For those who were not following the confusing ebb and flow of the peace talks last week, this post summarizes some of the highlights.
On August 20th, the second day of the thirteenth round of talks in Havana, FARC negotiator and head of the Western Bloc of the FARC Jorge Torres Victoria, alias Pablo Catatumbo, announced in a public statement the FARC’s recognition that “there has been bitterness and pain provoked by our organization” and that they were prepared to express their “sense of regret”. His public statement of wrongdoing, like earlier statements by the government acknowledging the State’s responsibility for the toll of the war, bodes well for the process.
Proposed Referendum Provokes Response
On Thursday, August 22, President Santos and leaders of the National Unity coalition presented a statutory bill to the Colombian Congress that would pave the way for a referendum on any eventual peace accords. The bill proposed holding the referendum during previously scheduled ordinary elections–either the March 9, 2014 Congressional elections or the May 25 presidential elections. (See La Silla Vacía’s take )
The President’s announcement clearly took the FARC by surprise. The FARC responded on Friday morning that they needed time to analyze the government’s proposal, to conduct an internal consultation, and to assess the population’s reactions to the referendum proposal. The FARC underscored that they were not calling for a break in the talks. Delegation member Jesús Santrich reiterated the FARC’s commitment to remain at the table until a final agreement to end the conflict is reached. The FARC’s military leader, alias “Timochenko”, charged the government with imposing a referendum in “violation of the rules” of the process, but maintained the FARC’s determination to stay at the table nonetheless.
While the government has long maintained its preference for an up-or-down referendum, the FARC have been pushing for a national constituent assembly as their preferred ratification mechanism. The framework agreement approved by both parties anticipates discussion of the ratification mechanism as the sixth agenda item, “Implementation, Verification, and Ratification”.
The government’s lead negotiator, Humberto De la Calle, clarified that the bill is consistent with the framework agreement, as it neither convenes a referendum nor determines its content, an the mechanism will be subject to the agreements made by the delegations in Havana.
Santos Recalls Government Negotiators
Santos initially recognized the legitimacy of the FARC’s position, but warned that “time is fleeing and the patience of the Colombian people has its limit.” Soon thereafter, however, Santos appeared to harden his stance, noting, “In this process, those who dictate the pauses and set the conditions are not the FARC.” Much to the surprise of everyone, including his own team, Santos then recalled the government negotiating team to Bogota in order to review the FARC’s position, promising to renew the talks “when we consider it to be convenient.”
For his part, De la Calle reassured the public that the government is not leaving the table and that he hoped the FARC would resume talks quickly. He repeated government’s assessment that it is complying with its responsibility to foresee and create the optimal conditions for ratifying the peace accords and guaranteeing their implementation.
The FARC promptly clarified that they expected to be back at the table on Monday, August 26th.
Uribe for his part criticized the call for a referendum from his Twitter account. He tweeted that the “referendum on terrorism is a maneuver of the Government to distort the Congressional and Presidential elections.”
On Saturday, August 24, President Juan Manuel Santos met at the Casa de Nariño with De la Calle, general (ret.) Óscar Naranjo, and industrialist Luis Carlos Villegas. (Photo by Javier Casella, SIG, August 24, 2013, Casa de Nariño)The remaining members of the negotiating team—Sergio Jaramillo, Frank Pearl, and General Mora–remained in Cuba for a previously scheduled meeting with UNDP and National University representatives to discuss the arrangements for another civil society forum.
Following the meeting at the Casa de Nariño, Santos ordered his team back to Havana and the renewal of conversations the morning of Monday, August 26th. This morning, indeed, talks resumed, and the FARC shared their analysis of the situation, underscoring their concerns that the process had been violated, but that they would continue at the table.
Significance of the Pause
The pause in the peace talks, although brief, was significant. First, the pause provided a reminder of how delicate a peace process can be. It showed how easily one side can walk away from the table, and how quickly a process, no matter how carefully it is construed, can be put in jeopardy.
Secondly, the pause served as a reminder that the process for reaching agreement is as important as the content of the agreement itself. Neither side holds all the cards. An agreement will not be reached if one side attempts to impose its views unilaterally.
Third, the issue that provoked the pause is a reminder that the parties hold different views, and that reconciling these differences will require creativity and commitment. The expressions of confidence from the parties at the table that they will be able to find a way forward is encouraging, but time, patience, persistence, and political will be needed to find the solutions.
Fourth, the week’s events are also a reminder that, although the parties at the table are authorized to negotiate, they are ultimately responsible to constituencies that are not seated at the table. These constituencies are multiple and have conflicting needs and interests, and the parties have a responsibility to bring them along. The achievement and eventual implementation of the accord depends on their success in doing so.
Fifth, this week, both sides peered at the edge of the brink and stepped back. The fact that cooler heads prevailed this time is no guarantee for the future, but it is reassuring that the potential crisis was averted so quickly and that both parties have re-committed themselves to the talks. As the electoral season unfolds in Colombia and the parties get closer to reaching final agreements, the road may get bumpier, and these commitments will help keep peace on track.
Finally, the current tensions over the peace talks were echoed more visibly in the general social upheaval related to the national agrarian strike, road blockades, and protest marches (see my last blog post). This week’s events underscored the desperate need for not just a signed peace accord, but for the urgent transformation of the countryside that one hopes the peace accord will herald.