Twelfth Round of Talks Under Way in Havana

In Cuba, the parties have been making steady progress on the peace agenda, with occasional, if relatively minor, delays.  Talks were to resume on July 22nd, but the discussions on the Marco Jurídico para la Paz (where President Santos and the High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo gave testimony last week), as well as some personal issues and the need to sort through the inputs that have been collected through the Colombian Congress’s regional consultations on political participation, delayed the renewal of the talks by one week.  It is striking that neither party has left the table, or threatened to leave the table, so far.  This is unprecedented, and a sign of the seriousness with which the parties are taking their commitment to reach a final agreement.

Nonetheless, the pressures to come to a final agreement are strong and are intensifying. President Santos will need to announce his intentions for next year’s presidential election by November, and electoral politics are already gaining momentum and expected to hit full tilt by then.  The growing tension can be seen in the numerous declarations that both parties are making to the press; the parties had originally agreed to refrain from “microphone diplomacy,” which is generally understood to undermine discussions at the table by hardening positions and making compromise more difficult.  This week, Humberto de la Calle, the government’s lead negotiator, called on the FARC to cease their politicking and focus on reaching an agreement to end the conflict.  (See “Proceso no es para hacer política.”)  The FARC negotiators for their part critiqued the government’s handling of a social conflict that is boiling over in Catatumbo, where peasants have shut down all activities for 45 days and counting.  FARC spokesmen have also criticized the government’s “persistence in maintaining and deepening the causes of the confrontation” particularly as they relate to land tenure and use.

Talks Resume in Havana

On Sunday, July 28th, 2013, the Colombian government and the FARC-EP returned to the negotiating table in Havana, where this round of talks is expected to continue until August 8th.  Political participation is the main item under discussion.  The parties will be looking to establish a mechanism that will allow the FARC to give up its weapons, constitute itself as a legal political entity, and safely and effectively engage in electoral politics and social opposition activities.  

The FARC has prepared ten proposals on the topic of political participation.  These include measures to recognize its right to engage in political and social opposition, protect excluded social sectors and minorities, restrict and eliminate paramilitary activities, and grant excombatants seats on the National Elections Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral), the Advisory Board for Foreign Affairs (Comisión Asesora de Relaciones Exteriores) and the Board of the Banco de la República. (See Las cartas de las FARC en participación política.)

Recent provisions to grant juridical status (personería jurídica) to the Patriotic Union (UP) as well as the legalization of the Marcha Patriótica in April 2012 are widely perceived as positive steps toward opening space for FARC ex-combatants to be integrated into Colombian political life.  The UP party, created in 1985 as a result of the peace talks with the FARC, saw its leadership decimated through the selective assassination of thousands of its leaders and followers.  FARC negotiators are calling for clarification of these killings by a truth commission and integral reparations.

Beyond the issue of political participation, there are two other themes that are undoubtedly on the minds of the negotiators and that may intervene in the discussions in Havana.  The first is the Marco Jurídico para la Paz, the framework for the peace talks that was approved by the Colombian Congress last year, and now faces review by the Constitutional Court following challenges regarding its constitutionality.  Jesús Santrich, one of the FARC negotiators, has already announced that the Marco Jurídico should be discussed and agreed to in Havana if it is to be effective.  (See Marco Jurídico para la Paz debe discutirse en Cuba.)

The second issue concerns the rights of Colombia’s victims to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  These rights were brought to the center of the political stage when the Historical Memory Center presented its final report, Basta Ya! Colombia: Memorias de guerra y dignidad, to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos last Wednesday, July 24th.  The report has been the talk of the country, and has been featured in all of the major media since its release.  The revelations are sobering, and it seems that the voices of the victims are finally permeating the national consciousness.  In a recent forum sponsored by Semana, Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo announced that the government will work to ensure the participation and representativity of the victims in Havana when the issue of victims comes to the table.  (See “Piden presencia de las víctimas en la mesa.”)  President Santos’s speech at the July 24th ceremony, which I was privileged to attend, could not have been more clear:  No one can remain indifferent, change is necessary, and institutions made for war must be transformed into institutions designed for peace.  Ending the war can provide satisfaction to the victims and help ensure that this cycle of violence, which has claimed 220,000 lives, is ended. 

The rules agreed to by both parties were that peace talks would take place in the midst of war, and so they are.  In Arauca, the conflict intensified last week with the killing of 15 soldiers, three at close range, and the capture of a dozen guerrilla insurgents there. In this context of ongoing war, there seems to be little tolerance by the press or the broader public for military attacks by the guerrillas, which deepen skepticism about guerrilla intent, while it seems to be expected that the government will continue to hit the guerrillas hard.

From within Colombia, social conflict is beginning to hit the boiling point on numerous fronts around the country.  There has been a rash of protests, strikes, and demonstrations by the mining, peasant, and coffee sectors, and a general strike is planned for August 19th.  Such activities reflect a society where inequity and exclusion continue to thrive, and vast sectors of the population do not feel that their needs are being heard or addressed through the democratic electoral structures.  Such protests put even more pressure on the negotiators in Havana to come to an agreement so that mechanisms that have already been agreed to can be implemented and will truly “transform the reality of the countryside.”  The turmoil around the countryside is a reminder that resolution of the conflict at the negotiating tables in Havana is only the first step to building peace in Colombia.  It is also a reminder of how important processes of dialogue will be to mitigate conflicts in the regions once an accord is reached.

About Ginny Bouvier

Love reading, writing, thinking, and working with people to make the world a better place. Family and friends, yoga, travel, photography, perusing dessert menus keep me sane. Latin American enthusiast. Peace practitioner yearning for justice. Heading up the Colombia program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, but tweets and posts are my own.
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