November 4, 2013
On October 31, the delegates of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP issued a joint communiqué announcing that they would extend the sixteenth round of peace talks taking place in Havana and work straight through until Monday, November 4th. This way, the parties might “advance in the discussion and construction of agreements on the second point of the Agenda [political participation].” The word here in Bogota, where I arrived last night, was that if an accord was not reached by today, the parties would extend the round again.
Though no announcement was forthcoming today, this morning’s news (El Tiempo, Nov. 4) confirmed that the parties are modifying the methodology they have used thus far. In keeping with the growing demands for results, they are likely to try working for longer stretches and breaking for shorter intervals between rounds. Discussion of a possible suspension of the process appears to have dissipated, although now opponents of the peace talks are distributing photos of some of the FARC negotiators relaxing on a yacht in the Caribbean in an effort to undermine and trivialize the peace process.
One of the FARC-EP negotiators, Rodrigo Granda told reporters that the parties are “making good progress” and “continue working very hard at reaching a final agreement on political participation.” According to El Tiempo, President Juan Manuel Santos gave the negotiating team explicit instructions not to return to Bogota without an agreement on political participation.
The topic of political participation is complicated. Those who have made the transition from combatant to elected office–including former guerrillas who have become respected political figures as well as ex-combatants who have had less success–can provide insights into the challenges ex-combatants face and the precautions that can be taken to ensure that there is political space for them to be heard within a democratic process. Some such figures, including Uruguayan President José Mujica, have visited the negotiators in Havana. Colombia has a number of ex-combatants–both male and female–from previous peace processes who have sought to enter politics and also have much to contribute. Former female ex-combatants have had a unique set of difficulties in past reintegration processes and consultation with them could help assure that this time around provisions will be made for their particular needs. It has proven particularly difficult for them–as well as for non-combatant women–to break into politics. The accord on political participation could deepen Colombia’s democratic structures by providing more equitable access to politics for women and other marginalized sectors, including peasant, Afro-Colombian, and indigenous groups.
Given that political, economic, and social exclusion form part of the roots of the conflict, it will be important to undertake political reforms that allow the expression of these as well as other dissident voices. Challenges relating to political participation include integrating the FARC-EP and their supporters, as well as popular and grassroots organizations, into the electoral process; and ensuring media access for a level playing field. The decades-long stigmatization of the guerrillas and the highly polarized electoral environment in Colombia today add to the challenge.
Finally, the issue of security is key. The previous experience of the FARC in demobilizing underscores the importance of providing safety guarantees for ex-combatants. Following peace talks with the FARC that began in 1982 under the administration of President Belisario Betancur and resulted in the Uribe Accord, signed on March 28, 1984, the FARC and other leftist political parties launched the Patriotic Union (UP). They had some initial successes. In 1986, UP candidates won 350 local council seats, 23 deputy positions in departmental assemblies, 9 seats in the House, and 6 seats in the Senate. In subsequent years however, a systematic campaign by paramilitary groups, government security forces, and drugtraffickers to eliminate the UP as a political force resulted in the deaths of from three to five thousand UP leaders–including two presidential candidates, 8 Congresspeople, 13 Representatives, 70 councilors (consejales), and 11 mayors. This experience is undoubtedly on the minds of the negotiators.
It has proven difficult for the government to provide guarantees in the current climate for human rights leaders and those seeking to return to their lands under the Victims and Land Restitution Law. Animosity toward former FARC guerrillas will make the security challenge even greater for them. Reconciliation processes at the local level could be important elements of a strategy that assists in preparing the conditions for a safe return of former combatants to civilian life. In a subsequent blog, I will discuss some of the civil society efforts that are beginning to emerge that could potentially help the process of reintegration.