January 13, 2016
Cycle 46 Begins
The peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP met today in Havana for their 46th round of peace talks. This round is the first of the new year. Launched in the aftermath of a holiday recess following the parties’ successful completion of an accord on victims in mid-December, spirits are optimistic that 2016 will be a good year for peace. With agreements now reached on four of the six items on the agenda–agrarian development, political participation, and drugs and illicit crops, as well as the recently concluded chapter on victims–the negotiators are now turning to the final two items on their docket. The end of the process in Havana is in sight.
The Pending Agenda
In the current cycle, the parties are seeking to reach agreements on the terms for ending the conflict, including among other things, the terms and verification process for a definitive bilateral ceasefire; the procedures and mechanisms for the setting aside of weapons; and the demobilization or concentration of the guerrillas and their reintegration into civilian life. A final point on the agenda will include the development of mechanisms for endorsing, monitoring, and implementing the final agreement. A plethora of other issues, put on the back burner in the course of just over three years of negotiations, will also need to be revisited.
A Looming Deadline
On Friday, January 8, President Juan Manuel Santos ordered his negotiating team to “step on the accelerator” (see the President’s statement here) in order to meet the March 23rd deadline for a final peace deal agreed to last September at the dramatic, first-time, public meeting in Havana between President Santos and Timoleón Jiménez (aka ‘Timochenko’), the commander-in-chief of the FARC. With only 70 days to go to bring the promise to fruition, the pressure is on. There is some expectation that the methodology of the talks will change and the parties are now expected to meet without interruption until a final peace deal is struck.
Political will is at an all-time high, but even so, the March deadline may prove elusive. While many of the most contentious topics have now been addressed at the peace table, the complexity and importance of the remaining topics should not be underestimated. Appropriate and adequate independent monitoring of ceasefires is essential to their effective functioning, and inadequate attention to implementation mechanisms is a surefire way back to conflict. Considerable discussion will be required before consensus on these and other topics can be crafted. Where international engagement is required (as would be the case if a third party such as the UN Security Council were to be engaged), institutional limits and timetables would enter into play. Finally, finalizing agreements between long-time adversaries and selling them to constituencies simply takes time.
Preparations for Peace
Within Colombia, meanwhile, there are a multitude of preparations that must be undertaken before a peace deal can take effect. The Congress and the Constitutional Court will play key roles in this next period, as they will prepare the legal and legislative scaffolding necessary for approving, advancing and implementing the commitments made at the peace table. These internal processes will also have their own time tables and calendars that are independent of the deadlines set in Havana.
President Santos announced in early January that he will convene extraordinary sessions of the Congress to consider presidential faculties to facilitate the implementation of agreements reached in Havana related to the demobilization, disarming, and concentration of the FARC in whichever zones the parties in Havana might propose in the coming months. Such faculties, which could include suspending arrest warrants for FARC members once a peace accord is signed, will require the modification of Law 418 (Ley de Orden Público).
Similarly, the Constitutional Court will meet at the end of March and is expected to consider the constitutionality of a plebiscite mechanism to approve the peace accords once they are finalized in Havana. The plebiscite mechanism, nonetheless, has yet to be discussed at the peace table or to be accepted by the FARC, which has long supported an alternative constituent assembly. Although the endorsement mechanism has yet to be defined at the table, Colombian politicians are beginning to educate the public about the nature of a plebiscite.
The March 23 deadline provides an important goal post and the parties show every sign of their intent to meet the deadline. They are clearly working toward that goal, though leaders on both sides have privately confessed that the deadline appears increasingly unrealistic. While most would love to see a final peace agreement by March 23–or sooner–it is nonetheless important that the negotiators take the time they require to reach good, solid agreements–ones that they can feel confident that their constituencies can support.
The negotiators should learn from the recent past. A premature announcement by the parties last September that a justice accord had been reached before both sides were fully on board set the current peace process back by more than two months. It would be better to have a slight delay in presenting a final peace deal in order to ensure that all agreements are thoroughly discussed and vetted by the parties than to meet the deadline with an agreement that needs to be re-negotiated down the road.
That said, there is no time to lose. The urgency of the process requires the parties to maintain a steady and accelerated pace in order to maintain public support. This support will be required for the endorsement and implementation of the agreements. Only then will the task of finally putting an end to half a century of war in Colombia be possible.