May 13, 2014
The peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC returned to the table in Havana yesterday to continue discussions of the third item on the peace agenda, drug trafficking and illicit crops. At the end of the 24th cycle on May 4th, the parties issued their thirty-fifth joint statement advising that they had “reached agreements on different points” and that the delegations would carry out separate consultations on the themes under discussion before resuming talks on May 12th. (See statement here.) The current cycle is expected to end on May 22, three days before the first round of presidential elections in Colombia.
The peace delegations in Havana have tried to insulate the table from electoral politics as much as possible, and the heads of both delegations have underscored that the peace process has its own rhythm, independent of the upcoming elections. Humberto de la Calle, the head of the government delegation, noted explicitly that the time frame of the talks is not linked to the electoral calendar. There is little question, however, that another partial agreement at the peace table could help President Santos’s candidacy.
The peace delegations discussed previous agenda items on land reform and political participation for an average of six months before they reached partial agreements last May and November. The drug issue has now been under discussion for six months, and the delegations seem optimistic that an agreement on this topic is close at hand. Iván Márquez, head of the FARC delegation, said on May 4th that there had been “significant advances” on the drug issue and that his delegation is preparing to discuss the next issue on the agenda–victims. Jesús Santrich, another of the FARC negotiators, announced yesterday that the delegates were “three or four paragraphs” away from an agreement on drugs, and that despite some basic differences between the delegates, there is “nothing that can’t be resolved.” (See “El proceso de paz no puede ir al ritmo de las elecciones.”)
Many anticipate that an agreement on drugs and illicit crops could be announced by the end of this round, though the government negotiator has sought to temper speculation that another agreement will be delivered in time for the presidential elections. On May 8th, De la Calle told a television audience, “We don’t know if an agreement will be reached in the next cycle or not. What I can affirm is that if there is [an agreement], we will communicate it to the Colombian population, and if there is not, we will also make that known.” (See “El proceso con las FARC entra en un ciclo definitivo.”)
Election Results May Shape Future of Talks
Some electoral results are more likely to favor continuity at the peace table than others. (See my previous post on the candidates’ positions here; see also “Visiones sobre una paz negociada.”) Clearly, a Santos win would provide the most continuity, as this has been his process from the start and he remains committed to seeing it through to the end. A Green Alliance or Democratic Pole victory are not likely to produce major shifts at the table either. Green Alliance candidate Enrique Peñalosa has promised to maintain the government team intact and to continue the talks. He has affirmed that “peace is not possible with impunity” but that peace also requires “generosity.” Peñalosa has promised to create a Ministry for Rural Welfare (Bienestar) to benefit the peasant population as part of his peace plan. (See “Peñalosa prometió ratificar equipo negociador.”)
Democratic Pole candidate Clara López supports continuation of the peace process. López’s party has consistently favored a political solution to the internal armed conflict based on “principles of social equity, access to education, employment, and development of the countryside.” These factors, López affirms, will guarantee a stable, durable peace. López has also called for the creation of a Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation.
Conservative Party candidate Marta Lucía Ramírez has proposed a number of changes that could significantly alter the dynamics at the table if they were implemented. She has said that as President, she would give a deadline of six months to the peace talks and add a new member to the government team–her vice presidential candidate Camilo Gómez, who was a negotiator in the last peace process under former president Andrés Pastrana. Ramírez would also impose four new conditions — the FARC must end the recruitment of minors, end terrorist actions, and remove land mines; Ramírez would not allow impunity for FARC leaders.
Finally, a win for the Democratic Center, which has opposed the negotiations from the start, is the scenario most likely to disrupt the peace process, although their candidate, Oscar Iván Zuluaga, has said that he is prepared to continue negotiations in a new context that would include an immediate, unilateral, verifiable ceasefire by the FARC. “I would not accept [FARC] leaders in Congress or in any other elected position. In order to achieve peace, I agree that sentences might be reduced, but those who have committed atrocious crimes have to pay with jail time,” Zuluaga affirmed. Access to political office and alternatives to jail time have been two non-negotiables for the FARC, so Zuluaga’s election could end up being a deal-breaker for a negotiated settlement.
There are no guarantees that the incumbent candidate President Juan Manuel Santos or a pro-peace candidate will win in the upcoming elections. Santos’s ratings have been suffering a decline in recent months, though electoral surveys in Colombia should be taken with a grain of salt. The polls vary in their predictions, use different methodologies, survey different populations, and are notoriously unreliable. Often the results are so close that conclusions can vary widely.
The last two polls taken are telling in this regard. A Gallup poll in late April suggested that in a run-off, President Santos would beat Democratic Center candidate Oscar Iván Zuluaga with 32 percent to the latter’s 20 percent. (See “A Santos se le crece el rival que le conviene.”) A new National Consulting Center (Centro Nacional de Consultoría) poll released yesterday (May 12) showed Zuluaga garnering 24 percent of the vote to the incumbent’s 22 percent. Of the remaining candidates, the CNC poll gave Peñalosa 13 percent, and Marta Lucía Ramírez and Clara López each 9 percent. In a run-off election, respondents favored Zuluaga with 42 percent to Santos’s 34 percent. This is the first poll that shows a Zuluaga win in both rounds. In a run-off between Santos and Peñalosa, respondents favored the latter with 36 percent of the vote to Santos’s 32 percent. (See “Encuesta de Centro Nacional de Consultoría pone a ganar a Oscar Iván Zuluaga.“) One analyst wrote me in an email, “While the CNC poll is carried out by telephone interviews, not the most precise methodology for polling, it is still not good news for Santos and shows a tendency of Santos [support] declining. It seems to indicate that Zuluaga has come out better in the ‘battle of the scandals.”’
Dirty Tricks On the Rise
A barrage of accusations and scandals have surfaced in the last week or so that appear to be feeding the polling shifts and could impact the peace talks both directly and indirectly (by affecting the election results). First, ex-president Alvaro Uribe charged earlier this month that Santos’s campaign advisor Juan José Rendón “might have” contributed 2 million dollars to help pay off Santos’s campaign debt from 2010. (See “Uribe: J.J. Rendón habría girado…“) The 2 million dollars were alleged to be a fraction of a 12 million dollar bribe made by drug-traffickers in exchange for legal benefits. Santos and Rendón have denied Uribe’s charges, and Uribe has refused to present evidence or otherwise substantiate his claims before the Attorney General’s Office. (See “Fiscalía cita a Uribe.”) Uribe is now seeking review by the Inspector General’s Office, charging that the Attorney General’s Office will not provide him with the necessary guarantees he would require to substantiate his claims. (See “Uribe refuses to provide evidence” and “Por recusación, se frena investigación.”)
Another scandal is still unfolding that may be even more serious than the hacking scandal that emerged during the congressional election campaigning earlier this year (see my blog post on this topic here). In this latest scandal, private parties conducted illegal wiretapping operations, particularly related to the peace process, and were selling information to the highest bidder. A raid by agents of the Attorney General’s Technical Investigations Unit (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación de la Fiscalía) on an office in northern Bogotá on May 6 found and confiscated computers and hard drives containing information hacked from the email accounts of President Santos, the FARC press chief, Colombian government negotiators, politicians, individuals related to the peace process (including Cuban journalists), and the Housing Ministry, among others. Attorney General noted that the interception of a database of demobilized guerrillas was particularly worrisome. “The purpose of this office was to sabotage, interfere with, and affect the peace process and to sell this information in diverse sectors,” Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre charged. (See “‘Interceptaciones buscaban sabotear proceso de paz.”)
Adding to the intrigue, the wiretapping company set up to sabotage the peace process has relations with Democratic Center candidate Zuluaga and ex-president Uribe. Zuluaga admitted that he met with the now detained hacker, Andrés Sepúlveda, and that Sepúlveda’s company had provided services to his campaign. Zuluaga has thus far denied knowledge of the company’s illegal activities.
In another related story, Ambassador Luís A. Hoyos–one of Zuluaga’s campaign advisors and a former advisor and OAS ambassador for Uribe–accompanied Sepúlveda to a meeting on April 8 with RCN-TV director Rodrigo Pardo in April. In the meeting, Sepúlveda and Hoyos pitched accusations that the FARC was intimidating Democratic Center supporters and campaigning for Santos in the southern part of Colombia. The station dismissed the story, as it could not be verified. (See “Piden renuncia de Oscar Iván Zuluaga.”)