July 12, 2015
On Sunday, July 12, the Colombian government and the FARC-EP ended their 38th round of talks in Havana and issued a joint communiqué announcing that they had reached an agreement to speed up the peace process and to de-escalate the conflict. The specific de-escalation measures have yet to be defined. (Read it here or view it below.) Sunday’s joint statement asserts that in order to create conditions to put in place a bilateral, definitive ceasefire, the delegations will do everything possible to reach a final agreement, including shifting their methodology to a more technical approach. The parties will continue to craft agreements at the peace table. They have defined a plan with pre-established goals, including the establishment of the terms for a definitive, bilateral ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities, and the setting aside of arms.
Pressures have been building in recent months for movement from Havana in the context of growing violence and environmental devastation since the FARC suspended their earlier ceasefire in late April. Last week, the FARC declared a one-month suspension of offensive actions to begin on July 20th as a confidence-building measure and a step toward reducing the violence. (See my earlier post here.) Today, the FARC reaffirmed its commitment to the unilateral ceasefire beginning on July 20. This will be the sixth unilateral ceasefire by the FARC since peace talks began in November 2012. The Colombian government, for its part, announced that it would de-escalate its military actions in keeping with the FARC’s compliance with their promise to suspend offensive actions. These new measures, and a plan for confidence-building measures should help re-kindle a sense of hope in the peace process.
Role of the International Community
The joint statement of the parties announced the establishment of a system of monitoring and verification that will bring new international actors to the table. Specifically, the Technical Subcommission for Ending the Conflict will be expanded to include a delegate named by the United Nations Secretary General and a delegate from the president pro tempore of UNASUR (currently held by Uruguay). The parties did not discount the possibility that there might be other organizations or countries invited to join the monitoring and verification effort.
The guarantor countries, Cuba and Norway, and the accompanying nations, Venezuela and Chile, were critical in generating this new dynamic at the table. (See previous post here.)
Evaluation in Four Months
The parties agreed to evaluate in four months’ time compliance of de-escalation measures and advances at the table. They also agreed to establish a schedule for the implementation of confidence-building measures.
President Juan Manuel Santos, for his part, addressed the nation on Sunday evening, and noted, “We will be vigilant on what has been agreed to today. And four months from now, depending on whether the FARC comply, I will make the decision whether we will continue with the process or not.” (Read his statement here.)
A Breath of Fresh Air
Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle called the agreement “good news that will help Colombians recover hope in moments where skepticism has grown.” (See his statement here.) He underscored that the government’s de-escalation measures will be linked to advances at the table. The parties will work simultaneously on the issues of justice, the bilateral, definitive ceasefire, setting aside of arms, and security guarantees.
Likewise, the FARC noted that today’s agreement is, “without a doubt, a vigorous, promising, and hopeful relaunching of the dialogue process.” (See the delegation statement here.) They also presented an initiative for a commission for the clarification of paramilitarism in Colombia, and underscored some of their security concerns. (Read their proposal here.)
The path ahead is a difficult one, but the parties are working together in apparent positive spirit and common purpose. There are still many details to be ironed out and difficult compromises to be reached, particularly on the issues of transitional justice. Likewise, ceasefires are complicated and are often used to undermine a process. Colombians will need to be patient and to recognize that most ceasefires are not 100% fulfilled, but that the 85% compliance registered in Colombia during recent unilateral ceasefires is still far superior to no ceasefire at all. (See some of the pitfalls of ceasefires outlined in the Semana article here.) Good verification mechanisms are essential and the UN and UNASUR will bring a history of expertise and know-how to bear on this process.
Today, the process appears to be back on track, another storm weathered. As President Santos said in his speech to the nation on Sunday night, “With these new advances, I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel clearly. And this fills me with confidence and hope. We will achieve this peace that has been so elusive.” (Read his statement here.) Hope is in the air again.