New Agreements Reached While Final Points Are Fine-Tuned in Havana

June 17, 2016

It has been a month of steady progress at the peace table in Havana.  After completing their fiftieth cycle of peace talks on Wed., May 25, 2016, the Colombian government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP) announced that they would remain in “permanent session with the goal of reaching agreements as soon as possible.” (See their joint statement here.) They exchanged proposals on a ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, setting aside arms, security guarantees and protection mechanisms, and reintegration into civilian life, as well as a range of other related topics, including how to go after organized crime and paramilitary successor groups, and the monitoring and verification mechanisms that will be part of the UN political mission established by the Security Council last January.  These topics–as well as the final agenda item on how the peace deal will be endorsed, implemented and verified–are now under discussion by the parties.  The government delegation headed to Bogota for consultations on Wednesday, June 15, and will return to Havana on Monday, June 20, to begin a new cycle of conversations.

A much awaited bilateral ceasefire has yet to be announced.  Press reports suggest that the sticking points revolve around the number, location, and size of concentration zones for the FARC, the nature of the zones and protection mechanisms, and the fate of the arms that will be set aside.  (See more here.)  For FARC combatants, these issues are highly personal.  Whether they will be kept in isolation or allowed the opportunity to mix with the citizenry will be critical to their safety and will also shape their options for their political future. Likewise, for the government, issues of protection and security guarantees are also a concern.  As Ariel Avila has argued, a key dilemma is whether the Accord goes into effect immediately after the agreement is signed or after the FARC set aside their weapons, presumably within sixty days of the signing.  The FARC prefers the former, while the government prefers the latter.

While these issues are being negotiated, work nonetheless moves ahead on multiple other fronts:

  • On June 1, FARC turned over to the International Committee of the Red Cross the first of the minors to be released under an agreement reached last month to separate minors from the ranks of the FARC-EP (see more here);
  •  On June 2, the Colombian government and the FARC-EP peace delegates established a date to receive a delegation of representatives of ethnic communities and organizations at the peace table in Havana;
  • Joint de-mining initiatives continue in Antioquia and Meta and are being complemented with a new joint initiative to launch a crop substitution program, the parties announced on June 10;
  • The 30 FARC prisoners pardoned and released from jail last January have initiated an innovative campaign to educate other FARC-EP prisoners (who under the Geneva Conventions, would presumably be pardoned at war’s end) about the peace process.  On June 10, they conducted a program in La Picota Prison in Bogota featuring a live video chat via Skype with members of the FARC peace delegation in Havana; such programs are expected to take place in all jails throughout Colombia during the month of June. (Read more here.)
  • Agreements that address the issue of the disappeared are moving forward;
  • On June 4, the diplomatic community announced an important new initiative, lead by Norway and Canada, with the support of Sweden, the United States, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to pressure for more effective protection for human rights defenders, noting that a wave of violence is putting peace at risk.  (See more here.)
  • On June 14, the Senate approved the Legislative Act for Peace, which included the innovative mechanism reached by the parties last month to protect the juridical integrity of a peace accord. This will ensure the government’s ability to sign a peace deal that will not be subsequently changed in Colombia.

Ethnic Delegation to Visit Havana 

On June 2, the government and the FARC peace delegations announced they had reached an agreement to receive a delegation of representatives of Colombia’s indigenous, Afro-descent, and black populations; native islander raizales; palenquero descendents of runaway slaves; and the gypsy population known as rrom in Havana on June 20 and 21. (See Joint Communiqué #73).  The visit of the ethnic delegation, now postponed to June 26 and 27, is meant to “ensure the ethnic, territorial and differential approach in the implementation of the agreements about the different points of the agenda and in this dimension consolidate the respect and protection of ethnic and cultural diversity.” It will take place within the framework of the incipient discussions in Havana on endorsement, verification, and monitoring of the peace accords.

The peace delegations have specified the composition of the ethnic delegation as follows:

  • 10 members of the indigenous communities, five of whom will be chosen by the organizations that make up the Mesa Permanente de Concertación Indígena (Standing Committee for Indigenous Coordination) and five of whom will be selected by the peace delegations in Havana;
  • 10 representatives of Afro-Colombian, black, palenquera and maizal communities, five of whom will be selected by organizations that participate in the Espacio Nacional de Consulta Previa (National Space for Prior Consultation) of these communities, and six of whom will be chosen by the peace table;
  • 2 members of the Rrom people, selected by their representatives on the Comisión Nacional de Diálogo para el Pueblo Rrom  (National Dialogue Commission).

Participants in the delegation have not yet been announced. No third party facilitation was requested to help with the selection process, as was done in the case the victims’ delegations that went to Havana under the auspices of the United Nations, the National University, and the Colombian Bishops’ Conference.  The peace table, which will name ten of its members, and the aforementioned nominating organizations are in the process of determining who will be selected to go to Havana.  This is no easy task given the different needs, interests, agendas, and regional contexts of Colombia’s diverse ethnic communities and organizations, as well as the varying levels of legitimacy, linkages, and relationships to the different ethnic populations each ethnic organization purports to represent. The experience of the victims’ delegations, where criteria included representativity, regional representation, and variety of experiences and perspectives, may offer some guidelines.

This visit is an important opportunity both for the ethnic organizations to be heard at the   peace table, and for the peace delegations to engage civil society.  Ethnic communities are a critical constituency for the endorsement and implementation of the agreements. For nearly three years, ethnic organizations, especially the National Indigenous Organization (ONIC) and a newer multi-sectoral alliance of Afro-Colombians called the Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA), have been unsuccessfully soliciting meetings with the negotiating teams in Havana, establishing their own Ethnic Subcommission to consider the provisional accords from an ethnic and territorial analysis. These groups and studies have much to offer the table.

In the selection process, it will be important to ensure transparent selection criteria and to use the selection process as a means of bringing together rather than dividing the relevant ethnic  populations.  Channels of engagement and access should be created that encourage the broadest range of concerns to be voiced and considered.  Mechanisms of communication within and between the ethnic communities, as well as interlocution between the ethnic communities and the table itself should be set up in anticipation of the visit and for follow up.  All parties should keep in mind the adage, “Do No Harm,” and consider how this long-awaited invitation can be used to engender constructive proposals and better communications between the State, the peace delegations, and Colombia’s ethnic communities.

Joint Crop-Substitution Program to be Piloted 

On June 10, the parties announced a joint agreement that in one month, the guerrillas and the Colombian military will initiate a joint program of voluntary illicit crop substitution in the municipality of Briceño.  (Read their Joint Communiqué 74 here.)  The peasants of this municipality of some 11,000 people in the northwestern Department of Antioquia make a living (like an estimated 60,000 families in Colombia) from selling coca leaves.  Under the new crop substitution program, residents from 10 hamlets in Briceño–Orejón, Pueblo Nuevo, La Calera, La América, El Pescado, La Mina, Buena Vista, Altos De Chiri, Roblal and Palmichal–will voluntarily plant coffee, passion fruit, and other crops, instead of their current coca plantations. The pilot program is expected to pilot in Briceño and, if successful, be scaled up throughout the country.

The program will have a field-based  accompaniment group, composed of representatives of the Colombian government, the FARC-EP, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and community members. The group will be supported and accompanied as well by the International Organization on  Migration (IOM) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as well as others that might be required.

The crop substitution program, to be financed by the Colombian government, will build on and be integrated with existing programs in the region, including the joint humanitarian de-mining programs of the Army and the FARC currently under way in Briceño.  The project “will give particular attention to the problem of land, the formalization of [land] tenure, and the preservation of the environment,” in keeping with agreements made under point one on comprehensive rural reforms outlined in the framework agreement guiding the negotiations.

As the public awaits impatiently for a bilateral ceasefire to be announced, the table is clearly seeking to give them cause for hope and laying the groundwork for what is to come.  The latest confidence-building initiatives are important, but the public and the press should invest their frustrations at the delays in efforts to prepare for peace.  The deadlines will come quickly enough and there is much education that needs to be done in order to assure that the careful crafting of a peace accord is not for naught.

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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