Wrapping up the Old Year and Starting Afresh

12 January 2014

Happy New Year to all!

Washington National Cathedral by night (Photo by Virginia M. Bouvier)

Washington National Cathedral by night (Photo by Virginia M. Bouvier)

The delegates of the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP resume their conversations in Cuba on illicit crops and drug trafficking tomorrow.  (See my two earlier posts, one in Spanish and one in English on this topic.)  This will be the nineteenth round since the peace talks were launched in Norway in October 2012.  Before heading to Havana  on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 12, the head of the government delegation, Humberto de la Calle, announced at a press conference at the Casa de Nariño that his team was prepared to “make every effort” to “make the dream of peace in Colombia a reality.” With legislative and presidential elections on the horizon for 2014, the politics of peace could mesh with the electoral cycles in unpredictable ways.

It has been a busy season that has left little time for blogging.  In Washington before the holidays, the U.S. Institute of Peace, where I work, hosted a discussion with Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro, who had come to Washington to present a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). He had just been removed from office and stripped of his right to run for office for 15 years by Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez. (See my earlier post here.)  Ordóñez claimed that the mayor violated free market principles and endangered people’s health when he de-privatized the Bogota garbage collection industry last year.  On Friday, January 10, Petro called for indefinite protests in Bogota should the Inspector General’s decision go into effect. (See article here.)

Bogotá Visit

In the meantime, I am just back from a quick-fire trip to Bogotá, where UN-Women invited me to spend a few days providing trainings on women, gender, and comparative peace processes.  In setting up my agenda, UN-Women worked closely with the President’s Office on Gender Equity, whose head is one of the newly named plenipotentiaries at the peace table in Havana, Nigeria Renteria.  UN-Women organized three seminars for me with UN-Women staff, with a dozen staff members of the high commissioner for peace, and with about 60 members of the international donor community working in Bogota.  

I had the opportunity to meet with Nigeria over the course of two intense days, and to discuss with her the efforts and strategies of women in other peace processes around the world.  In a separate meeting with Sergio Jaramillo, Colombia’s high commissioner for peace, I raised (among other issues) the ways that the table in Havana can model democratic patterns of inclusion, the need to address violence against women in order to interrupt the conflict cycle, and the importance of women’s inclusion for legitimizing and implementing any accords reached.  I also talked with the other new plenipotenciaria, María Paulina Riveros, about her appointment and some of the anticipated transitional justice dilemmas in Colombia.  I left feeling optimistic that the new delegates to the table will bring a range of experiences and grounding in realities of the regions outside Bogotá that will complement the strengths already at the table in Havana.  It will be fascinating to see how the new members of the team are integrated into a process that is already well in place, and the extent to which their inputs will contribute to current and future discussions.  (In case you missed it over the Thanksgiving break, click here to check out my article in Foreign Policy on the two new team members.)  On another note, the FARC-EP team will also have a new member, Julián Conrado.  (See background here.)

On my return from Bogotá last Friday, I organized a small luncheon at the U.S. Institute of Peace with Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón, newly arrived Colombian Ambassador Luis Carlos Villegas, USIP President Jim Marshall, and a handful of staff from the Colombian Embassy and USIP.  At the lunch, VP Garzón reaffirmed the sense of optimism I felt when I left Havana.  He underscored that both the FARC-EP and the government of Colombia are at the peace table in Havana of their own free will, and that they share a desire for peace.  We discussed the roles of the international community, the need for the Colombian population to be engaged and to approve whatever agreement is reached, and the government’s desire to open a table this year with the National Liberation Army (ELN) as well.  Nonetheless he cautioned that “some are more interested in the conflict than the solution, in violence and war more than peace.”  Garzón noted that “violence has become a business” in Colombia and the challenges ahead loom large.

From my talks with the various government officials, I found a unanimous sense of optimism around the talks and the prospects for attaining a peace accord.  Some thought an agreement could be reached as early as late March, though the electoral calendar in Colombia is a wild card that could impact negotiations in unanticipated ways.  I also found a growing recognition that the peace accord will only be the beginning of bringing peace to Colombia.  “Once the agreement is reached, the hardest part — putting the accord into practice, will begin,” noted Ambassador Villegas.

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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2 Responses to Wrapping up the Old Year and Starting Afresh

  1. luzhelena07 says:

    Hi Ginny,not so much starting from afresh!. There are a number of issues in the public agenda, as a buden from last year. I agree with you that there is a sense of optmism among some Colombians. There is also a ¨fierce ¨oppositon to the dialogues towards a peace treaty with FARC. There is a lot of peace pedagogy that has to take place,also.In this respect, the international funding community should be aware of this priority. As you mention , the coming electoral process will be ¨una prueba de fuerza ¨ to the colombian institutions. In effect, unanticipated facts, and forces make of these times both hopeful and unpredictable Right now, at the very momento I write this comment we are living through a very ifascinating moment, a turning point for citizens ?_with the measure taking by the Inspector General Mr. Alejandro Ordonez.He has just ratified his previous decisión of removing Bogota´s Mayor,Gustavo Petro. From my point of view this decisión puts in evidence one of the weaknesses already dectected in our Chart. So this adds to arguments about a call to a discuss a new constitution.


    • All points well taken. Would be great to hear more about the “peace pedagogy” you describe–a critical element I believe for preparing the public to approve an accord and transition from a culture of war to one of peace.


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