Podcast: What’s Happening with Colombia’s Peace Process?

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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Heartbreaking Headlines from Mocoa and How You Can Help

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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Building Colombia’s New Peace: Young Peace Leaders Explore Their Roles in Colombia and Beyond

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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Colombia Peace Talks Open with Second Rebel Group: Process Might Provide Model for Civil Society Participation

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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Happy Thanksgiving: Peace Accord Signed Today in Bogota

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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Revised Colombian Peace Accord Released Today, Available Here

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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President Juan Manuel Santos Interview on PBS NewsHour

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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