July 8, 2015
On July 7th, Norway, Cuba, Venezuela, and Chile–the countries that serve as guarantors and are accompanying the Colombian peace process–called on the parties at the peace table in Havana to “restrict to the maximum extent all actions that cause victims and suffering in Colombia, and to intensify the implementation of confidence building measures.” The countries urged the parties to de-escalate the conflict and to adopt a bilateral ceasefire and a definitive cessation of hostilities. (See their statement here.) Their call echoed a similar call by Cuba and Norway in late May. (See post here.)
This morning, Iván Márquez, lead negotiator of the FARC at the peace talks in Havana, declared that the FARC would enact a one-month unilateral ceasefire beginning on July 20th, bringing to at least a temporary reprieve what had become a growing crisis. (See Márquez’s statement here.) “With this [declaration],” the leader noted, “we seek to generate favorable conditions for … a bilateral, definitive ceasefire.” The FARC delegation called on the Broad Front for Peace, the churches, and members of the peace movement to provide their good offices to monitor the ceasefire.
President Juan Manuel Santos responded favorably to the FARC’s announcement, noting that, “If the ceasefire is accompanied by concrete commitments on advances in the theme of justice and the bilateral and definitive ceasefire, then we would be speaking about a very serious and important advance in obtaining peace.” (See here.) Santos urged the parties to accelerate their timetable. (See here.)
The United Nations called the FARC’s move “significant.” (See its statement.)
38th Round of Talks
The Colombian government and the FARC have been in the middle of their 38th round of peace talks since June 17, with a short break from June 27 to July 3rd. They have continued to discuss the theme of victims and mechanisms for de-escalating the conflict. According to President Santos, there have been advances on the issue of truth, with the creation of a truth commission last month, and the parties are close to reaching agreement on reparations. (See here.) The FARC has suggested beginning to implement some of the measures the parties had agreed to regarding drug trafficking. (See “Comencemos a implementar los acuerdos.”)
In this extended session, which has been marked by renewed violence and heightened public impatience with the peace talks, the parties continue to seek agreements on the agenda item dealing with victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition, as well as measures for de-escalating the conflict.
While the media have made much of the lack of movement on the issue of victims, this interpretation simply does not hold. In the past year, there has been steady progress in working through this difficult issue. The table has received numerous inputs from the numerous delegations that gave testimony in Havana and many sectors that have submitted proposals for review, as well as the systematization of the forums and regional consultations on victims conducted last year throughout the country. Likewise, the parties have been working through the perspectives provided by the fourteen reports produced by the Historic Commission on the Conflict and its Victims.
An agreement reached in June by the parties established the mechanism for moving ahead with a truth commission (Comisión de Esclarecimiento de la Verdad, la Convivencia y la No Repetición). (See post here.) The parties are developing a broader integrated system for truth, justice, reparations, and non-repetition–of which the truth commission will be only one component. (See a particularly good article on this topic by Sergio Jaramillo–“No hay que tenerle miedo a la verdad final“.)
June has proven itself to be the most violent month since the peace talks began. (See report by CERAC.) In April, the FARC lifted their unilateral ceasefire and renewed attacks on public forces and economic infrastructure. (See my previous posts here.) The Colombian government responded with renewed bombings of FARC camps. In recent weeks, explosions in Bogotá, which the government has attributed to the ELN, have rekindled security concerns.
Talks in a Critical Phase
This week, it became apparent that the peace talks had entered a tipping point. Polls show a growing public impatience with the peace talks and accumulating support for a military solution. (See last week’s polls here.) Yesterday another poll indicated that 75 percent of those surveyed did not think that there would be a peace deal with the FARC. (See results here.”)
The crisis in public support comes at a time when the negotiators are tackling the difficult issues relating to transitional justice. Colombian government negotiators acknowledged that the process had entered what Sergio Jaramillo, High Commissioner for Peace, called “the most difficult moment of the process.” (See his remarks before a national meeting of community radio broadcasters here.)
On July 5, 2015, government negotiator Humberto de la Calle gave an extensive interview with journalist Juan Gossain, in which he warned that the peace process “is in its worst moment since we began.” The interview was stark in its candor. “For better or worse,” said De la Calle, “the peace process is coming to an end… It is possible that one of these days the FARC will not find us at the table in Havana.” In the interview, De la Calle revealed that the government is rethinking its strategy about a bilateral ceasefire before a final agreement–“if it is serious, definitive, and verifiable.” (See the interview below and a transcript in Spanish here.)
Support for Peace
Despite the polls, important segments of the population continue to support a peaceful solution to the conflict. On July 5th, 26 leaders representing a wide spectrum of faith communities urged the parties to stay at the table until they have reached agreement. They offered their prayers and talents toward the transformation of Colombia, asserting that the use of arms represents the “failure of words.” (See their letter here and interviews here.) Church leaders are calling for an inter-faith service on July 14th to urge the government to make official the talks with the ELN, and to de-escalate the conflict with the FARC. (See here.)
Likewise, other peace organizations are preparing for a major mobilization on July 22-23. (For details, see ENCUENTRO NACIONAL DE PAZ.) A steady stream of communiqués supporting the peace process are being issued from many sectors of Colombian society and the international community. (See the recent call by the 260 human rights organizations grouped together in the Colombia-Europe-United States coalition here and the latest report by the International Crisis Group urging a bilateral ceasefire.)
De-Mining Programs To Be Scaled Up
While the parties have been talking in Havana, some 900 Army personnel were training at the center for de-mining in Tolemaida to (See article here.). A pilot humanitarian de-mining project conducted jointly by the Colombian Army and the FARC in collaboration with the community in the municipality of Briceño has shown success in clearing land mines, and will be replicated in other regions. (See more here and here.) Such gestures are important confidence-building measures that are movement in the right direction.
In sum, the process seems to have weathered the latest storm, though there is clearly a need for continued confidence-building measures and efforts to ensure public support for the process. A reduction in violence and measures to de-escalate the conflict and lay the ground for a bilateral ceasefire with adequate monitoring mechanisms is a step in the right direction.