New Agreements on Political Participation; Renewed Energy to End the War

July 9, 2016

Despite a clearly accelerated pace and enormous political will to bring the peace talks to a close and end Colombia’s war once and for all, a final peace deal by July 20th–as announced last month by President Juan Manuel Santos–is a stretch.  Nonetheless, it seems clear that the talks will reach their intended conclusion very soon.

Havana has been buzzing with activity since June 23rd, when international figures gathered there to witness the signing of three breakthrough agreements for ending the conflict.  One agreement lays out the terms for a ceasefire, cessation of hostilities, and the decommissioning of weapons (see agreement here).  Another outlines the accompanying security guarantees and the commitment to battling criminal organizations and paramilitary groups. (Read it here).  The third agreement binds the parties to accept the decision of the Constitutional Court on the mechanism by which Colombians would endorse the final peace agreements. (View it here.)  The June 23rd agreements include detailed road maps and schedules to decommission all of the weapons of an estimated 7,000 FARC combatants within six months of signing a peace agreement, and an even more detailed plan for concentrating FARC troops in 23 small hamlets and 8 camps.  The agreements are replete with protection schemes and verification procedures by UN forces that create confidence that a transition from war to peace is not only possible, it is happening.  June 23 marked the start of a new era in Colombia–the end of the war–and consequently, a noticeable shift in the dynamics both within Colombia and at the peace table in Havana.

New Polls Favor Peace

Within Colombia, the latest Gallup polls show a substantial rebound and increased favorability for President Juan Manuel Santos and for the peace process.  Santos’s approval ratings shot from 21 to 30 percent since May 2016 (having hit an all-time low of 13 percent earlier this year) in polls conducted from June 21 to July 2 in five major cities. Support for the peace process likewise climbed in recent weeks from 27 percent to 50 percent. (See more here and here.)  All in all, it is an exciting time, and public skepticism that an accord will be reached is slowly retreating.

New Energy in Havana

There seems to be a new energy in Havana as well.  Old differences are finding new resolutions quickly in this invigorated environment.   Humberto de la Calle, the government’s lead negotiator, called the process “irreversible,” promising that the process “should rapidly arrive at its conclusion.”  (See more here.)  U.S. Peace Envoy Bernie Aronson, who, by early July, had visited the peace table 25 times since his appointment in early 2015, echoed De la Calle’s assessment, noting, “If it’s a few weeks or a month and a half more to wrap up details, it’s only a question of time. But we have already arrived at the end.” (View his remarks here.)

The FARC has taken measures that reinforce its commitment to move away from arms and into the democratic fold.  On July 4th, Timochenko announced that he had just given the order to all the FARC structures “to suspend taxing all the legal economic activity that there is in the regions, taxes that we have on the ranchers, the different financial sources, big business.”  (See more here.)  Likewise, throughout June, FARC members engaged in pedagogical exercises in all of the prisons to teach the prisoners about the peace process, and new FARC troops arrived in Havana who will be trained to work with the UN political mission in the concentration zones to assist with the ceasefire and decommissioning arrangements.

On Tuesday, July 5th, Colombian government and FARC-EP negotiators announced a number of advances and agreements, including breakthroughs on political participation mechanisms.  This blog will focus on these new political mechanisms, with a subsequent blog picking up on additional developments related to the ethnic delegations and other outstanding issues from this session.

Agreements on Political Participation

During the third round of the fiftieth cycle, which closed on July 5th, the parties began to work their way through the topics left pending from previous provisional accords reached on rural agrarian development, political participation, illicit drugs, victims and transitional justice.  The pending topics are said to number a few dozen, and constitute areas where agreement could not be reached, so presumably they will require some further discussion.  Some undoubtedly will also fall on the cutting room floor.

On July 5, nonetheless, the parties announced that they had now reviewed all of the pending items from the earlier agreement reached in Nov. 2013 on political participation.  (See the original agreement here.)  From this review, they produced three new agreements on mechanisms for protecting and promoting guarantees for political opposition; protection and promotion of citizen participation; and a timeline for instituting electoral reforms.  (Read their joint communiqué here.)

Law on Political Opposition

In their statement, the parties called for the establishment of a Commission to define the features of a statute to guarantee the exercise of political opposition.  The Commission is to be convened immediately by the Ministry of the Interior, and will include representatives of the Marcha Patriótica (a leftist party-movement granted legal standing in April 2012) and the Congreso de los Pueblos, as well as 2 experts designated by the peace table, and other stakeholders agreed on by the parties.  The Commission will facilitate an event involving the broader participation of representatives of opposition movements and organizations, as well as experts and academics.  The government will work with the Commission to draw up a draft law on political opposition as soon as possible following the signing of the Final Agreement.

Citizen Participation

The parties also agreed to prepare a draft law to protect and promote citizen participation.  The law would be nourished by proposals generated in a new national consultation that would bring together spokespersons from the most representative social movements and organizations.  They called on the National Council for Citizen Participation (a permanent advisory body of the State run by the Ministry of the Interior), with the support of three nongovernmental organizations–Foro por Colombia, Viva la Ciudadanía and the Jesuit think-tank CINEP–to draw up a proposal in the next two weeks for the peace table that would outline the criteria and guidelines for ensuring “balanced and pluralist” representation in the design of this national consultation space.

Electoral Reforms

Finally, the parties agreed to create a special electoral mission that would make recommendations for institutional reforms to “guarantee greater autonomy and independence for electoral organization, … modernize and make the electoral system more transparent, …  give greater guarantees for political participation on equal terms (en igualdad de condiciones), and improve the quality of democracy.”   The electoral mission will include 7, mostly Colombian, high-level experts.  One of the participants will be the Electoral Observer Mission (MOE), a widely respected, independent electoral monitoring group with national oversight capacities.  MOE has accepted the role, and outlined the criteria for its participation in the new mission, namely, that it would continue to maintain  financial autonomy and a critical posture. (Read its statement here.) The remaining  experts will be selected by the equally respected Carter Center, the Political Science Department of the Universidad Nacional of Colombia, the Political Science Department of the Universidad de los Andes, and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

Still Pending on Political Participation

A number of items relating to political participation still remain to be defined, especially  the number of Congressional seats (Circunscripciones Transitorias Especiales de Paz) that will be temporarily granted to communities in zones devastated by conflict violence, many of which are historic FARC zones; the number of electoral terms that representatives of these special peace districts will have; and how many zones there will be.  Similarly, questions still remain on the particulars of the FARC’s reintegration into civilian life (for  excombatants, militias, dependents, and supporters); and the FARC’s longer-term transformation into a political movement following the six-month period during which it will begin the movement away from armed struggle under the supervision of the UN political mission.  Some of these issues are being considered in the discussions around point number three on the agenda, ending the conflict.

Gender Sub-commission Continues its Review

In addition, the subcommission on gender is working to complete its mandate.  It is reviewing all of the provisional agreements, including the recent June 23rd agreements as well as the new July 4th agreements on political participation, and can be expected to also review any new agreements on other pending topics.  In their latest communiqué, the parties announced that once the gender review is completed, any modifications made as a result of the gender sub commission’s work will be made public. (See Joint Communiqué #80).

Preparing the Population for FARC Political Engagement 

The larger challenge will be translating these decisions into reality and preparing the landscape in Colombia for the participation of the FARC in local, regional and national politics.  The transformation of FARC from a fighting force to a political force will need to happen relatively quickly.  Politics offers a key pathway, particularly for the FARC leadership and mid-level commanders, to ensure that viable alternatives exist for those who set aside their weapons that will lessen the enticements to pick up guns once again.

In his remarks at the June 23 ceremonies, Timoleón Jiménez (aka Timochenko), the top FARC leader, confirmed the FARC’s intention to participate in politics. “Of course the FARC will enter politics, as this is our reason for being, but through legal, peaceful ways, with the same rights and guarantees of the other parties,” he said.  Likewise, Timochenko underscored that “rural peace must mean a participatory transformation of the cities.”  (See the transcript of his remarks in Havana here.)

Humberto de la Calle, head of the government’s negotiating team, has increasingly been speaking publicly about the need to open political space for the guerrillas once they have set aside their weapons.  In an interview with Marisol Gómez, editor of El Tiempo, he confessed that the most difficult of the pending items with the FARC has less to do with the negotiations with the FARC than with public attitudes about the FARC’s participation in politics.  He called for Colombians “to reflect and prepare ourselves so that there might be a political presence of the FARC.”  (See interview here.)

The political transformation of armed groups (what in the literature are known as Non-State Armed Actors) is, frankly, the way that peace is made. Colombia’s history is filled with examples of combatants setting aside their arms to enter politics.  This has been done successfully with leaders of the M-19, sectors of the ELN (such as the CRS), and the EPL, all of which can point to elected officials working within the system for change and as forces for peace.  Colombia has demobilized some 58,000 individuals in recent decades; many of them of course have not gone into politics.  Still the model of swapping bullets for ballots has long been the international template and accepted best practice for peacemaking around the globe.  Examples abound–Northern Ireland, South Africa, El Salvador, Uruguay, Brazil, the Philippines, Nepal, Indonesia, and so on.

Defining the Nature and Terms of FARC’s Political Participation 

In the Colombian case, the negotiating parties in Havana have signaled the critical importance of the FARC’s participation in politics in order to sustain peace, but the terms for this participation are still being discussed. While the Legal Framework for Peace (the legislative act approved by the Colombian Congress in June 2012 to prepare the terrain for a peace process) prohibited political participation for those FARC leaders responsible for the most serious crimes, it was superseded by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) agreed to by the parties last December.  The JEP opened the door for a revision of these earlier norms.  There are nonetheless still a number of items that need further clarification.  Some of these relate to determining which crimes are considered political crimes at the service of rebellion, and thus eligible for amnesty.  Will drug trafficking for example fall into this category of amnestiable crimes?  Or on another note, what will the “effective restriction of liberty” for those who committed war crimes anticipated in the provisional agreements on victims, mean in practice?

It has been said time and again that the FARC will not negotiate their way into a prison cell.  Finding a way to channel the drive that has kept them fighting for more than fifty years is critical.  Politics offers a way forward.  In the aforementioned interview with El Tiempo, government negotiator De la Calle said, “I believe that it is advantageous to Colombia that the FARC, instead of attacking the civilian population, would be present in representative organizations, and would participate in politics without weapons. …  The end of the conflict is not just the end of the guns, the end of the conflict is in the Colombian mind, and one element has to do with political participation.” (See interview here.)  One indeed must question what incentive FARC would have to keep them from returning to the jungle if they did not have a place to land where they could seek to influence politics.  The debates within Colombian society about this issue are relatively new and will undoubtedly continue to be heated.  The response of Colombian society to the return of the FARC from the jungles will be a key component in defining the future of Colombian democracy in the 21st century.

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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