December 16, 2015
The 45th cycle of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP that began last Thursday (Dec. 10) ended on Tuesday, December 15th with a press conference in the Salón de Protocolo of El Laguito, the private high-security residence in Havana where the talks are being held. The mood was simultaneously festive and somber, as the government and FARC-EP delegations made public their long-awaited joint agreement on victims. This was the fourth comprehensive accord to be reached on the six-point agenda that the Colombian government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP) laid out in the framework agreement in August 2012. Two final points on the agenda will be picked up in January after the holiday season. These include the terms for a bilateral ceasefire, the setting aside of weapons, and ending the conflict; as well as the final item on the mechanisms and procedures for endorsement, verification and monitoring of the agreements reached. This second set of issues has yet to be discussed at the peace tables.
At just past nine o’clock on Tuesday morning, ten victims–selected and accompanied by the Catholic Bishops Conference, the United Nations, and the Centro de Pensamiento of the National University–arrived at El Laguito, where they were greeted by the Cuban delegation and representatives of the other nations accompanying the peace talks. While they waited for the event to begin, the victims socialized briefly among themselves and with the government and rebel peace delegations. The delegations then passed into an adjoining room, where the press awaited news of the accord.
The government delegation, headed by Humberto de la Calle, sat on the left side of a hollow square facing the delegation of the FARC-EP, led by Iván Márquez. The respective delegations and a variety of advisors sat behind them. The press had set up their cameras and staked out the open area between the parties opposite the head table.
The victims’ delegation filed in and took their places at the head table. They included Yanette Bautista Montañez, Luz Marina Bernal Parra, Luis Mendita Ovalle, Marison Garzón Forero, Wilfrido Landa Caicedo, Debora Barros Fince, Alan Jara Urzola, Piedad Córdoba, Alfonso Mora León and Janeth Bedoya. At each of their places, a large white candle burned.
Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, presided at the center of the head table, flanked by Rodolfo Benitez and Dag Nylander, guarantors of the process from Cuba and Norway, respectively. Once all the participants were in their places, there was a hush as the Cuban violinist José Luis Rubio performed Franz Schubert’s “Ave María”. His interpretation would have melted the hardest of hearts.
The performance was followed by a charged moment of silence to remember the victims of the conflict. Then, as has often been the custom at the close of a cycle of talks, Rodolfo Benítez and Dag Nylander read aloud the joint communiqué that was reached by the parties. (Read the communiqué here.) The communiqué announced a new, long-awaited accord on victims, crafted over the last year and a half, and representing resolution of some of the most difficult issues facing the negotiators in Colombia’s internal armed conflict.
Humberto de la Calle and Iván Márquez welcomed the “good news” represented by the new agreement on victims. Each thanked the victims and the various other parties who had helped make the agreement possible. They underscored the “crucial role” of the victims, who have been at the “center of gravity” of the talks. The satisfaction of victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition, the negotiators underscored, has been key to the peace process and victims participation and proposals have shaped the agreements being forged in Havana.
The Victims Respond
Following the reading of the joint communiqué and the ceremonial signing of the agreement by the guarantors and the lead negotiators for each party, the microphone was given to the victims’ delegation. The delegation included victims of the guerrillas, paramilitaries and the state. Among the group were victims of forced displacement, kidnapping, sexual violence, forced disappearances, massacres, and extrajudicial executions. The victims came from different regions, ethnicities, and genders. Women constituted sixty percent of the delegation, a similar proportion to prior victims’ delegations to Cuba. Despite their many differences, however, the victims were united in their call for peace and their conviction that only through dialogue and reconciliation will peace be possible.
Jineth Bedoya, a well-known journalist, victim of sexual violence, and leader of a movement in Colombia against violence against women, served as a spokesperson for the group. She read a communiqué on behalf of the victims’ delegation.
The victims came to Cuba “to be active witnesses” to the signing of the accord, Bedoya noted, and they celebrate that the parties “have found a way to recognize us after so many decades of impunity.” The victims’ endorsement of the peace process does not mean that they will renounce “justice, reparations, and above all, the truth,” the declaration clarified. The victims will be “attentive monitors for the strict compliance of the accords that are signed.” The statement clarified that the delegation was not privy to the content of the agreement prior to being invited to Cuba.
The communiqué called on the government and the FARC to increase their efforts to educate about the peace process, and underscored the commitment of the victims who had participated in the various delegations to Havana to play a role in the dissemination and implementation of the accords reached. “We know that our role goes beyond that of being a group of people marked by violence. We are social protagonists of a new country,” the communiqué read.
The statement noted that the participation of the victims in the process in Havana had brought both stigmatization and death threats for which no investigations have been undertaken. Such investigations would provide an “example” of the guarantees of non-repetition.
“Although the parties expressed their commitment to integrating a gender perspective throughout the process,” the communiqué read, “we view with sadness the absence of women at the negotiating table. This, without a doubt, will directly affect the guarantees that we women have demanded.”
Finally, the communiqué noted that the victims are offering a tremendous gesture of generosity in presenting their willingness to countenance reconciliation. “We believe in you and we want the country to believe in the peace accord,” Bedoya read. “If you fail, you will not fail us, but you will fail the history of Colombia.”