October 18, 2013
The rumors of recent weeks that a postponement of the peace talks might occur during electoral season (see my last blog post) appear to have died down, and Colombian government negotiator Humberto de la Calle and FARC representatives have said that a postponement is not under consideration at the peace tables in Havana. Nonetheless, civil society organizations are rolling out plans to support the peace process and underscore their commitment to ensuring that the parties stay at the table until a peace accord has been signed.
On October 18, the one-year anniversary of the launching of the peace talks in Norway, the Peace Commissioners of the Colombian Congress are holding public hearings on “The Citizens’ Mandate for Peace: Don’t Get Up From the Table!” The hearings will take place this morning in the Colombian Congress (Salón Boyacá / Carrera 7 No 8 – 68 – Bogotá) from 8 am to 1 pm. Numerous social organizations–including Redepaz, Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, Sipco, the Red Universidades por la Paz, Justapaz, Mencoldes, Ruta Pacífica, Mujeres por la Paz, Redprodepaz, and the Instituto de Estudios Políticos de la Universidad Autónoma de Bucaramanga–will participate. Registration for the hearings can be done online.
Update on the 15th Round of Talks
On October 13, the 15th round of talks in Havana between the Colombian government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP) came to a close. There were frustrations expressed by both sides, and unlike after past cycles no joint statement was issued, but the parties remained positive overall about their ability to reach a final agreement and agreed to resume talks again on October 23.
On the eve of the last cycle, the government’s lead negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, issued a statement in which he shared some candid reflections on the state of the peace talks currently under way. De la Calle underscored some areas of agreement between the parties. For one thing, both sides agree that the purpose of the talks is to reach an agreement that puts an end to Colombia’s internal armed conflict. They agree that “profound reforms that strengthen our democracy will be necessary.” Likewise, both parties at the table recognize “the problems that besiege the nation, our system” and want to resolve them through a strengthening of the rule of law. In addition to the agenda and methodology, the parties have agreed that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” They have also agreed to keep discussions at the table in Havana confidential in order to facilitate agreements. Finally, both sides agree that the agrarian development agreement achieved in May is “historic” and “will radically transform the situation in the countryside.” De la Calle suggested that the joint negotiation of this agreement on land bodes well for the capacity of the parties to reach agreement on the remainder of the Agenda. One of the FARC negotiators, Andrés París, noted in an interview at the end of the cycle, “We have advanced as never before.”
Tensions in the Talks Predictable
De la Calle also shared some observations on areas of tensions that had emerged during the talks. These were mostly quite predictable and already apparent when talks were first launched in Norway one year ago this week.
Differences on Pacing
One area of disagreement has had to do with the question of pacing. When President Santos announced the peace talks in September 2012, he noted that a peace accord would be reached in “months, not years.” At the formal launch of the talks in Norway the following month, lead FARC-EP negotiator Luciano Marín (aka Iván Márquez) announced that “there will be no express peace.”
The differing interpretations of what would constitute a timely resolution of the conflict has not gone away, though it has not seemed to disrupt the work at the table. In his October 12 statement, De la Calle noted that they needed to move more quickly and cited the commitment of the parties to do so in the framework agreement (Acuerdo General) signed by the parties on August 26, 2012 in Havana. There both parties agreed to “guarantee the effectiveness of the process and conclude the work on the items on the Agenda in an expeditious manner and in the least amount of time possible… in order to fulfill the expectations of society for a prompt agreement.” In a speech in Cartagena during a meeting of Colombian security forces, President Juan Manuel Santos reiterated that the talks were going too slowly and blamed the FARC for the lack of more results.
Iván Márquez defended the FARC’s position in an October 13 press conference. He stated, “If when we speak of speed we are talking about the time needed [to reach agreement], the time cannot be of such a short length that it is impossible to consider in the best way possible the problems that have caused a war of more than half a century.” Furthermore, noted Márquez, “After presenting some 100 proposals on Political Participation, after responding to all of the concerns presented by the government…, and after working around the clock to unlock disagreements and show solutions laden with synderesis and absolute willingness to reconcile, it is not reasonable to purport to show the insurgency as the part of the dialogue that is slowing the pace … of the process.”
‘Andrés París’, another spokesman of the FARC peace delegation, said in an interview with El Tiempo, “The problem is that the Government creates these expectations, it throws a tantrum in Colombia, but its delegates arrive in Havana and everything is normal.”
Scope of the Talks
A related area of tension has to do with the scope of the talks. The FARC delegates consider any of the themes mentioned in the preamble to be fair game for discussion at the table. FARC-EP negotiator Marco León Calarcá explained, “The General Agreement of Havana, apart from the Agenda, contains a preamble and some rules for the operation. We conceive the dialogues within this General Agreement, we don’t want them to be limited to the points.”
The government negotiators for their part have consistently sought to narrow the negotiations to the six specific agenda items delineated in the body of the framework agreement. “The source of the problem is not the methodology,” insisted de la Calle in his October 12 statement, but delays stemming from the FARC’s insistence in introducing themes outside the 6-point Agenda, such as the economic model, structural reforms of the State, mining, and the Armed Forces. In addition, De la Calle complained in his Oct. 12 statement that the FARC’s interactions with the press on topics related to their political program is confusing the Colombians about the purpose of the talks and causing the talks to lose public support. He suggested that the FARC could revisit these broader issues once they won power through the ballot box.
More substantive sources of disagreement have included the legal framework for peace (marco jurídico por la paz) and a draft law that is under consideration to allow Colombians to ratify a future agreement in one of the elections scheduled for 2014. As much as the specific content of these two initiatives, FARC opposition to the measure is also grounded in what the FARC’s top leader, Timoleón Jiménez (“Timochencko), described as “unilateral impositions” that are affecting the peace table.
De la Calle responded that the push for the legal framework was not “a unilateral act of the Government,” but a “responsible and timely decision in order to have the necessary legal instruments in case a peace agreement is reached. He argued that the legal framework for peace “opens a needed constitutional space in order to have an integrated strategy for transitional justice. De la Calle also clarified that the draft referendum law seeks to define a date for a hypothetical referendum that would “facilitate the participation of the greatest number of people.” The convening, content, and nature of the referendum would nonetheless be arrived at through an agreement with the FARC at the peace tables.
In sum, the table in Havana continues to do its work, despite the rumors, debates, and accusations that are flying in Bogota and the differences that surface from time to time at and outside the table. Despite these (and presumably many other) disagreements, both sides at the table have respected the rules of confidentiality and appear to be convinced that agreement can be reached. This assurance is sufficient cause for continued hope.