April 23, 2014
The Colombian government and FARC peace delegations finished their 23rd round of discussions in Havana on April 11, breaking in time for Holy Week. At the close of the session, they issued a joint statement recognizing that they are “advancing in the discussions and the building of agreements on the three sub points of the agenda.” (See the statement here.) They noted, “Both delegations share the view that the definitive solution to this problem must be embedded in the Integrated Rural Reform (the first item of the Framework Agreement) and must be build in a joint manner engaging communities in the design, execution, monitoring, control, and evaluation of the plans.”
Talks resume tomorrow, on Thursday, April 24th, during which time the parties are expected to continue to develop their proposals for addressing the problem of illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking.
On the eve of their departure to Havana, chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle and General ® Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel, member of the negotiating team, spoke to the press. De la Calle noted, “We are in the middle of a political campaign and it is my duty to alert the Colombian people about false rumors circulating in the media about what is being discussed in Havana, rumors that have the goal of creating a climate of negative opinion around these conversations and to frighten, yes, frighten Colombians about the path of these dialogues and their consequences for the future of the country. (Read de la Calle’s statement here.) De la Calle denied “categorically” what he referred to as unfounded rumors that the size of the Armed Forces and agreements to demilitarize the peasant reserve zones (zonas de reserva campesina) are under discussion in Havana, that President Santos plans to replace General Mora on the negotiating team, and that General Mora would be retiring from the team in protest over a plan to shrink the armed forces. De la Calle said, “We have an agenda that is known by everyone, and we are sticking to it. We have neither discussed nor negotiated the reduction of our Military Forces or Police, nor will we in the future, nor will we demilitarize the peasant reserve zones.”
General ® Mora, for his part, echoed De la Calle’s statement, noting that the topic of the armed forces had never been the topic of discussion at the Table in the last year and a half of the peace process. He called on the men and women of the Armed Forces and the National Police to be “secure and tranquil” about the peace talks, and to have faith in the government’s negotiating team. (Read Mora’s statement here.)
In the meantime, election campaigning continues. Polls concur that there will be no clear majority in the first round of presidential elections scheduled for May 25, and there will almost certainly be a runoff election on June 15. Polls published in the first week of April by the National Consulting Center (NCC) suggest that in the first round, incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos is favored to win with 26% to 18% by his closest competitor, Enrique Peñalosa, the candidate of the Green Alliance. Earlier polls showed that about a third of the electorate plans to cast blank ballots–an historically unprecedented trend. In a second round, the NCC poll suggests that Peñalosa would beat Santos with 46% of the vote to Santos’s 36%. Polling is always a bit risky, particularly in contexts of historic violence, so these numbers should be read with some caution. Furthermore, the plunge in apparent support for Santos undoubtedly had to do with the timing of the polling, which took place on the heels of the removal from office of Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro–an unpopular move favored by Santos and opposed by Peñalosa. In a ruling yesterday by a judge of the Superior Tribunal of Bogota, Santos was given 48 hours to reinstate Petro. (See article here.) The decision is probably not the end of what has been a dramatic unfolding saga with many twists and turns, and it is unclear how this latest decision might affect public sentiment toward the presidential candidates. With a national strike called for next Monday, a lot can still happen before the May 25 elections.