On August 10th, after extending their work by several days, Colombian government and FARC-EP delegation members finished their twelfth round of talks in Havana. They issued a joint statement announcing that they had begun to craft agreements related to the second issue on the agenda, political participation. These agreements relate to the rights and guarantees for the exercise of political opposition in general and particularly for the new movements that are likely to emerge with the signing of a final peace agreement, as well as to the theme of access to media.
According to the joint communiqué, in addition to the aforementioned themes, “proposals on the diverse democratic mechanisms for citizen participation and access to the media within a framework of political participation” were presented and discussed. The “aspect related to security was addressed broadly within the context of guarantees for exercising politics, within the different focuses of each delegation.” (See “Nunca se había llegado tan lejos.”)
Satisfaction with Progress Made
While media stories have emphasized how long the peace process seems to be taking (fueled in part by the impending electoral season), the themes being dealt with at the table are not easy issues and are highly controversial. Both the government and FARC-EP teams have expressed their satisfaction at the progress made in the latest round of talks, and this is important. The government’s lead negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, declared that progress toward peace “has never come so far.” (See “Nunca se había llegado tan lejos.“)
In his statement, De la Calle underscored that the purpose of the talks is to end the conflict, that an agenda has been designed toward that end, and that the parties are sticking to the agenda. He observed, “The essence of the end of the conflict is none other than the rupture of the link between politics and arms, in order to transition to a scenario where everyone is playing by the same rules, which are those of democracy. This means that, on the one hand, those who are transitioning to democracy must lay down their arms. This is the end of the combination of all forms of struggle. And on the other hand, those who participate in democracy must have guarantees by the State that they are not going to be the object of violence and that they can exercise opposition and legal political activities. These are two-way guarantees.”
De la Calle also reiterated that the accords reached thus far offer the prospect of reversing poverty in the countryside, recognize the rights of the victims who have been displaced, and should reinvigorate Colombian democracy, particularly in the regions. He underscored that the Colombian population will ultimately decide on whether to accept the agreements being reached.
The FARC-EP delegation, for its part, gave a press conference on August 10 in which they concurred that “significant advances” have been made on the theme of political participation. Their press release elaborated some of the activities in which the delegations engaged during the twelfth round of talks, including hearing testimony from academics including Víctor Manuel Moncayo, Marco Romero, Carlos Medina Gallego, Sergio de Zubiría, Alberto Rojas Puyo and Fabio Velásquez. The FARC-EP delegation summarized some of the key points made by their visitors and observed, “We coincide in the certainty that without the exercise of political opposition there is no democracy, that the mobilization of the citizenry is the most effective counterweight to powerful groups, and that the Forums placed the absent voice of social organizations at the table of conversations (mesa de conversaciones) and produces the inputs from their own demands.”
The parties announced they would resume discussion on the issues relating to political participation on August 19.
Proposals on the Topic of Political Participation
While specific government proposals have not been made public, the FARC has released dozens of proposals, some quite detailed, related to the theme of political participation. These proposals, available on the FARC-EP peace website (now published in English), are far-reaching and many deal with highly charged issues relating to power-sharing. They include issues as diverse as stimulating political participation in the regions, communications and cultural strategies for a national reconciliation process, restructuring the State, redesigning the legal-economic order, political and electoral reform, democratizing ownership of the media, and convening a national constituent assembly.
One of the most controversial issues relates to who will be allowed to hold office under what conditions. The parties seem to have found a way to discuss these highly charged issues with a spirit of respect and trust. The parties in Havana may come to agreement that the FARC will need to be granted special dispensation for representation within elected bodies, and they may reach agreement as to what the formula might be–whether temporary or for a limited period, whether all FARC members will be able to elect and be elected, whether human rights crimes will limit electoral opportunities. The public has yet to be brought along however and strong leadership will be required to persuade the populace that the FARC has a positive role to play after so many years at war. The Colombian electorate will have the final say, so this step of education will be particularly important to the future of peace in Colombia.
For further reflections on the status of the peace process, see my interview from last night’s show on CCTV:.
See also my discussion on this afternoon’s HuffPost Live show, Colombian Peace Talks with FARC in Cuba.