April 4, 2014
The parties resumed their twenty-third round of talks today, Friday, April 4th, after a relatively shorter break than usual. The last round ended on Sunday, March 30, with a joint communiqué by the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP delegates. The communiqué attested to substantial advances in the “construction of agreements on different aspects contained in the agenda item on the solution to the problem of illicit drugs,” the third agenda item under discussion at the peace tables and noted that the parties will continue “crafting agreements on these issues in order to conclude, soon, discussion on all of the themes in that agenda item.” (See joint statement here.) It was a relatively quiet round in Havana as the government and FARC teams continued discussions on illicit crops and drugs.
At the beginning of the 22nd round of talks, the FARC had reiterated its call for a truth commission whose goal would be the “clarification of the origins and truth of the history of Colombia’s internal conflict.” At the close of the cycle, Colombian government delegation chief Humberto de la Calle noted that the government is prepared to back a truth commission once a final peace agreement is reached, but not before. The government “has always sustained that the truth is the central theme for the victims of the conflict” and is “a priority for the Government in these conversations.” (Read De la Calle’s statement here.)
The theme of truth and reparations for victims is pending on the peace agenda. A recent conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace laid out some of the proposals that civil society groups are preparing in anticipation of those discussions. (See post here.)
For its part, the peace delegation of the FARC-EP also held a press conference at the close of the talks, in which members reiterated their assessment of “progress” and “achievements” in the last round of talks.
The electoral cycle meanwhile spins on. Centro Democrático candidate Oscar Iván Zuluaga, and senator-elect Alvaro Uribe, continue to question the peace process, and have challenged Santos for not withdrawing from the talks following the brutal torture and killing of two policemen in Tumaco. Conservative presidential candidate Marta Lucía Ramírz has said that, if elected, she would put a deadline of four months on the talks. Enrique Peñalosa, the Alianza Verde candidate who some polls have shown as the favored candidate in a second presidential run-off, announced that he would maintain the current negotiating team in Havana, which he considered to be “responsible and suitable.” Clara López, leftist candidate for the Polo Democrático Alternativo, has been a consistent supporter of the peace talks, and has named Aída Abella, president of the Unión Patriótica, as her vice-presidential candidate. (See article here.) Former Senator Piedad Córdoba has made a proposal to include a ballot for the presidential elections that would facilitate creation of a new citizens’ mandate for peace. (For more on her proposal, click here.)
Convening of the National Peace Council
In the brief pause between the rounds in Havana, President Santos announced his plan to convene the National Peace Council when the process is “mature,” a move that will address the ever-pressing need to engage the citizenry more actively in support of the peace process. Its backing will be essential if a final peace accord is to be ratified by the public, as has been stipulated in the framework agreement establishing the peace talks. The citizenry will also be a key factor in the implementation of any peace agreements reached down the road.
The National Peace Council was created under Law 434 in 1998 as a mechanism to ensure civil society’s participation in the last peace process with the FARC, but it has been inactive for over a decade. Luis Eduardo Garzón, who participated in the NPC as representative of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) during the Caguán peace talks more than a decade ago, will coordinate the effort. The Council will undoubtedly be expanded to include representation from the Marcha Patriótica and perhaps victims’ groups.
At the local level, the destitution of Bogota’s mayor Gustavo Petro, strongly backed by President Santos, has alienated large parts of the left. Some read the President’s convening of the NPC as an effort to recoup this disaffected sector.
On another front, there is some indication of newfound efforts to decentralize the peace message and help it take root within the country. This week, Peace Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo launched a Network of Mayors and Governors for Peace, strongly reminiscent of the Peace Summit of Mayors and Governors, an initiative spearheaded by Petro in October 2012. (See my earlier post on the summit here.) The launch took place in Santander de Quilichao, a city in the department of Cauca where there have been various FARC attacks in recent weeks.
And back in Washington…
Finally, after months without movement, the Senate floor approved this week by a unanimous vote of 99-0 the nomination of Kevin Whitaker as the new U.S. Ambassador to Colombia. (See his hearing at the subcommittee level last December here.)