Highlights of the 39th Cycle of Peace Talks in Havana

August 19, 2015

As the Colombian government and the FARC prepare to return to the peace table in Havana tomorrow, August 20th, for the 40th cycle of talks, I offer here a brief recap and analysis of the flurry of activities since my last post on the peace process in mid-July.

The Interlude between Sessions

When the 38th cycle closed on July 12, following the most violent period seen since the beginning of peace talks in 2012, the Colombian government and the FARC peace delegations issued a joint statement committing themselves to a new dual strategy that would hasten a final peace accord in Havana on the one hand,  and de-escalate the conflict in Colombia on the other.  (See joint statement here.)

The first part of the strategy includes “technical, continuous and simultaneous work on the key points of the Agenda while the accords are being crafted at the table.”  In particular, the parties agreed to move forward on establishing the terms for a bilateral ceasefire and the setting aside of arms.  To this effect, they invited the UN Secretary General and the UNASUR president (currently Uruguay) to delegate representatives to serve on the Technical Subcommission on Ending the Conflict in Havana in order to help them design relevant systems for monitoring and verification.

Complementing this intensification of technical work, In relation to the second part of the strategy, the FARC extended the unilateral ceasefire it had announced on July 8 from one month to four months, and the government said it would undertake de-escalation and confidence-building measures, as yet to be defined, in tandem with the FARC’s ability to maintain the unilateral suspension of “all offensive actions.”  (See Santos’s statement here.)

Humberto de la Calle, lead negotiator for the government, emphasized the relationship between what happens in Havana and at home.  He noted, “These are inseparable commitments.  That is to say, the speeding up of the talks and the de-escalation measures that might be taken by the Government must advance at the same time.  As the talks take on a new dynamic, so too will the de-escalation measures.”  (See De la Calle statement here.)

President Santos has linked consideration of a bilateral definitive ceasefire specifically to progress at the table on the issue of justice. In an interview on August 8th, he said, “If we solidify the accord on justice, we might be able to agree on the bilateral, definitive ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.  … We are approaching the end of the conflict.”  (See his interview here.)

Ceasefire vs. De-escalation

The government has been clear that the de-escalation measures do not constitute a  bilateral ceasefire. (See De la Calle’s statement here.)  De la Calle explained, “The ceasefire should be studied and it is a part of the expediting process, but that is a later stage, with its own characteristics. The purpose of de-escalation is to reduce the intensity of the confrontation, create an environment of trust between the parties, and seek greater support from the Colombian people in the sense that peace is actually possible”. (See his statement here.)

Peace Commissioner and government negotiator Sergio Jaramillo noted that “the final and bilateral ceasefire and end of the hostilities, as stated in the General Agreement, implies much more formality, clear rules, and a verification implying that it is final”. (See his statement here.)  Jaramillo clarified that “de-escalation is a series of steps and progressive gestures, according to the FARC’s behavior, to reduce the level of the confrontation in order for the people in the territories to feel that peace is getting closer and thus acclimate the end of the conflict.”

In their joint statement on July 12, the government and FARC negotiators agreed to take stock of the results of their de-escalation measures and advances at the table in four months’ time. (See their statement here.)  President Santos announced that, at that time, “depending on whether the FARC fulfills [its promises], I will make the decision as to whether or not we continue with the process.” (See Santos’s statement here.)

Given that the FARC has long been pushing for a bilateral ceasefire and that the government is anxious to finalize agreements on the transitional justice issues currently on the agenda, the linking of these two issues is a creative way to accelerate  progress at the peace table.  Some of the same challenges however remain in terms of the lack of verification mechanisms for the ceasefire and the need to establish transitional protocols for dealing with actions that might be interpreted as the FARC violating its unilateral ceasefire or military or extra military forces provoking FARC troops in the field.

Mood Shifts for 39th Cycle of Talks 

During the 39th round of talks that began on July 23 and ended on August 2, there seemed to be a renewal of confidence in the peace process, spawned by the parties’  expressed willingness to accelerate the pace in Havana and to de-escalate the violence in Colombia.  The unilateral ceasefire and the suspension of the bombings, FARC lead negotiator Iván Márquez noted, “unleashed this new ambience of confidence that has allowed the talks to speed up and to advance new consensuses.” (See Márquez’s statement here.)

There were a number of additional advances during the 39th round:

  • The parties produced a report on the joint de-mining project underway in Antioquia with the Colombian Army and the FARC (View the report here.);
  • Peace delegation members in Havana were reinforced with new team members and advisors;
  • Discussions moved forward on preliminary agreements for an integrated approach to truth, justice, reparations and non-repetition; and
  • Work of the technical subcommission for ending the conflict continued to refine strategies for a final bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.

Pilot Project on De-Mining Advances

On July 28th, the parties issued a report on the progress of the third phase of the decontamination of explosives and clearing of land mines under way in El Orejón in Antioquia. (View joint communiqué here.)  In early July, 48 members of the Colombian Army’s Humanitarian De-Mining Battalion (BIDES), and three FARC leaders and explosive experts–accompanied by the International Committee of the Red Cross; representatives of guarantor nations Norway and Cuba; Colombian government representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the Governor’s Office of Antioquia and the Mayor’s Office of Briceño; and a verification team from the NGO Norwegian Popular Aid.  Under the Army’s direction, the team had begun a laborious two-three month joint pilot program for humanitarian de-mining that included an unprecedented collaboration between insurgents and the government to locate, map, and clear explosive devices and mines from an area of 12,000 square meters of the village of El Orejón de Briceño in the department of Antioquia–an area with one of the highest concentrations of land mines in Colombia.

The project has also included a consultation  process with the local community to formulate plans for their collective reparation.  According to the recent report, in July, 70 members of the community met with the de-mining commission to prioritize projects related to “economic development, health, education, sports, governability and citizen participation.”   (See more here.)

In their report on the status of the joint de-mining program, the authors reported that, following the accidental death of Colombian Army soldier Wilson de Jesús Martinez by a land mine as he was engaged in the de-mining on the third day of operations, the commission interrupted its work to make some methodological revisions.  Among other things, they reviewed security protocols and established new techniques for clearing explosives that depended on more dogs.   If, Jesús Martinez’s death notwithstanding, the Antioqueño project continues to be successful, the plan is to implement a second stage with a different team in Meta.

Changes in the FARC Delegation 

A total of 17 new FARC delegation members have joined the peace table in recent weeks.  In exchange, 17 FARC delegation members returned to Colombia to “conduct peace pedagogy in the guerrilla camps,” according to delegation member Tanja Nijmeijer (aka Alejandra Nariño). (See more here.)  Of the new arrivals, the eight members who arrived on July 27 include mostly mid-level commanders of regional fronts and blocks who will replace their departing counterparts on the technical submissions.  

Victims and Transitional Justice

During the 39th cycle, the parties continued to work on the issue of victims, including the related issues of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  According to lead negotiator Iván Márquez, the parties are designing an “unprecedented and innovative” integrated system to put these different aspects of victims’ rights at the center of the process.  (See more here.)

Civil Society Demands Inclusion 

While Havana negotiators have debated the details of the agenda in relative isolation, civil society has continued to make known its desire to be more regularly engaged in the process, including at the peace tables themselves.  On August 12, Todd Howland, Colombia representative of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, called on the parties to invite authorities of the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities to the peace table in order to guarantee the vision and collective rights of these communities. (See more here.)

Inputs in the form of letters, conferences, publications, recommendations continue to be generated and express the particular interests and concerns of different sectors and regions of Colombia.  Victims’ groups, obviously, are particularly interested in ensuring that their rights are not slighted at the table.  On July 30, family members of victims of disappearance and kidnapping that form part of the NGO Fundación País Libre sent a letter to the government and FARC negotiators with some new inputs and a caution that if their needs are not met, they will not hesitate to seek remedies in international arenas.  (Read their letter here.)  The victims called for a transitional justice process that guarantees victims’ rights and called on the parties to strengthen the institutional structures that provide human rights protections.  Specifically, on the right to truth, they wrote:

1. “We demand that the armed actors make known where the victims [of … kidnapping, disappearance and force disappearance] can be found.  How did it happen, and why?”

2. “We request greater involvement of all of the victims in the constitution and execution of the Truth Commission; likewise we demand the clarification of the cases without prejudice as to which particular armed group [committed them]”.

3.”We demand the creation of public spaces so that the victims can be listened to, and where we can give evidence of what has happened as a guarantee of non-repetition.”

On the right to justice:

4. “We demand timely information on the status of investigations, and agility in judicial processes.”

5. “We demand a transitional justice whose goal is the guarantee of the rights of victims, and not the rights of the victimizers, as happened in the framework of the Justice and Peace Law.”

6.“If you do not guarantee the rights of the victims, we express our intent to take our cases to international authorities.”

 Church Goes to Havana, Explores Potential Role at the Peace Table

In early August, Msr. Luis Augusto Castro, the head of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference, announced that members of the church leadership would travel to Havana to assess the support that the Pope and the Vatican might provide to the peace process.  The upcoming visit of Pope Francisco to Cuba on September 19-22 on his way to the United States offers a potential opportunity for direct engagement with the parties at the peace table.  Pope Francis will be the third pope to visit Cuba and his trip is a primarily seen as a way to  recognize the improved U.S. – Cuba relationship–and the role that the Vatican and the pope played in the 18 months of secret negotiations that contributed to that improvement.  (See the phenomenal story by Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande here.)  Nonetheless, many Colombians are hoping that the Pope’s visit to Cuba will also offer an opportunity for the Pope to give support to the peace process.  In this regard, members of the Colombian church, lead by the head of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference  Msr. Augusto Castro, traveled to Havana in mid-August to meet with the parties and discuss whether it would be advantageous for the Pope to meet with the parties or to send a delegate to participate in the peace talks. (Read more here.)

New Legal Advisory Team on Justice Issues

To facilitate the technical aspects of the emerging agreements on justice, each of the negotiating teams named three new judicial advisors to come work with the peace table in  Havana.  The two legal teams include:

For the Government:

  • Juan Carlos Henao, ex-President of the Constitutional Court and rector of the Externado University in Colombia
  • Manuel José Cepeda, ex-President of the Constitutional Court and advisor for the 1991 Constitution
  • Douglas Cassel, international human rights professor at the University of Notre Dame.

For the FARC:

  • Alvaro Leyva, Conservative Party politician and long-time advocate and facilitator of Colombian peace processes
  • Diego Martínez Castillo, human rights lawyer and Exec. Director of the Comité Permanente Por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos
  • Enrique Santiago, Spanish Communist Party and United Left leader and human rights lawyer.

The advisors will join a team of judicial advisors in Havana already in place since last year and provide technical assistance to each of the teams at the peace table as they continue to refine their agreements on the subject of victims and transitional justice.  The new advisors have already held several working sessions and are expected to ensure that whatever solutions are designed will meet both international human rights standards and victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  The eventual formula is expected to be an integrated solution that includes restorative justice approaches.

UNSG Names Jean Arnault as Delegate to the Talks

On August 14, President Santos announced that the seasoned mediator Jean Arnault would serve as the United Nations Secretary General’s delegate at the peace table in Havana in response to an earlier request by the parties for technical support from the UNSG and UNASUR. (View Santos’s statement here.)  Arnault will participate in the upcoming technical meetings of the Commission on Ending the Conflict, which is  deliberating on the mechanisms related to a definitive, bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.  Arnault brings deep experience from the peace process in Guatemala, where he was a facilitator in  the peace process before being named as head of the UN MINUGUA delegation to verify the Guatemalan peace accords.   Arnold has also served as a special advisor for the group of friends for a democratic Pakistan, and as UN special representative in Afghanistan, Georgia and Burundi. (See more here.)

International Support for the Peace Talks

Just before the 39th round ended, on July 29, the Chairwoman and Whip of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus of the U.S. Congress wrote to President Santos of behalf of the Caucus to congratulate him and his Administration for “the vision and leadership you have demonstrated in seeking a negotiated settlement to end Colombia’s decades-long struggle with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).” (Read letter here.)  They urged President Santos to “ensure that the final accords satisfy the needs of victims of all armed actors to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees that the violence of the past will not return.”

A few days later, 65 Democratic legislators wrote to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, underscoring how important it is that the Colombians reach an agreement to end the last internal armed conflict in Latin America.  They welcomed the July 12 agreement to speed up the schedule and conclude negotiations, and urged support for a just solution, reparations for the victims, and an “inclusive” agreement that considers the needs of the marginalized sectors most affected by the decades-long conflict–women, Afro and indigenous populations, campesino organizations, and the millions of internally displaced Colombians. (See the letter here.)

Opportunities for international support continue to be forthcoming.  Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguín, who joined the Colombian government’s negotiating team last May 28, announced recently that she would be seeking some 170 international agreements for the peace and the post-conflict on themes such as de-mining, land restitution, economic development, agriculture and fishing projects, reconciliation and peace education.  (See statement here.)


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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6 Responses to Highlights of the 39th Cycle of Peace Talks in Havana

  1. Luz Mireya NARVAEZ SOLARTE says:



  2. Norma Inés Bernal Vélez says:

    Hay Ginny eres insuperable. Gracias por ese informe tan completo. No descansaste ningún día, analizaste cada movimiento. Gracias amiga y hermana. Norma Inés

    El Miércoles 19 de agosto de 2015 6:46, COLOMBIA CALLS escribió:

    #yiv5965019209 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv5965019209 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv5965019209 a.yiv5965019209primaryactionlink:link, #yiv5965019209 a.yiv5965019209primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv5965019209 a.yiv5965019209primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv5965019209 a.yiv5965019209primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv5965019209 WordPress.com | Ginny Bouvier posted: “August 20, 2015As the Colombian government and the FARC prepare to return to the peace table in Havana tomorrow, August 20th, for the 40th cycle of talks, I offer here a brief recap and analysis of the flurry of activities since my last post on the pe” | |


  3. Thank you Ginny for the status report!
    The FARC negotiators are requesting the popes presence according to the media, do you think the popes visit next September will expedite the negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government?Best,Richard


    • Hi Richard–The Vatican today reported that the Pope has no meeting with the FARC scheduled on his agenda during his Cuba trip, though this may just be a standard response. There may not be an official decision at this point… much may depend on what is happening at the table come September.


  4. Pingback: 41st Cycle Brings Colombian Peace Talks to Edge of Breakthrough; Santos Travels to Cuba Today | COLOMBIA CALLS

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