28th Cycle of Talks in Havana in Full Swing

September 10, 2014

On Monday, September 1, the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP reconvened in Havana to initiate the 28th cycle of peace talks.  In this cycle, negotiators are working simultaneously on several different fronts.


The parties at the table continue to grapple with the issue of satisfying victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  They have now received proposals from the numerous forums on the topic organized by the United Nations and the National University, as well as earlier regional consultations organized by the Peace Commissions of the Congress and the United Nations and the visit on August 16th of the first of at least five delegations of victims. (See my earlier posts on this topic.)

A second delegation of victims join the parties in Havana today (Wed., September 10) and tomorrow.  Nine of the twelve delegation members are women, reflecting what UN Resident Coordinator Fabrizio Hochschild called “the harsh reality that in this armed conflict, women and girls have paid the highest costs.”  Delegation members again are a diverse group, representing victims of displacement, forced disappearance and recruitment, kidnapping, killings, and land mines. (For more on the members of the delegation, click here.)

Finally, a Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (CHCV) named at the end of the last cycle is hard at work producing a series of reports and inputs for consideration in the discussions on victims.  (See my recent post on this topic here.)

For the most part, Colombian society and the press appear be rallying around the victims.  Nonetheless, some of the participants in the first delegation have suffered hostile attacks of various sorts.  Luz Marina Bernal (the mother of a youth who was killed extrajudicially) and Jaime Peña (whose son was assassinated in a massacre in Barrancabermeja in 1998) received death threats on their return from Havana.  Angela Giraldo (brother of a Congressman kidnapped and killed by the FARC) was the target of a twitter campaign launched by María Fernanda Cabal, a Congresswoman of the Center Democratic party, who cast aspersions on Angela’s participation in the first victims’ delegation to Havana and her relationship with the FARC; Angela has filed libel charges with the Prosecutor’s office.

Likewise, a FARC commander published an article on the FARC website that maligned Rep. Clara Rojas and downplayed her status as a victim. (Read “¿Es Clara Rojas una víctima de las FARC?” here, with a version in English here.)  Rep. Rojas was the running mate in Ingrid Betancourt’s bid for the presidency in 2002; both were captured on the campaign trail and held captive by the FARC for six years.  The FARC article prompted a strong reaction from both the government’s negotiating team (view Declaración de la Delegación del Gobierno Nacional) and the FARC peace delegation (view FARC Comunicado Respuesta a Humberto de la Calle), and caused Rep. Rojas to withdraw in protest on Monday from her position as co-chair of the Congress’s Peace Commission.

Human rights leaders, organizations that have defended victims, peace organizations, and Afro-Colombian organizations have come under increased attack.  Yesterday, a paramilitary group, Black Eagles (Aguilas Negras), issued death threats via email accounts to 91 human rights defenders, the latest in this worrisome trend of attacks against human rights defenders. While many civil society groups are rallying to defend those being threatened, the situation is made worse by recent announcements by Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo that the National Protection Unit will be reducing funds that have offered a number of these leaders protection.  (Read Senator Fernando Cristo’s remarks here.) In the first half of 2014, 30 human rights defenders were assassinated.  (Read more here.)

Ending the Conflict

In addition to addressing the peace agenda item on victims, the parties in Havana are also beginning work on the last substantive item on the agenda–ending the conflict.  On August 22, a delegation of high-level active Colombian military officers joined the parties at the peace table to participate in the launch of a technical sub commission on this topic.  The sub-commission is studying the options and logistics of a bilateral cease-fire and cessation of hostilities, the laying aside of arms (dejación de armas), and national and international models and practices that have been used for integrating excombatants into civilian life.  (See Comunicado Conjunto 42 and statement by lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle here.)  Each of the delegations was to appoint 10 members to the sub commission.  For the government side, Army General (ret.) Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel and Police General (ret.) Óscar Naranjo Trujillo, already members of the peace delegation, will lead the team.  Read more here about the active-duty participants on the subcommittee, who include:

  • Army General Javier Alberto Flórez Aristizábal, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces;
  • Army Colonel Vicente Sarmiento Vargas;
  • Army Colonel Saúl Rojas Huertas;
  • Commander of the Navy Ómar Cortes Reyes;
  • Lieutenant Colonel of the National Police Edwin Chavarro Rojas;
  • Air Force Major Rodrigo Mezú Mina;
  • Navy Lieutenant Juanita Millán Fernández.
  • Mónica Cifuentes Osorio, legal director of the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace;
  • César Restrepo Flórez, director of Strategic Studies for the Defense Ministry;
  • Alejandro Reyes Lozano, advisor of the Office of the High Oficina Alto Comisionado para la Paz.

Increasingly, President Santos is seeking to reassure the military about their future, to address their concerns, and to engage them as allies.  Shortly after the launch of the technical sub commission, on August 29, President Santos announced the establishment of a high-level military Transitional Command for the Post-Conflict (Comando de Transición), to be headed by General Javier Flórez.  This week, Santos initiated a tour to military bases throughout the country to inform them of the role of the military in relation to the peace process and to assure their support.  The tour was in part a response to the loud criticism from the Democratic Center party, particularly ex-President Alvaro Uribe, regarding the participation of active-duty military in the peace talks, which Uribe suggested was unconstitutional.  (See “Presencia de los militaries“. )

President Santos responded to his critics at a meeting in Cartagena:  “I don’t really understand the criticism.  That the military are going to be humiliated for confronting the enemy at a table and agreeing on how the enemy will put aside their weapons?… Who better than them [the military,] who have been the ones to fight during all this time, can give advice, opinions on how to achieve an effective, controllable ceasefire, and how to guarantee that the setting aside of arms might be successful and real if not the military themselves?”  Santos continued, “[T]his should not surprise anyone, rather just the opposite.  It should be seen as a guarantee for the entire society and for the Armed Forces themselves.”

The presence of active-duty officers in Havana and the establishment of a transitional command in the heart of the Armed Forces reflects the seriousness and advanced stage of the peace process.  The issue of military engagement in the peace process and post-accord phase is being discussed in other fora as well.  In an historic, closed door session of 3 hours on Aug. 20, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón and the heads of the Armed Forces and police met with the Peace Commissions of the House and Senate to discuss future scenarios generated by the peace accords in Havana.  According to press reports in Semana, the military presented a list of 15 concerns, of which one–mechanisms for applying justice for members of the military forces and police–received the most attention.  The report noted that one of the generals suggested that it “would not be right to have guerrillas sitting in the congressional seats while [military officials] sit in jail.”   Many of the Congressional leaders agreed that there would be a need to think through what kind of justice would be needed for the members of the armed forces.  Roy Barreras, one of the co-presidents of the Senate Peace Commission, assured those present that “Pardoning guerrillas while condemning military is not going to happen.”

Guerrilla Command for Normalization

Meanwhile, the government’s new Transition Command appears to have produced some consternation among the FARC.  In a September 2 communiqué (read it here), the FARC proposed a parallel guerrilla command (Comando Guerrillero de Normalización), to be headed by one of the top FARC military commanders, Joaquín Gómez, head of the Southern Bloc, to implement “mechanisms of normalization of the Armed Forces in order to secure their prompt return to their constitutional role of defending the borders.” (Read more here.)  FARC delegate “Pablo Catatumbo” noted on Tuesday, Sept. 2, “If the Transition Command has the purpose of undertaking the study of the ‘demobilization and disarmament of the guerrilla’, the Guerrilla Command for Normalization must “study the return of the military forces to their constitutional role [and] the dismantling of the counterinsurgency battalions in pursuit of such normalization.”

There are some basic tensions in the framing of what the international community has called DDR (demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration) for Colombia.  The language used is key and is highly sensitive.  In their Sept. 2 statement, the FARC noted that “concepts like ‘transition,’ ‘demobilization’ or ‘disarmament’ do not exist in the grammar of the accord in Havana, much less in the language of the guerrilla.”  In relation to the government’s creation of the Command for the Transition, the FARC statement clarified furthermore that “there is no way that the FARC would accept a military hierarchy to resolve matters that are by definition of a political nature,” and that “aspects as important as the laying down of arms also imply the demilitarization of the society and the State.”  The FARC have always resisted the notion that they would turn their arms over to anyone, and are likely to continue to insist that this process is not about unilateral disarmament.  In turn, President Santos has held firmly that military reforms will not be negotiated at the peace table in Havana, though he has also acknowledged that he does not envision the FARC turning over their arms to the Army.  A creative solution will need to be found that respects the red lines of both parties but also contributes to a real transition to peace.

Gender Subcommission

Another important development in this round of talks has been the installation on Sunday, September 7, of the subcommision on gender that had been announced three months earlier.  The commission’s mandate is to integrate the voices of women and gender perspectives in all of the accords reached at the table.  In a press statement on Sept. 7, Colombian government negotiator Nigería Rentería noted that the commission “seeks to guarantee inclusion, social equity, and bring us closer to an accord that represents the interests of men and women.” (Read her full statement here.)  The sub commission will include 5 members elected by the government delegation and five elected by the FARC.

FARC delegates to the gender sub commission have already been announced and include FARC-EP peace delegation members Yira Castro, Diana Grajales, Victoria Sandino, Alexandra Nariño and Camila Cienfuegos.  Government participants in the sub commission have not yet been officially announced, though press reports suggest that it includes both men and women, including government negotiators Nigeria Rentería, María Paulina Riveros, Elena Ambrosi, as well as Magaly Arocha D., Cuban gender advisor to the delegation. (Click here to read “Por un enfoque de género en los acuerdos parciales.”)

In a Sept. 7 press conference, the five FARC sub commission members held a press conference  in which they released their platform, “For a New Colombia without Gender Discrimination.” The statement noted that some 40% of the FARC are women, and underscored the FARC’s ideological commitment to equality and justice, including women’s rights, and women’s “irreplaceable contribution” to the creation of a “New Colombia.”  The women recognized that prejudices and patriarchal attitudes exist within the FARC-EP, but that mistreatment of women is “severely punished” and “not tolerated.”

The FARC delegation complemented the platform with its own statement of support for the work of the gender sub-commission.  It expressed disappointment that the commission’s mandate did not include a more explicit commitment to women’s rights, as expressed in many of the international instruments and advocated for by women and gender organizations in Colombia and around the world.  It also expressed the hope that the commission would produce real change for women and members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LBGT) communities.  “It will be up to us then, to try to include, beginning with [the gender subcommission’s] limited mandate, the best initiatives that the peace accord will allow, not only suggestions, but real proposals for change that grant full rights to women and to the LBGTI sectors that have been segregated for so long,” the delegation observed.  (See their statement here.)

The government’s position has yet to be developed–or at least shared with the public.  Meanwhile, however, women in the Colombian Congress, lead by Senator Claudia López Hernández, have begun to demand that political reforms include measures to achieve gender equality.  In particular, she and others are backing a proposal to require 50-50 representation of men and women in the political party lists of candidates for public office. (See “Exigen incluir equidad de género en reforma política“.)

The Final Phase?

In his inauguration speech on August 7, President Juan Manuel Santos announced his Administration’s priorities for his second term–peace, equity, and education.  (View his speech here.)  Since then, Santos has shuffled and reorganized his Cabinet to support these priorities.  He noted the need to finish negotiating the agreements in order to enter the post-conflict phase, something that will require “great skill and knowledge,” and announced that his Administration is already beginning to plan for the post-conflict phase, as that phase is “perhaps even more difficult than the peace process itself.”


Convening of the Ministers’ Council. (Photo by Juan Pablo Bello, courtesy of SIG.)

On September 3, President Santos swore in a new team of minister-counselors and his Private Secretary.  In the ceremony, Santos confirmed General Óscar Naranjo, former head of the National Police, as the Minister-Counselor for Post-Conflict, Human Rights, and Security, a newly created position, and charged him with “formulating, structuring, and coordinating the policies and programs related to the post conflict, advising me on how to modernize the models for security, demobilization, and reintegration.” (Read the Santos interview on Cabinet changes and anticipated challenges for the second term here.)

Each of these developments in Havana and in Bogota is bringing the conflict closer to its conclusion.  As President Juan Manuel Santos announced, “We are already talking about the last phase of this process, about the last phase of the agenda.”  Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle echoed this perspective.  At the end of the last round of talks he noted, “We have entered decision-making moments in the process.  There are serious possibilities for ending the conflict.”

Major differences remain, and, as one FARC leader noted, “We are not yet in the final stretch.”

This is a critical phase.  The new commissions and sub commissions are just beginning their work, the victims’ delegations over the coming cycles will continue to play an important role in bringing the country to healing, and education of the public on the peace process and its role in a transition is in its early stages.  This week’s annual peace education week, Semana por la Paz, initiated on Sunday, will offer important contributions toward this process.   The momentum for peace is growing and the process is on a good track forward.

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.
This entry was posted in #LoBuenoDeColombia, Ceasefire, Colombia, dialogos de paz, Dialogue, FARC-EP, Government of Colombia, La Habana, Latin America, Naciones Unidas, National University, negotiations, Peace Process, peace processes, President Juan Manuel Santos, proceso de paz, reconciiation, reparations, Truth, victimas, victims, Virginia Bouvier, Western Hemisphere, Women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 28th Cycle of Talks in Havana in Full Swing

  1. Norma Inés says:

    Gracias Ginny querida. me das muchas claridades y estoy muy preocupada y llena de inquietudes que me lanzan a estar aún más en el escenario.
    Como mujeres, tenemos que estar atentas a a este proceso paso por paso.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s