October 27, 2014
The thirtieth round of talks between the government of Colombia and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP) began on Friday, Oct. 24 in Havana. In this round, the parties have resumed discussion of the issue of victims; they will receive their fourth delegation of victims on Sunday, Nov. 2. Members of the historical commission on the conflict and its victims continue to prepare their reports, and a technical commission on ending the conflict, composed of up to ten members from the government side and ten from the FARC-EP, will work during this session to define its mandate and methodology. (See my earlier post.) Finally, the National Liberation Army (ELN) continues to be in exploratory discussions with the Colombian government, but formal talks have yet to be launched.
Changes at the Peace Table
There have been a few changes at the peace table during this session. At the opening of the cycle, Iván Márquez, the head of the FARC delegation, introduced 18 new delegation members who had been transported to Cuba to participate in or advise the technical sub commission to end the conflict. The newcomers include FARC military and political leaders from across Colombia. The arrival of Luis (aka “Carlos”) Antonio Lozada and Félix Antonio Muñoz (aka “Pastor Alape”)–two members of the Secretariat (the highest decision-making body of the FARC)–brings the number of Secretariat members in Havana to four of its seven total members, a proportion that should facilitate decision-making at the peace table. (Other Secretariat members already at the table include negotiators Márquez and “Pablo Catatumbo” and alternative negotiator “Rodrigo Granda”.) Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (“Timochenko”), the FARC’s top leader, has made at least two visits to the island in recent months to confer with other FARC leaders and also to meet with Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista (“Gabino”), the head of the National Liberation Army (ELN). It is expected that Timochenko will continue to be close to the negotiations.
The new delegation members also include four members of the FARC’s Central High Command (Isaías Trujillo, Rubín Morro, and Walter Mendoza, and Francisco González). In addition, seven men (Edilson Ramona, Matías Aldecoa, Pablo Atrato, Samy Flores, Leonidas Morales, Edward Velásquez, Gabriel Hernández) and five women (Isabela Sanroque, Milena Reyes, Erika Montero, Marllely Ortiz, and Mireya Andrade) round out the group.
The newcomers represent three different FARC blocks–the Commander Jorge Briceño Block (eastern block), the Iván Ríos Block (Antioquia, southern Córdoba and northern Chocó) and the Alfonso Cano Block (southern Chocó, Valle del Cauca, Cauca and Nariño). (For a breakdown of the delegation by block, click here and for more information about who these leaders are, click here.)
The appearance now of these figures in Havana has caused considerable consternation in Colombia, fanned by the media and by expresident and Senator Alvaro Uribe, who called the “transfer of terrorists” to Cuba “an affront to the Armed Forces and another security risk.” (See “Fin del conflicto.”) The transfer of the guerrilla leaders to Cuba was authorized by President Santos and arrest orders were suspended as is permitted under Colombian law for participation in peace negotiations. Uribe tweeted further that the FARC were in Havana convening their “Tenth Conference” with the “acquiescence” of the Santos government.
For those who have been victimized by the FARC and taught for decades to consider the FARC as an enemy, these tweets are inflammatory. The faces and names of the newcomers in Havana have been associated with the worst abuses–bombings, mass kidnappings and other atrocities, and “pescas milagrosas” (the infamous “fishing expeditions” of wealthy individuals kidnapped for ransom). The prospect of a political transformation of this “enemy” is a hard “frog” for many Colombians to swallow.
Government negotiator De la Calle called on Colombians to be prudent in their evaluation of the process. “The presence of these men and women is a sign of a greater commitment of the FARC to examine clearly and frankly the potential of finalizing the armed conflict,” he said. (See De la Calle’s statement here.) For his part, President Santos rose to the defense of the process and characterized the transfer of the guerrilla leaders to the island as “good news and a good sign for the peace process.” (See his statement here.)
On Saturday, Oct. 25, Santos reiterated his optimism: “The fact that the military are transferring these leaders is because we will begin to talk about how they will set aside arms. How they are going to make the transition. And if they are going to discuss it with our own military, this is important, good news, that gives us a sign that we are going in the right direction.” (See the President’s statement here.) Santos warned nonetheless, that it was too early to announce victory, as the parties have not yet touched “the two most difficult points in the agenda.”
In a videoconference on Friday, October 24, Humberto de la Calle confirmed that the technical sub commission on ending the conflict would begin discussions on the “definitive end of military operations.” The subcommission will not be talking about temporary ceasefires, noted the government’s chief negotiator, but about a “final ceasefire at the end of the conflict and the problem of the setting aside of arms.” (See “Gobierno y Farc ya negocian case al fuego definitivo“.)
President Juan Manuel Santos and De la Calle underscored the importance of the presence of the leadership of the Colombian Armed Forces in Havana to participate in the technical subcommission. De la Calle noted, “It is the voice of our military that we have to hear in order to know the proper steps that we must take. The presence of active-duty military officers is a tribute, a manifestation of respect for our Forces. Here there is no sort of treason, as some have believed. It is the opposite: To make decisions without listening to the voice of the military would be an error.” (See De la Calle’s statement here.)
Pastor Alape, one of the top leaders of the FARC’s political wing, will head the FARC’s sub commission, which the FARC calls the “Guerrilla Command for Normalization.” Alape noted that the peace delegations had not yet reached agreement on the “specific mandate for the technical sub-commission,” but that the commissioners would “explore similarities and possible disagreements on specific issues like ceasefire and surrender of the weapons.” (See Pastor Alape’s statement here.) The sub commission will also study international and national experiences of setting aside arms.
Iván Márquez, the FARC’s lead negotiator, noted that the Guerrilla Command for Normalization “will explore paths with high officials of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Police toward an agreement that permits us to make concrete the armistice demanded by the victims of the conflict and the clamor of a Nation, and formulas and visions that will satisfy both sides regarding the sensitive issue of the Setting Aside of Arms (Dejación de Armas).” Márquez added that the FARC understand this concept of “setting aside of arms” as not utilizing arms to conduct politics, and that it is a commitment that extends to the government and the insurgency alike. (See Márquez’s statement here.)
The discussions of the subcommission are not likely to be easy. The issue of leaving aside arms is perhaps one of the most sensitive issues for both sides. Its resolution will undoubtedly be linked to the guarantees that the Colombian government can provide to guerrillas who seek reintegration (or integration) and regional pacts for protection and security guarantees may be required for the zones that the FARC abandon. Under discussion will also be the rules for moving forward (the mandate and methodology), verification procedures and mechanisms, where and how troops will be concentrated during a ceasefire, and how the combatants will be sustained during that time. Much of the content is technical, but each decision has political and personal consequences.
The Colombian public appears to have been taken by surprise by the presence of FARC and other military leaders in Cuba, but the surprise is that they are surprised. The engagement of the military leadership of both the FARC and the Colombian State is absolutely essential if an agreement is to be reached that will put an end to the fighting, and their presence seems particularly appropriate now as the technical sub commission on the end of the conflict begins to define its work.
Andrés París, one of the FARC plenipotentiaries, will step down from the negotiating team and return to Colombia during this cycle. Nigeria Rentería, one of the Colombian government’s plenipotentiaries at the peace talks, announced her resignation as High Commissioner for Gender Equity (a position she holds concurrently with that of plenipotentiary), has withdrawn from the technical commission on the end of the conflict, and expects to run for governor of Chocó, where she has strong ties. Rentería anticipates continuing to participate in the talks (presumably until the regional races step up next year). (See related Semana article here.) On another note, Alejandro Eder stepped down from his post as Colombia’s High Commissioner for Reintegration last week and is said to be considering a run for the mayorship of Cali. Eder was one of the original signatories of the framework agreement reached in August 2012 and has been a close advisor to the talks since the start.
These personnel shifts are not the first in relation to the Colombian peace process. The capacity for occasional personnel changes confirms a certain institutionalization and maturity of the process. Still it does introduce new dynamics at the table, and it sometimes takes time for newcomers to be socialized to the culture and methodologies that have been developed over time.