustments that had been made, President Santos noted, “some of the more radical sectors of the No continue to oppose the new accord.”

In addition to the not-so-subtle political posturing evident as the 2018 presidential elections approach, there are two major and perhaps irreconciliable differences here that help explain why some sectors of the NO may find it difficult to accept any revised peace accord that does not simply eliminate the FARC as a political contender.

First, the two camps analyze the conflict and thus the avenues for its resolution quite differently.  Ex-President Alvaro Uribe, one of the heads of the NO campaign, has long argued that the problem in Colombia is a problem of FARC terrorism against the State, and he has sought through military means to defeat the FARC. His solution, and that of those opposing the latest accord, appears to be to hold out for full surrender through the peace accord.  Despite numerous concessions on the part of the FARC in this last round–the tightening up of conditions for accountability for crimes and drug trafficking, providing an inventory of properties to be turned over to the victims, receiving reduced political campaign financing and other benefits, renouncing elected political posts in the newly created peace districts–Uribe and his supporters are holding out for erasing the FARC’s remaining redline.  This relates to jail time for the FARC and eligibility to run for political office.  For the FARC, compliance with these conditions would be tantamount to a surrender.

The government negotiating team, on the other hand, has defined the conflict as an internal armed conflict fomented and perpetuated by a range of drivers.  These drivers include land tenure inequalities, lack of rural development, and vast inequities for the large peasant population; limited opportunities for political participation and a relatively closed political system that is resistant to change; illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking; and a legacy of human rights violations committed not only by the FARC, but by paramilitaries, State agents, business leaders, politicians and other civilian and armed actors.

As a consequence of these different approaches to the conflict and its solution, the two sides view the peace process itself quite differently.  The government has spent some six years negotiating a political solution to end the armed conflict with the FARC-EP via a peace process with the insurgents.  The recalcitrant NO advocates are seeking to negotiate the terms of surrender for a war that the government has not won.

In the absence of a consensus on the peace accords, President Santos and his negotiating team have expressed their interest in a national accord with the sectors of the NO.  They are clear however that this will be a national accord for the implementation of the peace accord. The seeds for ongoing dialogue toward a national accord for implementation nonetheless will be needed to ensure that the agreement is implemented beyond the tenure of President Santos, which ends in 2018.  Still, this will not be an easy path.


Shifting Political Environment Accelerates Peace Process

The speed with which the negotiators were able to come to closure on a revised final agreement and then on the mechanism for endorsing it was undoubtedly impacted by the shifting political environment both at home and abroad.  In Colombia, FARC-EP soldiers are in a juridical and physical limbo.  Thousands of troops are in “pre-concentration zones” where they await the formalities of ratification of the agreement and subsequent  Congressional action (particularly in ratifying an amnesty law).  Without these formalities,  they are at risk of persecution and prosecution.  With ratification of the agreement, the tripartite mechanism under the UN political mission can proceed to move the soldiers into the temporary zones where they will turn over their weapons and begin the transition to civilian life.  An incident in Sur de Bolívar earlier this week underscored just how fragile the ceasefire is.  While there are conflicting versions of what happened,  all agree that Army soldiers killed two FARC guerrillas and that the bilateral ceasefire is increasingly vulnerable.  The NGO CERAC pronounced it to be the first violation of the ceasefire since the bilateral ceasefire was formalized in June 2016.  Such incidents become more likely over time in the absence of a strong international verification system.

On the global front, the Nov. 8 win of Republican candidate Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency introduces an unknown into U.S.-Colombian relations, which have long benefitted from a bipartisan consensus in Washington that recognizes the importance of Colombia as a strategic ally in the hemisphere.  The Obama administration has been a strong ally in the search for a political solution to Colombia’s armed conflict.  This support included sending a U.S. Envoy to the Peace Process in Havana and, more recently,  budgeting for a $450 million aid package for Paz Colombia.  It has claimed Colombia to be one of its foreign policy success stories.  As priorities are reviewed by the new Trump leadership, the longstanding bipartisan consensus on Colombia is likely to hold, but it is not clear whether Colombia will enjoy the same level of priority status and resources as before or whether other priorities will take precedence.

On another note, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will soon be closing out his term.  He will be replaced in 2017 by Antonio Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal.  While neither of these shifts would necessarily put international support for the peace process (which has been quite strong) in jeopardy, it may take time to bring the new leaders and their teams up to speed.  The move for quick completion and ratification of the  revised accord undoubtedly responds to this shifting context.


Well, it’s time for turkey and Thanksgiving, so in the name of putting this into cyberspace in a timely way, this will await further development in my next blog.  In the meantime, I wish all of my Readers a joyous day with heightened appreciation for the daily blessings.  In gratitude that another step has been taken today on the path toward peace and reconciliation in Colombia.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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November 14, 2016

Forty-one days after voters rejected a peace deal to end Colombia’s half-century old armed conflict, Colombian government and FARC-EP negotiators announced late Sunday night that they had completed a revised agreement.  (See the joint communiqué here.)  The latest accord is the product of negotiations in Havana on proposals gathered in what lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle called a “profound exercise of dialogue.” (See his statement here.)  “Once more we have proven that, despite differences and distinct visions, it is possible to arrive at common ground through dialogue,” noted De la Calle.

FARC lead negotiator Iván Márquez, for his part, named the new agreement the “Accord of Hope” and noted, “We understood that … we had the political commitment to accept the adverse result [of the plebiscite] and to listen to the multiple voices that brought it about…  We are aware that the transformative power of the accords rests on their political and social legitimacy.” (See his statement here.)

National Dialogue

The new accord comes following a lengthy consultation process, what President Juan Manuel Santos called a “broad national dialogue.”  The dialogue began the day after voters rejected an earlier peace agreement signed on Sept. 26 in Cartagena by a margin of some 54,000 votes in an Oct. 2 plebiscite that had an abstention rate of more than 60 %. In its aftermath, President Santos and his team met regularly with the leading political, religious, and social leaders who represented the 6 million voters who opposed the Cartagena peace accord.  In particular, they solicited and obtained proposals for improving the accords from Democratic Center Party Senator and former President Alvaro Uribe, former President Andrés Pastrana, ex-Minister of Defense and Conservative Party leader Marta Lucía Ramírez, former Comptroller General Alejandro Ordóñez, leaders of the Catholic and other Christian faiths, victims of the FARC-EP, and business leaders, among others.  Likewise, President Santos and his team consulted widely with and received recommendations from the high courts and magistrates, victims’ organizations, the women’s movement, Afro-descent and indigenous groups, youth, and retired military and police officers.

As a result of these dialogues, the government received some 500 proposals.  They reviewed and sorted these into groupings according to 57 themes, and the government’s negotiating team returned to Havana to discuss them with their FARC-EP counterparts.  After two weeks of intense discussions, word came from Havana late Saturday night that the parties had reached a new agreement.  The agreement was released to the public in the wee hours this morning. (Read it here.)

Analysis of the components of the agreement will be forthcoming, but it is noteworthy here that the new accord modifies or changes 56 of the 57 proposed themes discussed with the FARC-EP. (See Santos’s statement here.) Many concessions appear to have been made by the FARC, and one red line to which the FARC held firm is their right to be elected to public office.

Scenarios for Approval

President Santos will have the final word and authority to decide on the mechanism for endorsement of the accord.  Three scenarios appear to be under consideration.  First, the President could call for a new plebiscite, a costly procedure that would run a risk that the public would again reject the new accord.  While on a State visit in London earlier this month, President Santos suggested a second option.  This would put the peace agreement to a vote by the Congress, an elected body that could represent the broader public.  Here, Santos’s coalition has a healthy majority, so there is little doubt that the agreements would be approved.  Finally, the idea of a process of local endorsement in each of Colombia’s 1100 municipalities through cabildos abiertos, or municipal council meetings with the direct participation of the citizenry, was resurrected last week by former Justice Minister Yesid Reyes. (See more here.) This too appears to be a viable option.

Other mechanisms are emerging from the ground up.  Since the plebiscite, the country has experienced massive mobilizations spearheaded initially by youth and accompanied by women, victims, human rights and peace organizations, indigenous and Afro-descent communities, religious sectors, and artists.  A  sustained public presence, including peace tents in downtown areas, has been calling on the parties to revise the agreement and move to its implementation as quickly as possible.  The public came into the streets en masse over the weekend to celebrate the latest news and there are new proposals being generated to maintain a public presence as a mechanism of informal endorsement of the accords.  One initiative under discussion is to gather 10 million signatures in a campaign to provide a ringing public endorsement of the accords.

What Happens Now?

A key question is whether the new final accord will be accepted as final and definitive.  President Santos has ordered his negotiating team to return to Bogota and be available to explain any outstanding concerns to the No leadership.  Senator Uribe, via his Twitter account, called on Santos a few days ago to make the full texts known first to the No spokespersons and the victims, and not to consider them “definitive” until they had had a chance to study the new agreements and recommend new modifications, if need.  (See more here.)  It is unclear whether he will seek to draw out this process further. Many already consider the agreement to be definitive and are clamoring for its implementation.

The clock is ticking.  The Congressional term ends on December 16, and some 50 pieces of legislation will need to be approved for implementation of the accords to move forward. The roller coaster continues and we are coasting into the next turn.  Hang on tight…


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November 1, 2016

In case you missed it, here’s the interview PBS did with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos last night.

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October 31, 2016

Three weeks after the plebiscite, the shock appears to be wearing off.  In its wake and following intensive consultations that have opened dialogue with previously disaffected sectors (most notably, current President Juan Manuel Santos and his predecessor former President Alvaro Uribe) and consultations with a broad swath of Colombian politicial and social leaders, a realignment of political forces has been taking shape.  The scenario is highly polarized, but one new feature of the national landscape includes a groundswell of public support backing the peace process and a burgeoning national movement for peace spearheaded by youth.  This resurgence of peace activism, the resounding rejection of a return to war in response to the unanticipated plebiscite results, and dialogue processes that broaden the engagement of the citizenry and seek to break through this polarization will be critical for the refinement of the agreements reached, the successful implementation of the accords once they are finalized, and the sustainability of peace and reconciliation in Colombia.

The delay in the process with the FARC caused by the failure to approve the accords in the plebiscite has given oxygen to calls for a more complete peace with all of the illegal armed groups.  Formal talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), announced by President Santos on October 10 and slated to start in Quito, Ecuador on Thursday, October 27, have been temporarily delayed, but are in the works to be launched on November 3.

With the Nobel Peace Prize on the horizon for President Santos, the international community has underscored Santos’s international mandate for peace.  This constitutes an important source of leverage for President Santos as he navigates a difficult political landscape at home, which is where the real challenges lie.  That terrain and the political realignments they are witness too is marked by the quicksand of impending presidential elections in Colombia in 2018.

Realignment of Political Forces  

A political strategy for moving forward has now emerged that, if successful, could facilitate future implementation of a revised peace accord.  This strategy includes continued dialogues and consultations within Colombia, but keeps the primary negotiation nexus and decision-making authority focused on the parties in Havana, who, given the rejection of those accords by a margin of under 60,000 of 12.5 million voters, are now seeking ways to accommodate the critiques of the accords they spent four years crafting.  Once the parties fashion a new accord, responsibility for determining the appropriate steps to approve and implement it will be in the hands of President Santos.

An unexpected massive social movement for peace is beginning to raise its head.  First there was the march of silence.  Then the march of students.  Then the march of flowers to support the victims.  And this week the National Encounter of Victims.  The rejection of the accords has sparked a deepening of the commitment of many sectors, particularly youth, victims, universities, women, and social movements to reach across partisan lines and call for the maintenance of the bilateral ceasefire currently in effect, and a speedy agreement on the final peace accord to end the war.  It is accompanied by an effort to find a way to remove the accord from presidential politics.

The possibility that the peace could be lost and war perpetuated has sparked a new social movement that is characterized by two demands–maintain the ceasefire and revise and implement the agreements as quickly as possible.  As one student noted, “We want to be parents of peace, not children of war.”

Student Movement

Students have presented various manifiestos to the President that coincide in calling for a successful end to the negotiation of peace agreements, the maintenance of a definitive bilateral ceasefire, transparency and agility in the process, and protection for the guerrillas who have begun to demobilize and for all the citizenry.  They also ask to be given a role as monitors for the implementation of the agreements.  (See more here.)  On Oct. 13, Pres. Santos announced, that as a direct result of his meetings with the students, he was extending the bilateral ceasefire to Dec. 31, 2016.  (See his statement here.) A number of other notable engagements include:

–Peace tents have been set up in downtown Botoga since the plebiscite results were announced;

-Artists–musicians, performers, writers, journalists, photographers, actors, film stars–are holding mobilizations in Bogota every Tuesday until this is resolved;

-New citizen movements organizing to create visible support for peace in the streets have emerged and are actively organizing through social media –#PazALaCalle, #Paziempre, #Pazharemos, #AcuerdoYa;

-Women’s “Paz con las Mujeres” are demanding a 21st century inclusive peace with cultural ethnic family and sexual diversity.

–5 of the largest victims’ organizations have defended the transitional justice model developed in the peace accords.

Post-Plebiscite Action

Following the plebiscite, each of the stakeholders immediately accepted the unanticipated  results.  President Santos announced that he was extending the bilateral, definitive ceasefire; the FARC announced that they would continue to concentrate their troops in the zones that were under UN supervision; the parties requested an extension of the UN mandate for verification; and Jean Arnault, the head of the UN political mission headed to   Havana for consultations.

The head of the government delegation, Humberto de la Calle, presented President Santos with his resignation, which the President immediately rejected.  De la Calle and Peace Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo were dispatched to Cuba to meet with the FARC,  jointly  analyze the plebiscite results, take stock of the new political realities presented by the rejection of the accords they had reached only weeks earlier, and confer over next steps.  Just days later, on October 7th, Humberto de la Calle stated:

“After 3 days of dialogue with the FARC, in which we analyzed the results of election day last Oct. 2, we recognize that the majority of those who participates in the Plebiscite voted  in favor of the No, even if it was only by a few votes. This is the undeniable result of democracy on which there can be no doubt.  We will respect it.  Likewise, it is certain that the other half of the country voted for the Yes, and we honor their vote.  We have then a divided country.  If we truly want to build peace, we must seek the broadest consensus possible, we must seek unity.  That is why it makes sense for us to continue listening, in a rapid and efficient process, to the different sectors of society, in order to understand their concerns and quickly define a way out.”

Courting the “No”

In Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos immediately began a series of consultations with the sectors that had carried the “no” vote.  Santos asked Humberto de la Calle to lead a team in Bogota with Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín and Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas to initiate a process “to address the themes necessary to have an Agreement and to successfully achieve the dream of all of Colombia of ending the war with the FARC.”  (See Santos’s statement here.)  In particular, he opened a dialogue with estranged former President Alvaro Uribe, under whom he had served as Minister of Defense and who, as Senator, has been the lead opponent of peace talks with the FARC and the recently agreed peace accords.  Senator Alvaro Uribe and his Democratic Center campaign likewise named their own team: Carlos Holmes Trujillo, Iván Duque, and Oscar Zuluaga–all three pre-candidates for the presidency in 2018.  Conversations with Uribe and his party continue, and appear to be considered constructive by all concerned.

Nonetheless, the government has increasingly made it clear that the accord will be negotiated in Havana between the Santos team and the FARC, and that any adjustments made will respond to the broad range of concerns being expressed by and beyond the Uribe camp.  The FARC leadership have also manifest the same. “The FARC is open to seeking solutions to this impasse that has been presented to us,” lead negotiator Iván Márquez recently said in an interview with Daniel Coronell of Semana.  (Read it here.)  “We must keep in mind that the No is not homogeneous, it is not Mr. Uribe.  He represents a sector of the No.  There is a strong sector that represents Colombian Christians, and there are other sectors.”

In this regard, President Santos has reached out to a variety of other leaders in the “no” campaign, including former President Andrés Pastrana, who named Camilo Gómez as his negotiator to the Casa de Nariño; Conservative leader Martha Lucía Ramírez, Uribe’s former Min. of Defense; former Comptroller General Alejandro Ordóñez, who played a particularly insidious role in suggesting that the accords contained a “gender ideology” that would undercut traditional family values; leaders of the Evangelical churches who had rallied against said “gender ideology” and who are being courted by all sides for presidential campaign endorsements; and leaders of the Catholic church, which backed off from calling for a strong peace vote, in part due to this perceived threat to family values,  and instead urged its parishioners to vote their  conscience.

How these many divisions and negotiations will dovetail with the negotiations in Havana is not completely clear, but the initial mantle that Uribe assumed as spokesperson for the “No” vote may not be sufficient to dictate the terms of the next phase.  As analyst Ariel Avila pointed out in a recent Semana article, elected representation of Uribe’s Democratic Center party pales at every level in comparison with the government’s ruling coalition.  Avila notes, “The Democratic Center is a minority party that has 14% of the Congress, 56 of the 1103 mayoralties in the country, and one of 32 governorships that exist; that of Casanare.  Meanwhile, President Santos, with the National Unity, controls more than 70% of the Congress and just over 70% of local power.”  (See article here.)  In addition, the fissures within the No vote are also coming to light as different leaders of the No present their own proposals for moving forward.

National Dialogue

Nearly three weeks after the plebiscite, President Santos opened a new national dialogue with a limited time-frame and purpose. The President consulted with the different civil society, religious, political, and social sectors who opposed the accords and those who supported them, as well as those who represented the 63% who abstained from voting in the plebiscite.  Understanding and addressing the resistance of this important latter group will be key to reinvigorating Colombian democracy and to ensuring that the peace is solid.

President Santos asked for leaders of the No and the Yes votes  to present proposals that are not “impossible” or “dilatory,” and that are based on “realism and truth.”  In closing the receipt of proposals on Thursday, Oct. 20, Pres. Santos announced that he had met with “representatives of victims, the Catholic church, pastors of the Christian churches, with all of the political parties, with indigenous, afro, peasant, women, business, labor, youth, student organizations in Bogota and in the regions.” (See more here.)

In an address to the nation on Sunday evening, Oct. 23, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he had received 445 proposals that “will allow us to achieve not only a stable and lasting peace, but a broader and deeper peace.”  These proposals are now  “catalogued, organized and systematized in accordance with the chapters of the Accord,” and include proposals specifically solicited from Senator Uribe, exPresident Andrés Pastrana, Senator Marta Lucía Ramírez, ex-Comptroller General Alejandro Ordóñez, the Catholic and Christian churches, and the head of the Colombian Federation of Victims of the FARC Sofía Gaviria (see more here.).

The President noted, “There are many that coincide and are reasonable.  Others are difficult, but not impossible.  And others are totally unviable because they depart from the basis for example that there is no conflict to resolve and that–therefore, neither international humanitarian law nor transitional justice that was created precisely for assisting in resolving armed conflicts can be applied.  If there is no armed conflict, there would be nothing to negotiate!” (See his speech here.)

Back in Havana Again

With proposals in hand, the focus shifted back to Havana.  On Friday, Oct. 21, De la Calle and Jaramillo returned once again to the peace tables.  De la Calle noted, “We will work with commitment and speed in order to achieve this new accord as soon as possible.” (See his statement here.)  The negotiators are accompanied in Havana by Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo, High Commissioner for Post-Conflict Rafael Pardo, and Senator Roy Barreras, member of the government’s negotiating team; as well as Senator Iván Cepeda ex-Minister Alvaro Leyva, and various legal advisors to the teams.  None of these are strangers to the table and all are heavy-weights, what you might call “pesos pesados,” in Colombian political circles.  They have the capacity to move forward some of the major governmental institutions and coalitions necessary for whatever changes are agreed to in Havana.

The Work Resumes

On Monday, Oct. 24, the Colombian government and FARC-EP negotiating teams began to revisit the peace accord that the parties had reached last August 24, following six years of public and private negotiations in light of these new proposals.  President Santos charged the teams with reaching a new accord “as soon as possible,” and announced that as soon as a new agreement is  reached in Havana, he will exercise his constitutional and legal powers to determine how it will be implemented. (See his statement here.)

The FARC, for its part, has reiterated their respect for the constitutional process, something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.  They have recognized the victory of the No votes, and pledged to respect the democratic expression manifest in the plebiscite and their willingness to consider some modifications of the Accord.  “We think that we have to listen to them and we will do it with great respect,” Iván Márquez noted. (Read more here.)

Joint Communiqué No. 3

On Friday, October 28, the government and the FARC finished their first round of post-plebiscite talks and issued a joint statement from Havana.  It reads:

“The Delegations of the National Government and the FARC-EP, following meetings carried out in Havana with the guarantor countries, wish to inform public opinion that:

  1. The parties affirm that the Final Agreement for the End of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Durable Peace, signed on Sept. 26, 2016, contains the necessary reforms and measures to lay the foundations for peace and guarantee the end of the armed conflict.
  2.  In developing what was agreed to in the joint communiqué issued last October 7, we have analyzed the proposals for adjustments and refinements of the Final Accord that different sectors of society have put at the consideration of the Delegations of the National Government and the FARC-EP in charge of constructing the new accord.

3.  The proposals are being discussed with (todo cuidado) complete care. Many of them are being incorporated into the texts of a new accord.

4. With speed and in search of a quick result, we will continue to listen to a significant and diverse number of organizations and personalities from national life that have expressed themselves one way or another, considering even those who abstained from voting in the Plebiscite, seeking in every case the peace and reconciliation of Colombians.

5.  We will continue to advance this work beginning next Thursday, November 3, with the objective of producing, in a rapid and efficient manner, a new definitive accord.  Both Delegations register as positive that all this discussion is possible because for the first time in our recent history, peace is the essential nucleus of citizen reflection, leaving behind the past of war.

6.  Keeping in mind that the President of the Republic invested with the constitutional faculties to advance peace, we trust his management for the achievement of this national purpose.

7.  We are grateful to the guarantor countries, Cuba and Norway, to the accompanying nations, Venezuela and Chile, and to the internacional community for its permanent support for our work for reconciliation.  Likewise, we extend our gratitud to all the citizens who have gathered their proposals and expressed their backing for the Delegations of the National Government and the FARC-EP with the objective of building peace.” (Translation mine; see full Spanish text here.)

Role of the International Community

Throughout, the support of the international community has remained steadfast.  Cuba, Norway, Venezuela, and Chile have provided continuity, facilitation, guidance, and support throughout the recent crises, as have the Special Envoys from the United States, the European Union, and Germany.  At carefully chosen, critical moments, Cuba and Norway have issued statements designed to keep the parties on track and to calm public animosity.  Most recently, they issued a statement following the plebiscite testifying to the solidity of the process, the strong will of the parties to build peace in Colombia, and the commitment of the international community to  continue to support the process.  (See their statement here.)

Representatives of other international guarantors (Cuba and Norway) and accompanying nations (Chile and Venezuela), issued a statement in the throes of the crisis, testifying to the solidity of the process, the strong will of the parties to build peace in Colombia, and the commitment of the international community to  continue to support the process.  (See their statement here.)

The unanimous decision of the UN Security Council to extend the mandate for the UN’s political mission in Colombia is providing stability and critical technical support that buys the parties room to renegotiate terms in Havana while maintaining the ceasefire in the Colombian countryside that they signed into effect last June.

The international community upped the ante when the Norwegians announced  just days after the plebiscite that the Nobel Peace Prize this December will be awarded to President Santos.   Similarly, on Oct. 29, twenty-two heads of State provided a ringing endorsement of the peace process in their “Special Communiqué on the Peace Talks in Colombia,” at the close of the XXV Ibero-American Summit meeting being held in Cartagena.  The leaders praised President Santos for his efforts and noted that peace will bring “great benefits to the Colombians, with positive repercussions for all of the countries of the region.” (See their declaration here.)

Way Forward

For now, the Colombian negotiators are building on the track record they have accumulated and the good will they have achieved in resolving differences, finding common ground, and complying with interlocking and mutual commitments.  The Colombian public and the international community will need to exercise patience to allow the process to function and constructive solutions to be crafted.  They too need to be working hard to ensure that this critical moment for peace does not escape.  To the extent possible, international donors should maintain earmarks to support Colombia’s post-accord reconstruction, with or without the benefit of a peace deal.  The deal will come in its own time and fashion–perhaps in a matter of days as President Santos suggested, but just as likely in a matter of weeks or months.  In either case, it is likely to transpire in the thoughtful and thorough way that has characterized the process thus far.

Pressure on the parties to stay at the table until agreement is reached, and supporting a formal agreement by all the potential Presidential candidates that whoever wins the 2018 elections will implement the agreements as a matter of state policy could help to lend stability to what has been a period of tremendous uncertainty.  Support for young people, many of whom have not been active in politics before, and for women’s groups, that have been working in a culture that still does not accept that human rights are universal and apply to everyone (women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, gay, trans, and intersex persons, among others) will be an investment in strengthening Colombia’s democracy now and in the future.  In the end, the extra consultations and refinements, the dialoguing across differences, and the tremendous domestic and international support to find a negotiated solution as soon as possible will make for a stronger accord.  When the new accord is reached, having gone through this process of social dialogue, the peace accords should also have a greater chance of being implemented.  In the end, this may be more important than the specifics of the accord itself.


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October 12, 2016

After more than five failed efforts at peace negotiations between Colombia’s second largest guerrilla organization, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the Colombian government, and after two years of exploratory talks that included more than 22 rounds, the parties announced on Monday, Oct. 10 the start of the first formal peace talks.  The peace table will be installed in Quito, Ecuador, on October 27, 2016, and the first cycle of talks will begin on Nov. 3rd.  (Read their statement here, or view it below.):

Hurdles Surpassed

The ELN was launched in 1965, and is said to have some 2,500 members with a presence in 99 municipalities of the country.  Its influence is greatest in the eastern departments of Colombia, especially Arauca, Norte de Santander, and the Arauca-Boyacá-Casanare triangle.  Chocó, Bolívar, Cauca and Nariño are also ELN strongholds. (See more here.)

In June 2014, the Colombian government announced that secret exploratory talks in Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil had been underway with the ELN since January 2014.  A public phase of the talks was announced last March 30 along with a framework agreement to guide them.  The “Accord for Peace Talks between the Government and the ELN”  indicated that the goal of the talks would be to “put an end to the armed conflict, eradicate violence from politics, put the treatment of the victims in the center, and advance toward national reconciliation through the active participation of society in the building of a stable and durable peace.”

Nonetheless, the formal talks hit turbulence before they could be launched.  The impasse was apparently due to the issue of ELN kidnapping/retention practices.  Subsequent to the March announcement, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had insisted that the release of all hostages would be a pre-condition to the talks.  The ELN balked, noting that it had agreed to no pre-conditions and that these were added belatedly.  Talks stalled, and new kidnappings, including of three Spanish journalists, temporarily torpedoed progress.

In July, the government named two ex-ELN guerrillas–‘Francisco Galán’ and ‘Felipe Torres,’ as peace promotors (gestores de paz)– to move the process forward.  Both had been engaged in prior efforts to bring the ELN to the peace table.

The impasse appears now to have been resolved.  On Sept. 27, the day after the signing ceremony of the peace accord with the FARC in Cartagena, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he was prepared to begin formal negotiations with the ELN within a week if it agreed to release all of those individuals that they held hostage.  The ELN accepted his invitation.

Within days, the Domingo Laín Front of the ELN released Diego José Ulloque, a young entrepreneur from rural Arauca. Shortly thereafter, the ex-mayor of Charalá (Santander), Fabio León, was freed after being held for more than three months.  Then, last Monday, the ELN released Nelson Alejandro Alarcón in Fortul (Arauca).  Five more civilians are said to be held, but these three releases have sent a clear sign of interest in moving forward, particularly since ‘Pablito’, the powerful ELN commander in the Arauca region, has long been seen as opposed to peace talks, and the liberations of the aforementioned civilians are seen as an indication of his readiness to negotiate.  President Santos’s announcement that the peace talks would officially begin at this month’s end responded to these positive actions, as well as to the ELN’s call for a unilateral ceasefire during the plebiscite to vote on the Accord with the FARC on Oct. 2.

Agenda for the Talks

Monday’s joint announcement indicated that the government and the ELN will initially take up two of the points from the six-point agenda the parties laid out in March of this year.  (For the full agenda, see my earlier post here.)  These items include three unique issues–social participation in the process, democracy for peace, and transformations for peace– and three issues shared with the FARC agenda, namely, victims, end of the conflict, and implementation of the accords.

There is hope that the ELN negotiations will be able to build on much of the groundwork set in place with the FARC in Havana.  In an interview in El Tiempo, ‘Felipe Torres’ (Carlos Velandia) expressed hope that a unilateral ceasefire might be announced, and that the process could be expedited if the ELN agrees to begin with the agreement already reached with the FARC.  (See article here.)   In any case, the parties have agreed to move judiciously to end the conflict.

While there is overlap on key issues between the FARC and ELN agendas, most experts readily admit that the process with the ELN is likely to be much more difficult than the one with the FARC has been.  Perhaps the main reason is that the ELN does not have the kind of tight command-and-control for which the FARC is known.  The distinct origins of the two groups have also defined quite different agendas.  The FARC’s agenda has historically centered around rural, agrarian issues, while the ELN agenda has been more urban and with an intellectual and progressive social bent–a product of the Cuban Revolution, Liberation Theology, and Marxist philosophy.  The demands of the ELN –for social justice, national sovereignty over natural resources (including extractive industries)–have  traditionally been harder to pin down in a negotiations setting.

The agenda agreed on with the ELN in March is indicative.  The parties agreed that they will start their discussions on the issue of social participation, the first of the six points.  In November, they expect to establish mechanisms for civil society to participate in the peace process on the agenda that has been achieved.  In a Q&A issued by the government, the latter noted, “Through participatory mechanisms that will be defined, citizens will be able to contribute with their initiatives around substantive themes such as the restitution of victims’  rights, a central axis of the conversations; the peaceful and constructive treatment of conflicts, and the construction of citizenship.”  (See Preguntas-y-respuestas.)  Such citizen engagement is expected to lead “to the end of the armed conflict, the eradication of violence in politics, and to offer the ELN a transition to legal politics, without arms.”  Similarly, the parties have each committed themselves to undertaking “other actions and humanitarian dynamics in order to create an environment favorable to peace.”

As with the peace talks with the FARC, the agreed agenda with the ELN will not include any discussion about the economic development model, private property, military doctrine, or the future of the Armed Forces.

El Espectador reports that each round of talks is expected to last for six weeks without interruption, at the end of which time a joint report will give an accounting of the cycle. (Ver Alfredo Molano, “Todo está listo para sentarse con el ELN.”)


In a speech to the nation on Monday evening, President Santos noted that he would be announcing the members of the negotiating team in coming days.  Each side will have up to 30 members, including 5 plenipotentiaries and 5 alternates.  Signatories on yesterday’s statement for the government side included Mauricio Rodríguez (head delegate),  (ret.) Eduardo Herrera Barbel, José Noe Ríos and Julián Arévalo. Pablo Beltrán (chief of the delegation), Aureliano Carbonel, Gustavo Martínez, Bernardo Tellez and Consuelo Tapias signed for the ELN.  Frank Pearl, who had led the government negotiations with the ELN for many years beginning in the era of President Alvaro Uribe, and ELN delegation head during the exploratory phase, Antonio García, were conspicuously absent.

Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba, Chile, Norway and Brazil will serve as international guarantors for the talks, and will host the talks as determined by the negotiating teams.  International delegates who signed the agreement and have been engaged in the exploratory talks included Ramón Rodríguez Chacín and Carola Martínez (Venezuela), Juan Meriguet (Ecuador), Rodolfo Benítez Verson and Abel García (Cuba), Raúl Vergara Meneses and Luis Maira (Chile), Torleif Kveim (Norway), and José Solla (Brazil).


Back in Colombia, the prospect of a return to war has lit a fire under civil society, and the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize has energized the efforts to bring the peace project to fruition.  See my recent analysis in the press, especially:


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October 4, 2013

Following a plebiscite that rejected by a hair the peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP that was just signed in Cartagena on September 26, there is much soul-searching, self-critique, and reflection among those of us who have worked for a political solution that would put an end to so many years of war in Colombia.   More on this later.  For now, I have found some solace in the reminder from Mercedes Sosa that change is a constant.

“Todo Cambia”


I am working on a longer piece that looks at the roller coaster many of us have been on in recent weeks.  In the meantime though I wanted to share with my readers some of my initial reactions to unfolding events that I put into a press advisory issued by the U.S. Institute of Peace early Monday morning.  I include links below to my analysis from the media and online.

Was peace defeated in Colombia’s plebiscite?

“The results reflect a country united in seeking peace, but deeply divided over how to do so.  Both sides are accepting the results as legitimate and discussing ways to move the country toward peace.  The plebiscite results appear unlikely, in the short term at least, to reverse the march toward a political solution.”

“The Colombian people voted –by a narrow margin of less than 60,000 votes out of 13 million votes cast-to reject the Havana peace accords.  There is much speculation and soul-searching about how and why so many voted “no” and why the polls, which had predicted a “yes” win of some two-thirds of the voters–got it so wrong.”

Is former President Alvaro Uribe to blame?

“It’s a shame that ex-President Alvaro Uribe did not accept either President Santos’s or Timochenko’s invitations to dialogue before the plebiscite.  It might have saved everyone a lot of anguish.”

Did social media play a role?

“Disinformation, particularly within the social media networks, was pervasive, and misrepresentations of what the accords did or didn’t say were virtually impossible to correct.”

Why did supporters of the plebiscite lose?

“The “yes” vote had a much harder sell. The accord was 297 pages and few had read it (they had only one month). The agreement on justice was particularly complex; there was confusion about amnesties and pardons and concern that the FARC would not be adequately punished for their crimes.”

Will the ceasefire be maintained and what is FARC’s reaction after the defeat?

“The government and the FARC-EP are handling the results with cool heads and the parties have reiterated their commitment to peace. President Santos has announced that the bilateral ceasefire will be maintained, and that he will convene political and social sectors from both campaigns tomorrow to discuss ways forward.  FARC commander in chief Rodrigo Londoño has indicated that “no” win, words will be their only weapons.  The negotiators will be back at the peace tables in Havana tomorrow to establish a process for moving forward.”

Was peace defeated?

“The results reflect a country united in seeking peace, but deeply divided over how to do so.  Both sides are accepting the results as legitimate and discussing ways to move the country toward peace.  The plebiscite results appear unlikely, in the short term at least, to reverse the march toward a political solution.”

“The Colombian people voted –by a narrow margin of less than 60,000 votes out of 13 million votes cast-to reject the Havana peace accords.  There is much speculation and soul-searching about how and why so many voted “no” and why the polls, which had advertised a healthy 66-72% win by the “yes” vote–got it so wrong.”


To see more of my analysis in the news and online:

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