November 10, 2015
The Colombian government and the FARC-EP headed back to the peace table in Havana last week and are scheduled to complete their 43rd round of talks on November 13. It has been a busy month for politics in Colombia, with a longer than usual pause between cycles to accommodate the country’s October 25 municipal and regional elections.
At the polls, peace and the post-Accord agendas played a relatively minor role in determining the voters’ preferences for mayors, council people, and governors. Political analyst Alejo Vargas underscored the complexity of the results, in which personalities seemed to triumph over party politics. In the cases of the mayors of Colombia’s major cities, he noted that “the tendency in nearly every case was to not identify candidates with a particular political force, but to underscore their management skills or their previous experience.” Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas, for his part, called the elections a “mandate” for “a balanced Colombia, without the extremes,” that should ultimately strengthen the peace talks.
Electoral Violence at All-Time Low
An Organization of American States (OAS) international electoral monitoring mission found that the election was the “most peaceful” in recent years, citing figures from the National Police that showed that incidents of electoral violence had declined by 60% in comparison with the last elections in 2011. (See the OAS preliminary conclusions here.) The decline in violence can at least in part be attributed to a unilateral ceasefire by the FARC that has been in effect since July 20th.
The elections were not without their problems, however. According to Al-Jazeera, six candidates were killed in these elections–still just one-seventh of the number killed in 2011. Furthermore, fraud, corruption, and clientelism was rampant. More than one thousand candidates were forced to withdraw for lying or financial misdeeds, Al-Jazeera reported, and election officials voided more than 1.5 million ballots for irregularities. The absentee rate continued to be high at 59.9%, a slight increase from the 57.9% rate in 2011, reported the OAS.
Virtually the only election day-related violence occurred on Monday, Oct. 26, when the National Liberation Army (ELN) attacked and killed 11 Army soldiers and 1 policeman who were escorting the transportation of 242 ballots from the Uwa community. The attack injured 9 people, and resulted in the kidnapping 2 soldiers–Antonio Rodríguez Claider and Andrés Felipe Pérez Giraldo. The ELN’s “Domingo Laín” Front, active in the eastern departments of Boyacá, Casanare and Arauca, has confirmed that it is holding and will soon release the two soldiers. The front is headed by Gustavo Aníbal Giraldo Quinchía, alias “Pablito”, who is also a member of the Central Command of the ELN. The incident is under investigation, and it appears to have temporarily halted momentum toward the formal initiation of government peace talks with the ELN, which have been in an exploratory phase for almost two years. An announcement of the launching of formal talks had been anticipated for right after the elections. A peace agreement with the ELN would help consolidate the agreement with the FARC and increase its chance of sustainability.
The Justice Accords Re-Visited
The unprecedented meeting in Havana on Sept. 23 between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC-EP leader “) produced three significant public commitments by the parties. First, a final peace deal would be signed in six months, presumably by March 23, 2016. This was a reversal for the FARC, which had consistently argued that the process should not have a pre-established deadline. Secondly, the FARC agreed to initiate a process of putting aside their weapons 60 days after the final accord is signed. Third, the parties announced (Spanish here; English here) that they had reached agreement on a transitional justice formula that laid out conditions for reduced sentencing for abuses contingent on truth-telling, promoted a model of restorative justice, and eschewed amnesty for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide, while allowing it for “political” crimes. ( See my earlier blog posts on the terms of the justice accord.) According to Colombian government peace commissioner Sergio Jaramillo, the transitional justice formula has been the most difficult theme dealt with to date at the table.
Still, the justice agreement has yet to be finalized. The joint communiqué read from Havana on Sept. 23 outlined the consensus of the parties on 10 points that form part of a larger document of 75 points that is still being refined. By the end of the 42nd cycle, which lasted from Sept. 28-Oct. 9th, there had emerged a somewhat heated public debate between the heads of the two peace delegations about what was agreed and what remained inconclusive. According to Humberto de la Calle, head of the Colombian government delegation, discussions still remained on whether amnesties will be available for the crime of kidnapping, the extent of and conditions under which ex-guerrillas might be extradited, the particulars of the “deprivation of liberty” that will constitute part of the reduced sentencing formula, treatment of State agents who have committed crimes, and the process for electing magistrates for the Peace Tribunal.
Iván Márquez, head of the FARC delegation, sustained on the other hand, that there was no place for substantial modifications as the architecture of the judicial system had already been agreed to and the topic was “closed” for discussion. Carlos Lozano, another member of the FARC peace delegation, warned that opening up the justice agreement could make it difficult to meet the self-imposed six-month deadline for reaching final agreement. In recent days, Lozano observed, “This is a debate that will have to be analyzed at the table, when we try to see at which moment the theme of justice will be definitively closed.” (See Lozano’s remarks here.) He proposed that the six-month countdown begin after the justice agreement is finalized.
Third Parties Step Up
Such differences in interpretation are normal in peace processes, though negotiating their resolution through the media has in the past proven counterproductive. On Friday, Oct. 9, the negotiating parties met with Cuba and Norway, the guarantor nations for the peace process. The latter quickly helped to define a strategy for moving beyond the impasse. According to a joint communiqué issued on Oct. 10, the meeting with the guarantor nations took place in a “respectful and constructive environment,” and participants agreed to reconvene the commission of jurists that had helped draft the original justice accord–a team that includes ex-magistrates of the Constitutional Court Manuel José Cepeda and Juan Carlos Henao, international expert Douglas Cassel, Enrique Santiago, Álvaro Leyva, and Diego Martínez. The commission, half appointed by the government and half by the FARC and authors of the original draft agreement on justice, met in late October and are working to reconcile the differences in interpretations between the parties. In the absence of a mediator, the Colombian negotiators have relied on committed, independent third parties (both Colombians and internationals) to assist them in breaking through the occasional and predictable impasses that occur in the course of the process.