On the Eve of Round #14

September 8, 2013

In the last cycle of peace talks in Havana, some tensions surfaced, a short pause occurred, the process recovered, and a new date to resume talks was announced.  When the next round of talks begins tomorrow–Monday, September 9th–there will still be many challenges–some postponed from the last round of talks and others that have emerged from political circumstances within Colombia.

There appears to be good faith on the part of the delegations in Havana and they have made an explicit commitment to continue searching for solutions at the table until they reach a comprehensive agreement.  To the extent that the government and the FARC-EP can continue to develop a negotiation process that reconciles the differences that exist at the table, they are forging a model of dialogue that can help prepare the path for the future of peace and democracy in Colombia.

Peace Talks Don’t Occur in a Vacuum 

The conversations in Cuba are not occurring in a vacuum.  They affect and are affected by the political debates and context inside Colombia.  So far, the two worlds have managed to remain somewhat separate, but it is increasingly difficult to isolate what happens at the table in Havana from the tensions and events back home.

Since August 19, 2013, the beginning of the 13th round of conversations in Havana, Colombia has experienced several weeks of protests, strikes, and generalized discontent.  In part stemming from the social crisis in the countryside and the protests it engendered, on September 2nd, President Santos called for the resignation of his entire ministerial cabinet.  A few days later, he replaced five of his 16 ministers, among them the embattled Ministers of the Interior and of Agriculture.

The protests, although they were mostly peaceful, resulted in episodes of violence that left several people dead and more injured, produced  confrontations between students and police in Bogota, spawned accusations of excessive use of force and heavy-handed tactics by the public security forces (especially the ESMAD/Mobile-Anti-Disturbance Squadron) to control the protests, and resulted in the “stigmatization” of protestors as guerrillas or guerrilla sympathizers.  The situation disfavored President Juan Manuel Santos whose support, according to a new Gallup poll released on September 4th, plunged from 46 to 21 per cent since the last poll in June.

Given that Santos has linked his electoral future to the success of the peace process, soon thereafter, Santos reaffirmed his commitment to peace and  named his new Cabinet the “Cabinet of Unity for Peace” (Gabinete de Unidad para la Paz).  In a speech in Santa Marta, Santos declared, “Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important for Colombia than peace.”

Pressure to show progress towards peace was already being felt in the last round of conversations in Havana.  Given the recent poll results and the approaching deadline for presenting presidential candidacies, these tensions are likely to increase.   The gap between what is happening at the peace table in Havana and the perceptions within Colombia of what is (or is not) happening in Havana is enormous.  The need to close this gap and to link peacebuilding  with the urgently needed rural reforms is increasingly clear.  This is not a fast process.  Conceptualizing and implementing profound changes will require both patience and dialogue if the reforms are to be sustained in the long term.

Will to Accomplish Goals at the Table 

On August 26, 2013, the first anniversary of the signing of the Acuerdo General para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera (Framework Agreement for the End of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable, Durable Peace), the peace delegations in Havana issued a joint statement.  In it, the Colombian government and the FARC-EP reaffirmed their “complete disposition to reach an agreement.”  They noted that they continue their work and they articulated some of the advances made during the 13th cycle of conversations.  During the cycle, they noted that they had touched on all of the themes laid out in the Agenda agreed to in the Framework Agreement.  The latter has guided the peace process thus far.

Political Participation

In Joint Communiqué #23, issued on August 28th, the delegations of the government and the FARC-EP reported that during the last cycle, they  discussed and exchanged proposals on the second theme on the Agenda–political and citizen participation.  Humberto de la Calle, the head of the government team, noted that the table discussed “decisions that are required in order to broaden political participation and participation of the citizenry, and [to ensure] that there is not a combination of all forms of struggle.”

The FARC, for their part, made public some “minimum proposals for real democracy, peace with social justice, and national reconciliation,” according to the lead guerrilla negotiator, Iván Márquez (Luciano Marín Arango, member of the Secretariat of the FARC-EP).  On August 27th, FARC peace delegate Ricardo Téllez presented six “minimum proposals for political participation.”

A peace process provides an opportunity to deepen democratic practice and to socialize the theme of inclusion.  Beyond the political participation of the FARC-EP in the Colombian electoral process, one hopes that the conversations on political participation are broad enough to include those sectors of the Colombian population that have been historically excluded–victims, peasants, women, Afro-Colombians, indigenous, and youth, to name a few.  All of these excluded sectors are organizing themselves and seeking to be heard in the peace process and in the realm of public policy.  To give them a voice and listen to it is perhaps the best antidote to the social crisis that we have seen explode in the national agrarian strike and the recent protests.

End of the Conflict 

With regard to the third item on the Agenda, the parties have reaffirmed their commitment to end the conflict.  In a declaration issued on August 28th, De la Calle detailed what the end of the conflict would mean.  He said that peace would signify that “kidnapping and narcotrafficking, attacks where so many youths die absurdly, bombs, and mines that mutilate would end, and, of course, there would be compensation for the victims.”  De la Calle reiterated that they were seeking “a peace sustained in justice, truth, and reparations,” and noted, “We are dialoguing in Havana to put an end to the conflict and to initiate a new stage in our history of peacebuilding, progress in the countryside, vigorization of our democracy, territorial integration, and national unity.”

While the 13th round of talks was underway in Havana, debates raged over the juridical framework for peace (the so-called Marco Jurídico para la Paz) and the draft law for a referendum.  These two initiatives will have  enormous repercussions for the future of the peace talks and the future of the guerrillas.  Iván Márquez, leader of the FARC delegation, noted in a press conference that during the cycle, both delegations shared their positions on the Marco Jurídico and the ratification of the agreements and sought to find common ground (“encontrar aproximaciones”).

Illicit Drugs 

In the 13th cycle, the delegations discussed the fourth Agenda item–illicit crops.  On August 24th, they received a delegation in Havana composed of representatives of the UN Office in Colombia and the Centro de Pensamiento para la Paz of the National University.   The negotiators invited the delegation to facilitate a civil society forum on the theme of illicit crops and the parties agreed that the UN and the National University teams would organize two events.  The first event will be a national forum to be held from September 24-26 in Bogota.  This forum will have the same format as the two organized on agrarian development and political participation last December and April, respectively.  A second complementary forum on illicit crops will take place on October 1-3 in the city of San José del Guaviare (capital of the  departament of Guaviare).  That departament, which has lived for decades with the problem of narcotrafficking, will serve as a “case study for a solution to the problem of illicit drugs with a territorial focus.”  These forums on illicit drugs will nourish the peace talks in Havana.

In a statement on August 28, De la Calle said, “We want a Colombia without coca.  Obtaining FARC collaboration on this proposal will be an important part of the talks in Havana.”


In the talks in Havana, the delegates spoke about the theme of victims, the fifth item on the Agenda.  On August 20, the second day of the last round of conversations, Jorge Torres Victoria, alias Pablo Catatumbo (one of the FARC negotiators and commander of the Eastern Bloc) recognized in an official, public declaration that “there has been brutality and pain provoked by our ranks” and that that the FARC are prepared to “express their feeling of regret.”  The FARC’s recognition of responsibility for pain they have  caused as well as the previous acknowledgement of the government of  State responsibility for acts of commission and omission in the conflict are the first steps for creating an environment for peace and reconciliation.  (See “Reflections on the Historical Memory Report).

At the end of the cycle, the FARC gave a press conference, in which they noted that the theme of victims requires everyone to make “an act of contrition.”  The FARC called for the establishment of a “Commission for the Review and Clarification of the Truth of the History of Colombia’s Internal Conflict” to complement the report by the historical memory group.  (See “Reiteramos nuestra propuesta.”)

Humberto de la Calle underscored the importance of the “public recognition that the FARC have made with regard to their responsibility to the victims.”  De la Calle noted that acknowledgement is “an important step but it is only the first step.”  He reiterated that the reconciliation of Colombian society will happen by acknowledging all of the victims of the conflict, without differentiating by victimizer or by the origins or nature of the violence.

At the end of the cycle, the UN submitted to the Colombian Congress the report on the second round of regional peace tables done in recent months on the theme of victims.  UN officials warned that the FARC “have to face their victims,” something that is just beginning to happen.

Implementation, Verification, and Ratification

The negotiating teams presented their perspectives on the sixth point on the Agenda, “Implementation, verification and ratification.”  After the “pause” provoked by the request of President Santos to the Congress to fast-track a draft law on a referendum of the anticipated agreements, the two delegations have expressed confidence that they will be able to find appropriate mechanisms when they take on this point on the Agenda in Havana.  Meanwhile, there is a pending invitation to the president of the House of Representatives (Cámara de Diputados), Juan Fernando Cristo, to organize a delegation from the Colombian Congress to go to Havana in order to explore possible alternative formulas for ratifying an eventual peace accord.

“Special Moment” in the Talks  

On September 8, on the eve of resuming the peace talks, the government negotiating team met with President Santos in Cartagena.  Following the meeting, De la Calle issued a statement advising that this “is a special moment.”  He confirmed that all of the agenda items have now been discussed and “the moment for making decisions is arriving.”  He declared, “We really have the expectation that the time to end this confrontation is arriving.”

We all await to see what the next round of talks will bring.

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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