In President Santos‘s remarks at the Casa de Nariño on Monday, August 27, he announced that his government had been engaged in exploratory talks with the FARC, and that future talks, the details of which are expected to be announced in coming days, will be based on lessons learned from Colombia’s past peace processes (of which there are many). Santos announced that the talks were being undertaken with the assumption that they would end, not prolong, the conflict; and that the military would continue to be present and engaged in operations throughout the national territory. These second points draw from key lessons derived from the Colombian government’s last experience of dialogue with the FARC from 1998-2002. During that period, violence intensified, both sides ratcheted up their military capacity, and the unmonitored demilitarized zone (zona de despeje) was used for all sorts of criminal activity including drug trafficking and kidnapping. Such lessons are important inputs for designing a process that will be more successful this time around.
The FARC and ELN likely have learned their own lessons and it will be important to reflect on those as well. One, undoubtedly, relates to security guarantees. Past efforts of ex-combatants to reintegrate into the political life of Colombia have come at a high price. Thousands of members of the Unión Patriótica, the political party where many ex-FARC combatants sought to engage in politics, were killed. The decision to carry out talks outside of Colombia may help guarantee the security of the participants at this point in time, but security issues will undoubtedly be important to address for the future.
For the past few years, I have been engaged on behalf of the U.S. Institute of Peace in helping to generate dialogues around what lessons Colombia’s many peace processes–successful and unsuccessful–might have to offer future peace talks. In February 2012, before the ten-year anniversary marking the end of Colombia’s last peace talks and as secret talks were about to start in Havana, USIP, along with colleagues from CINEP, Universidad de los Andes, and Georgetown University, released a document that summarized ten of the lessons we had culled from some of these dialogues. The document was issued in English as “10 Years After Cajun: Lessons for Peace in Colombia Today” and in Spanish as “A los diez anos de Caguán: Algunas lecciones para acercarse a la paz.” We also supported conferences that led to the Spanish publication of Lecciones para la paz negociada: Retrospectiva histórica en Colombia (ed. Fernando Sarmiento Santander, publ. CINEP, 2011). These documents will continue to offer frameworks for generating the discussion and ideas that a national peace process will require.