Peace Process Gearing Up for the Next Round

20 January 2015

From Jan. 15-18, representatives of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP held planning meetings to exchange proposals on the methodologies to be followed in the upcoming cycles of peace talks.  On Jan. 18, they released a joint statement announcing that the 32nd round of peace talks with the FARC will resume in Havana on February 2.  Conversations will continue on a number of different fronts simultaneously:

  • The delegations will continue their work on the issue of Victims.  On February 10, members of the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims will turn in their reports to the negotiators and the rapporteurs of the Commission will present their summary report on where there is consensus and where there is not regarding the causes of the conflict. (For more on the commission, click here.)
  • The FARC and government delegations will define the goals and methodologies for the work of the technical Sub-commission on the End of the Conflict.
  • The Gender Subcommission will continue its work and will receive a second delegation of organizations in Havana on Feb. 11. (See my post on the first delegation here.)

Government negotiator Humberto de la Calle announced that the delegations’ planning meetings days earlier had been carried out in a climate of “mutual respect and dignity,” and that both delegations “maintain a decided determination toward the end of the conflict.” (Read his statement here.)  De la Calle underscored the complex path ahead:   “On transitional justice, as might be expected, we still face considerable differences…. We believe, nonetheless, that there is room in the area of alternative penalties that impede impunity and allow victims’ rights to be satisfied to the greatest extent possible.”

Delegations Evaluate Progress in Peace Talks

Both the government and FARC negotiating teams have engaged in their own evaluations of the peace process.  On Jan. 5, following three days of meetings between the Colombian government negotiators and a highly select group of international advisors at a “spiritual retreat” in Cartagena, Pres. Santos announced that there would be a shift in the government’s negotiating strategy, an implicit response to the unilateral ceasefire declared by the FARC in December.  No longer would the government “maintain the military offensive as though we were not negotiating and negotiate as thought we were not fighting,” said Santos.  Instead, Santos announced, there will now be a more explicit relationship between what is happening in Havana and what is happening in Colombia.

The FARC for its part has been engaged in its own review of the peace talks.  In a roundtable discussion on Jan. 10, two members of the FARC delegation–Commander Jesús Santrich and Commander Victoria Sandino–assessed the current peace process.

In the program, Victoria Sandino characterized the peace process in Havana as “positive.”  She counted among the successes the general framework agreement, three partial agreements, the growing popular support for the process, the  establishment of the commission on the history of the conflict and its victims and the sub commissions on gender and ending the conflict, as well as the five visits of victims’ delegations and the symbolic act of reconciliation with a delegation of victims of the Bojayá massacre (see below).

The FARC leaders also discussed the remaining challenges for the peace table.  These include what they call 28 “whereas” clauses (salvedades) that have yet to be addressed.  In addition, the FARC negotiators noted that the question of how the accords will be ratified is still pending.  Jesús Santrich noted that the Legal Framework for Peace and the Referendum Law approved by the Colombian Congress and sanctioned by Santos in late December, have no standing with the FARC, as they were not defined or approved at the peace  table.  Santrich nonetheless left the door open for reconciling the FARC’s desire for a National Constituent Assembly with the Referendum favored by the government.  This is an important development, and there are indications that the government is also considering a variety of options that could accommodate both sides.   A referendum might be used to ratify the agreements, and a National Constituent Assembly could contribute to their implementation.  These are healthy signs that when it comes time to address the final item on the peace agenda, creative solutions that address the needs of both sides are likely to be found.

Gestures for Peace

In the past month, Colombian peace efforts have continued apace, and a number of other developments and “gestures for peace” have surfaced that are worth noting.  I have referenced many in earlier Tweets that run on the right side of this blog.

Peace Talks to Accelerate

There appears to be a desire on both sides to pick up the pace of the talks–though frankly the pace at the table has been steady and intense. On Jan. 15, President Santos announced that he had instructed his negotiators “to accelerate the pace of these talks, these negotiations, in order to finish this armed conflict as quickly as possible once and for all.” (Read Santos’s statement here.)

Another gesture of peace is that the parties are considering the particulars of how a bilateral ceasefire might be enacted.  Santos has called on his team to initiate “as quickly as possible the discussion on the point of a bilateral and definitive ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.” (See his statement here.)  General ® Oscar Naranjo, one of the government negotiators, underscored that the bilateral ceasefire would be definitive and “will begin only when Pres. of the Republic considers that the conditions for it exist.” (Read an interview with Naranjo here.)

Preparation for a ceasefire is not a simple matter.  Procedures and strategies must be developed to deal with the inevitable violations that might be launched by spoilers on either side. (To get a flavor of the debates under way around the ceasefire, see the write-ups in La Silla Vacía.)  Humberto de la Calle has noted that the “de-escalation and bilateral, definitive ceasefire require a careful, complex, progressive work that opens a climate of comprehension among the citizenry” and “provides protection and security to Colombians.” (Read his statement here.)  Here, independent verification will also be critical.

Unilateral FARC Ceasefire Holds

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed the ceasefire announced by the FARC-EP beginning Dec. 20 (after initially calling it a “rose with thorns”).  While he has rejected independent verification (see the government response here), Pres. Santos noted on Jan. 5 that the FARC have fully complied with the ceasefire. (See his statement here.)  Nontheless, the FARC have reported military provocations in the Chocó, Antioquia, Guaviare, Cauca, Huila, and Caquetá regions and called on the international community and the Broad Front for Peace for independent verification.

FARC Apologizes to Victims of the Bojayá Massacre

Prompted by the latest visit of the fifth delegation of victims to Havana in December, FARC leaders issued new apologies acknowledging wrong-doing and their intent to make amends to the victims of the Bojayá massacre, which occurred on May 2, 2002 in Chocó, causing the death of at least 74 people (including 48 minors)  in a confrontation between the FARC and paramilitary groups.  Colombian government lead negotiator Humberto de la Calle called the meeting between victims from Bojayá and the FARC “without precedent” and a “valuable step,” noting that “recognition of responsibility is the essence of our challenge to achieve the maximum satisfaction of [victims’] rights and to advance toward the end of the conflict.”  (See De la Calle’s statement here.)

  • Read the Dec. 18 statement on truth, justice and reparations presented by the communities of Bojayá-Chocó to the peace table in Havana here.
  • Read the FARC’s Dec. 18 apology to the people of Bojayá here.  
  • Read President Santos’s response to the FARC’s gesture here.
  • Read the Center for Historical Memory’s report, Bojayá: Guerra sin Límiteshere.

FARC Releases Carlos Becerra Ojeda

With the facilitation of representatives of the governments of Colombia, Cuba, and Norway, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, a protocol was put in place for the release on Dec. 25 of Carlos Becerra Ojeda, a soldier who the FARC captured in combat on Dec. 19 in the department of Cauca.  (See FARC press release here.)

Last of FARC Military Top Commanders Joins Talks

On Dec. 28, Joaquín Gómez, commander of the FARC’s Southern Block that operates in Caquetá, Putumayo and part of Nariño, was transferred to Havana to participate in the FARC negotiating team and the technical sub commission on ending the conflict. (See communiqué here.)  With Gómez’s arrival in Havana, all of the key FARC commanders from across the country are now engaged in the peace process.  The FARC-EP delegation noted that the presence of Joaquín in Cuba “is a new gesture of peace from the FARC.” (See press statement here.)

ELN Talks Slow to Launch 

It will be important that a peace deal with the FARC is complemented by a peace deal with the ELN, and some of the issues, particularly around transitional justice, will be the same.  In early January, President Santos invited the ELN insurgents to join the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire and “to reach agreement as soon as possible on the points of the agenda” that have been under discussion in exploratory talks during the last year. (See Santos’s statement here.)  In the aftermath of its Fifth National Congress, ELN leaders asserted their willingness to consider setting aside their arms, and this is an important step forward that President Santos has characterized as “positive”. (See my earlier post here.)

On Jan. 19, the ELN called on President Santos to declare a unilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities. (See statement here.) Earlier statements by ELN commander Antonio García suggest that discussions have temporarily stalled after some 15 meetings and three long cycles of exchange in the past year, with each cycle lasting an average of 2-3 weeks.  García criticized the government’s expectation that the ELN would simply demobilize, noting that the parties have discussed civil society participation, democracy, and victims, but have failed to address the structural changes needed for peace and the end of the armed conflict. (Read more here.)

Time to Engage for Peace

With the talks about to accelerate, it is time for the public to put its weight behind a political solution to the war and to prepare itself for an end to the armed conflict. An alliance of 260 Colombian, European, and U.S. social organizations applauded the various steps that have been taken in recent weeks that suggest movement toward a peace agreement with both the FARC and the ELN.  They  urged the ELN to undertake “positive actions that demonstrate their commitment to peace” and called on the government to reaffirm “its interest and disposition to advance in a dialogue process” with the ELN.  (Read their statement here.)  Such roles that encourage the parties to stick with it can be helpful.  For many who have been harmed by the long course of war, it will not be easy to accept the presence of ex-combatants into the social and political life of the nation, and they will need time too to prepare.  De la Calle called on Colombian society to “open its spirit to the framework of reconciliation,” noting that “we must all must sacrifice something. … We must offer the opposition the olive branch.”


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.
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