On Tuesday of this week, I gave a talk on lessons from past peace processes for a panel at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). I was joined by my colleagues Marc Chernick from Georgetown University, Adam Isacson and Jimena Sanchez from WOLA, and Mark Schneider of the International Crisis Group (which has just issued a new report, Colombia: Peace at Last?). The panel was rather upbeat, as, even noting some of the challenges ahead, we all agreed that this is a moment of optimism and possibility for Colombia.
In the discussion, I noted the absence of a mediator in the process. Cuba and Norway are serving as guarantors, but we don’t yet know how the parties have defined the role of guarantor and whether it will include a facilitation role. Venezuela and Chile are accompanying the process, but their roles have not been publicly delineated either. Each of the sides will have their own negotiating team, presumably charged with getting the best deal possible for their particular interests. There is no one specifically charged with helping to find common ground for agreement. I speculated that once the different positions of the parties have been put on the table, if resolution is not forthcoming or if blockages stall the process, the parties may choose to call in a mediator. This could be a national mediator –of which Colombia has many–or someone from an international organization. The United Nations, Organization of American States, or even UNASUR come to mind. The idea is that a trusted third party can often help the parties move forward through difficult areas of disagreement.
The subtleties were lost in translation, however. The headlines of El Tiempo (Sept. 29, 2012) read, “Negociaciones de paz deberían tener mediador internacional: expertos,” (“Peace negotiations should have an international mediator: Experts”) . The article noted that this was the consensus of a Washington forum organized by WOLA.
Far from calling for a mediator (international or otherwise) to be brought in, I was talking about the options available to the parties through the different roles of facilitators, guarantors, and mediators. My colleagues likewise underscored some of the benefits to mediation, but did not call for an international mediator. Santos’s team and the FARC have their game plan in place and have agreed on a process for moving forward. They will make adjustments if and when they need to, and as they see fit.
I’m sure many of us have been misquoted, mistranslated, misinterpreted, or had our words taken out of context. In the course of a peace process, however, the press should take extra precautions to ensure that they are reporting accurately and should be aware of how their reporting might impact the process itself.