May 11, 2015
The Colombian government and the FARC-EP ended their 36th cycle of peace talks on Friday, May 8. In a joint declaration, the parties announced that during the 11-day cycle, they had worked on three distinct fronts. (See their joint communiqué here.) First, they defined a road map and the technical and logistical aspects for implementation of a joint pilot project for de-mining and de-contamination of explosive devices in Antioquia and Meta that they had announced on March 7. (See details here.) Secondly, based on visits of international experts in the three previous cycles, a group of Colombian generals worked with FARC military leaders in the Technical Sub-commission to advance a methodological framework for carrying out a bilateral, definitive ceasefire and cessation of hostilities. Finally, the parties continued to work on crafting agreements on the issue of victims’ reparations.
Humberto de la Calle, the government’s lead negotiator, noted that the joint de-mining initiative, with the accompaniment of Norwegian People’s Aid, would begin in the next few days. This historic initiative will mark the first time the FARC and the Colombian Army work together in an effort to de-escalate the conflict.
De la Calle noted nonetheless that the progress in the 36th round was “important, but insufficient.” (See his statement here.) In the light of recent charges by the Army, the Instituto de Bienestar Familiar, and the Defensoría del Pueblo that children continue to be subject to recruitment, De la Calle urged the FARC to stop recruiting minors under 18 years of age, and to enact a plan with international supervision to release all minors currently in the FARC rank and file. He acknowledged the FARC’s Feb. 12 announcement that they would stop recruiting minors under age 17, but said it was insufficient, confusing, and contradictory, given that Colombian law, international norms and global trends put the age for recruitment at 18.
De la Calle observed that the peace delegation had heard the “hard message” implicit in the latest polling results showing the Colombian populace’s skepticism and impatience about the peace talks. (See my previous post here.) He noted that President Santos has instructed the delegation to advance more forcefully in the talks. He reiterated that a “good, stable and lasting peace” is within reach and that Colombians must not lose faith in the task at hand.
For his part, Iván Márquez, head of the FARC peace delegation, issued a statement at the close of the session in which he underscored the FARC’s commitment to national reconciliation and peace. (See his statement here.) On the topic of victims, he noted that the FARC had put some 200 proposals, shaped by the forums and hearings that had been held with victims, on the table and were awaiting the government team’s response. Márquez underscored the “mutual commitments” that have been made by the parties with regard to de-mining, and the FARC’s commitment to maintain indefinitely the unilateral ceasefire and cessation of “offensive hostilities.” Likewise, he noted other pending items, urging discussion of a National Constituent Assembly, agreement on a bilateral ceasefire, and the establishment of a truth commission to clarify the paramilitary role in the conflict. (On the clarification commission, see more here.) He also called for joint study and discussion of the reports of the Historic Commission on the Conflict and its Victims that were presented to the table in February, given their relevance for the discussions on the theme of victims.
Vicissitudes of a Peace Process
Events of the last months are a reminder of the ups-and-downs to which peace processes are prone. In this regard it is worth recalling that the last few rounds of talks have shown steady progress. The 34th round in March had ended on a high note. With the help of the high-level technical subcommission, the parties had moved forward on the joint de-mining initiative in Meta and Antioquia, and the FARC had increased its recruitment age from 15 to 17. (See the parties’ joint statement here and the FARC statement here.) These two issues–landmines and child recruitment–had long been sticking points and the advances represented concessions on the part of the FARC. The parties have been exploring additional measures for de-escalating the conflict, including a joint cooperation agreement on identifying mass graves and remains of the disappeared (which number in the tens of thousands). On March 10, President Juan Manuel Santos had decreed suspension of the bombing of FARC camps for one month. And on March 27, Humberto de la Calle had announced that the President’s expert commission on transitional justice, which includes delegates of the Ministries of Defense and Justice, the Transition Command of the Armed Forces, the High Commissioner of Peace and national and international experts, had developed proposals to apply differentiated transitional justice mechanisms to military and police officials. (See more here.)
When the 35th cycle of talks opened the next month in Havana, public support for peace registered new heights. On April 9th, hundreds of thousands of Colombians marched for peace to commemorate Colombia’s National Day of Memory and Solidarity with Victims. The Center for Historical Memory announced a design competition to create a National Memory Museum. Bogota hosted a week-long global summit for art and culture for peace that brought together world-renowned artists and performers to reflect on the role of culture and the arts in the transformation of violence. At the Candelaria Theatre in Bogota, actress Patricia Ariza called for “a bilateral ceasefire of all the fires, including the cultural fires that burn other people.” (“Quisiéramos un cese bilateral de todos los fuegos, incluidos los fuegos culturales que atizan a otros.”)
On April 10th, the day the 35th round of peace talks resumed in Havana, President Juan Manuel Santos announced his decision to extend the suspension of the bombing of FARC camps for one more month. (See his statement here.)
That week, ninety delegates from 10 churches, 17 national church organizations, 15 ecumenical organizations and churches from three continents, and representatives of Colombian victims’ groups gathered in an International Ecumenical Meeting for Peace in Colombia to construct proposals for peace in various regions of Colombia. (See their concluding declaration here.) In the regions themselves, efforts to engage in pedagogies of peace ant the construction of historical memory initiatives as a guarantee of non-repetition are also moving forward.
Strong Hemispheric Support for the Peace Process
While the parties talked in Havana, optimistic breezes were blowing across the Caribbean as well. In Panama, the region’s heads of state were convened for the seventh Summit of the Americas. Renewed diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba last December had removed a long-standing hurdle to Cuba’s participation in this major gathering that has been held every 3 years since the Organization of American States was established. Presidents Barak Obama and Raúl Castro shook hands and pledged a future of hemispheric cooperation. The Summit of the Americas concluded with confirmation of strong support throughout the hemisphere for an end to Colombia’s armed conflict through diplomatic means. And shortly thereafter, the Obama administration announced its intent to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
On April 14, the mood of the country shifted with the FARC attack in Cauca. (See my earlier post here.) President Santos immediately rescinded his earlier suspension and ordered bombings of FARC camps to be renewed. (See his statement here.) The Colombian Broad Front for Peace, which has been issuing periodic reports on the unilateral ceasefire the FARC declared last December, produced a report on April 23 that called for further investigation by the FARC and by independent parties. Civil society groups denounced the militarization of the area and called for protection of the civilian population and denounced the killings of five indigenous leaders in the zone. (See civil society statement by NGOs here). On April 17, 2015, the U.S. State Department affirmed its “continuing support to the government of Colombia in its efforts to end the nation’s 50 year conflict.” (See its statement here.)
On April 21, 2015, Pres. Santos convened the National Peace Council, formally installed in Oct. 2014 after seven years of inactivity, and the Council supported the decision to continue the dialogues in Havana “without hesitation or delay.” (See statement here.) It identified as priorities developing pedagogies of peace, mobilizing and organizing the populace for peace, developing the institutional architecture for the implementation of agreements, and political engagement to develop the political will for peace-building in the regions. The Council also called on the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) to formalize peace talks.
While the Cauca incident undoubtedly shifted the political landscape at home, by the end of the last cycle, it was already clear that the Colombian government and the FARC-EP would hold to their commitment to stay at the table in Havana until a final agreement is reached. With the close of the 36th round of talks this past Friday, the parties appear to be back on track, though moving cautiously as they test the ground and seek to recover their equilibrium in the face of an ongoing war. They will resume talks on May 21.