Negotiators Return to Bogota as they Work Toward New Peace Accord

October 31, 2016

Three weeks after the plebiscite, the shock appears to be wearing off.  In its wake and following intensive consultations that have opened dialogue with previously disaffected sectors (most notably, current President Juan Manuel Santos and his predecessor former President Alvaro Uribe) and consultations with a broad swath of Colombian politicial and social leaders, a realignment of political forces has been taking shape.  The scenario is highly polarized, but one new feature of the national landscape includes a groundswell of public support backing the peace process and a burgeoning national movement for peace spearheaded by youth.  This resurgence of peace activism, the resounding rejection of a return to war in response to the unanticipated plebiscite results, and dialogue processes that broaden the engagement of the citizenry and seek to break through this polarization will be critical for the refinement of the agreements reached, the successful implementation of the accords once they are finalized, and the sustainability of peace and reconciliation in Colombia.

The delay in the process with the FARC caused by the failure to approve the accords in the plebiscite has given oxygen to calls for a more complete peace with all of the illegal armed groups.  Formal talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), announced by President Santos on October 10 and slated to start in Quito, Ecuador on Thursday, October 27, have been temporarily delayed, but are in the works to be launched on November 3.

With the Nobel Peace Prize on the horizon for President Santos, the international community has underscored Santos’s international mandate for peace.  This constitutes an important source of leverage for President Santos as he navigates a difficult political landscape at home, which is where the real challenges lie.  That terrain and the political realignments they are witness too is marked by the quicksand of impending presidential elections in Colombia in 2018.

Realignment of Political Forces  

A political strategy for moving forward has now emerged that, if successful, could facilitate future implementation of a revised peace accord.  This strategy includes continued dialogues and consultations within Colombia, but keeps the primary negotiation nexus and decision-making authority focused on the parties in Havana, who, given the rejection of those accords by a margin of under 60,000 of 12.5 million voters, are now seeking ways to accommodate the critiques of the accords they spent four years crafting.  Once the parties fashion a new accord, responsibility for determining the appropriate steps to approve and implement it will be in the hands of President Santos.

An unexpected massive social movement for peace is beginning to raise its head.  First there was the march of silence.  Then the march of students.  Then the march of flowers to support the victims.  And this week the National Encounter of Victims.  The rejection of the accords has sparked a deepening of the commitment of many sectors, particularly youth, victims, universities, women, and social movements to reach across partisan lines and call for the maintenance of the bilateral ceasefire currently in effect, and a speedy agreement on the final peace accord to end the war.  It is accompanied by an effort to find a way to remove the accord from presidential politics.

The possibility that the peace could be lost and war perpetuated has sparked a new social movement that is characterized by two demands–maintain the ceasefire and revise and implement the agreements as quickly as possible.  As one student noted, “We want to be parents of peace, not children of war.”

Student Movement

Students have presented various manifiestos to the President that coincide in calling for a successful end to the negotiation of peace agreements, the maintenance of a definitive bilateral ceasefire, transparency and agility in the process, and protection for the guerrillas who have begun to demobilize and for all the citizenry.  They also ask to be given a role as monitors for the implementation of the agreements.  (See more here.)  On Oct. 13, Pres. Santos announced, that as a direct result of his meetings with the students, he was extending the bilateral ceasefire to Dec. 31, 2016.  (See his statement here.) A number of other notable engagements include:

–Peace tents have been set up in downtown Botoga since the plebiscite results were announced;

-Artists–musicians, performers, writers, journalists, photographers, actors, film stars–are holding mobilizations in Bogota every Tuesday until this is resolved;

-New citizen movements organizing to create visible support for peace in the streets have emerged and are actively organizing through social media –#PazALaCalle, #Paziempre, #Pazharemos, #AcuerdoYa;

-Women’s “Paz con las Mujeres” are demanding a 21st century inclusive peace with cultural ethnic family and sexual diversity.

–5 of the largest victims’ organizations have defended the transitional justice model developed in the peace accords.

Post-Plebiscite Action

Following the plebiscite, each of the stakeholders immediately accepted the unanticipated  results.  President Santos announced that he was extending the bilateral, definitive ceasefire; the FARC announced that they would continue to concentrate their troops in the zones that were under UN supervision; the parties requested an extension of the UN mandate for verification; and Jean Arnault, the head of the UN political mission headed to   Havana for consultations.

The head of the government delegation, Humberto de la Calle, presented President Santos with his resignation, which the President immediately rejected.  De la Calle and Peace Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo were dispatched to Cuba to meet with the FARC,  jointly  analyze the plebiscite results, take stock of the new political realities presented by the rejection of the accords they had reached only weeks earlier, and confer over next steps.  Just days later, on October 7th, Humberto de la Calle stated:

“After 3 days of dialogue with the FARC, in which we analyzed the results of election day last Oct. 2, we recognize that the majority of those who participates in the Plebiscite voted  in favor of the No, even if it was only by a few votes. This is the undeniable result of democracy on which there can be no doubt.  We will respect it.  Likewise, it is certain that the other half of the country voted for the Yes, and we honor their vote.  We have then a divided country.  If we truly want to build peace, we must seek the broadest consensus possible, we must seek unity.  That is why it makes sense for us to continue listening, in a rapid and efficient process, to the different sectors of society, in order to understand their concerns and quickly define a way out.”

Courting the “No”

In Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos immediately began a series of consultations with the sectors that had carried the “no” vote.  Santos asked Humberto de la Calle to lead a team in Bogota with Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín and Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas to initiate a process “to address the themes necessary to have an Agreement and to successfully achieve the dream of all of Colombia of ending the war with the FARC.”  (See Santos’s statement here.)  In particular, he opened a dialogue with estranged former President Alvaro Uribe, under whom he had served as Minister of Defense and who, as Senator, has been the lead opponent of peace talks with the FARC and the recently agreed peace accords.  Senator Alvaro Uribe and his Democratic Center campaign likewise named their own team: Carlos Holmes Trujillo, Iván Duque, and Oscar Zuluaga–all three pre-candidates for the presidency in 2018.  Conversations with Uribe and his party continue, and appear to be considered constructive by all concerned.

Nonetheless, the government has increasingly made it clear that the accord will be negotiated in Havana between the Santos team and the FARC, and that any adjustments made will respond to the broad range of concerns being expressed by and beyond the Uribe camp.  The FARC leadership have also manifest the same. “The FARC is open to seeking solutions to this impasse that has been presented to us,” lead negotiator Iván Márquez recently said in an interview with Daniel Coronell of Semana.  (Read it here.)  “We must keep in mind that the No is not homogeneous, it is not Mr. Uribe.  He represents a sector of the No.  There is a strong sector that represents Colombian Christians, and there are other sectors.”

In this regard, President Santos has reached out to a variety of other leaders in the “no” campaign, including former President Andrés Pastrana, who named Camilo Gómez as his negotiator to the Casa de Nariño; Conservative leader Martha Lucía Ramírez, Uribe’s former Min. of Defense; former Comptroller General Alejandro Ordóñez, who played a particularly insidious role in suggesting that the accords contained a “gender ideology” that would undercut traditional family values; leaders of the Evangelical churches who had rallied against said “gender ideology” and who are being courted by all sides for presidential campaign endorsements; and leaders of the Catholic church, which backed off from calling for a strong peace vote, in part due to this perceived threat to family values,  and instead urged its parishioners to vote their  conscience.

How these many divisions and negotiations will dovetail with the negotiations in Havana is not completely clear, but the initial mantle that Uribe assumed as spokesperson for the “No” vote may not be sufficient to dictate the terms of the next phase.  As analyst Ariel Avila pointed out in a recent Semana article, elected representation of Uribe’s Democratic Center party pales at every level in comparison with the government’s ruling coalition.  Avila notes, “The Democratic Center is a minority party that has 14% of the Congress, 56 of the 1103 mayoralties in the country, and one of 32 governorships that exist; that of Casanare.  Meanwhile, President Santos, with the National Unity, controls more than 70% of the Congress and just over 70% of local power.”  (See article here.)  In addition, the fissures within the No vote are also coming to light as different leaders of the No present their own proposals for moving forward.

National Dialogue

Nearly three weeks after the plebiscite, President Santos opened a new national dialogue with a limited time-frame and purpose. The President consulted with the different civil society, religious, political, and social sectors who opposed the accords and those who supported them, as well as those who represented the 63% who abstained from voting in the plebiscite.  Understanding and addressing the resistance of this important latter group will be key to reinvigorating Colombian democracy and to ensuring that the peace is solid.

President Santos asked for leaders of the No and the Yes votes  to present proposals that are not “impossible” or “dilatory,” and that are based on “realism and truth.”  In closing the receipt of proposals on Thursday, Oct. 20, Pres. Santos announced that he had met with “representatives of victims, the Catholic church, pastors of the Christian churches, with all of the political parties, with indigenous, afro, peasant, women, business, labor, youth, student organizations in Bogota and in the regions.” (See more here.)

In an address to the nation on Sunday evening, Oct. 23, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he had received 445 proposals that “will allow us to achieve not only a stable and lasting peace, but a broader and deeper peace.”  These proposals are now  “catalogued, organized and systematized in accordance with the chapters of the Accord,” and include proposals specifically solicited from Senator Uribe, exPresident Andrés Pastrana, Senator Marta Lucía Ramírez, ex-Comptroller General Alejandro Ordóñez, the Catholic and Christian churches, and the head of the Colombian Federation of Victims of the FARC Sofía Gaviria (see more here.).

The President noted, “There are many that coincide and are reasonable.  Others are difficult, but not impossible.  And others are totally unviable because they depart from the basis for example that there is no conflict to resolve and that–therefore, neither international humanitarian law nor transitional justice that was created precisely for assisting in resolving armed conflicts can be applied.  If there is no armed conflict, there would be nothing to negotiate!” (See his speech here.)

Back in Havana Again

With proposals in hand, the focus shifted back to Havana.  On Friday, Oct. 21, De la Calle and Jaramillo returned once again to the peace tables.  De la Calle noted, “We will work with commitment and speed in order to achieve this new accord as soon as possible.” (See his statement here.)  The negotiators are accompanied in Havana by Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo, High Commissioner for Post-Conflict Rafael Pardo, and Senator Roy Barreras, member of the government’s negotiating team; as well as Senator Iván Cepeda ex-Minister Alvaro Leyva, and various legal advisors to the teams.  None of these are strangers to the table and all are heavy-weights, what you might call “pesos pesados,” in Colombian political circles.  They have the capacity to move forward some of the major governmental institutions and coalitions necessary for whatever changes are agreed to in Havana.

The Work Resumes

On Monday, Oct. 24, the Colombian government and FARC-EP negotiating teams began to revisit the peace accord that the parties had reached last August 24, following six years of public and private negotiations in light of these new proposals.  President Santos charged the teams with reaching a new accord “as soon as possible,” and announced that as soon as a new agreement is  reached in Havana, he will exercise his constitutional and legal powers to determine how it will be implemented. (See his statement here.)

The FARC, for its part, has reiterated their respect for the constitutional process, something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.  They have recognized the victory of the No votes, and pledged to respect the democratic expression manifest in the plebiscite and their willingness to consider some modifications of the Accord.  “We think that we have to listen to them and we will do it with great respect,” Iván Márquez noted. (Read more here.)

Joint Communiqué No. 3

On Friday, October 28, the government and the FARC finished their first round of post-plebiscite talks and issued a joint statement from Havana.  It reads:

“The Delegations of the National Government and the FARC-EP, following meetings carried out in Havana with the guarantor countries, wish to inform public opinion that:

  1. The parties affirm that the Final Agreement for the End of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Durable Peace, signed on Sept. 26, 2016, contains the necessary reforms and measures to lay the foundations for peace and guarantee the end of the armed conflict.
  2.  In developing what was agreed to in the joint communiqué issued last October 7, we have analyzed the proposals for adjustments and refinements of the Final Accord that different sectors of society have put at the consideration of the Delegations of the National Government and the FARC-EP in charge of constructing the new accord.

3.  The proposals are being discussed with (todo cuidado) complete care. Many of them are being incorporated into the texts of a new accord.

4. With speed and in search of a quick result, we will continue to listen to a significant and diverse number of organizations and personalities from national life that have expressed themselves one way or another, considering even those who abstained from voting in the Plebiscite, seeking in every case the peace and reconciliation of Colombians.

5.  We will continue to advance this work beginning next Thursday, November 3, with the objective of producing, in a rapid and efficient manner, a new definitive accord.  Both Delegations register as positive that all this discussion is possible because for the first time in our recent history, peace is the essential nucleus of citizen reflection, leaving behind the past of war.

6.  Keeping in mind that the President of the Republic invested with the constitutional faculties to advance peace, we trust his management for the achievement of this national purpose.

7.  We are grateful to the guarantor countries, Cuba and Norway, to the accompanying nations, Venezuela and Chile, and to the internacional community for its permanent support for our work for reconciliation.  Likewise, we extend our gratitud to all the citizens who have gathered their proposals and expressed their backing for the Delegations of the National Government and the FARC-EP with the objective of building peace.” (Translation mine; see full Spanish text here.)

Role of the International Community

Throughout, the support of the international community has remained steadfast.  Cuba, Norway, Venezuela, and Chile have provided continuity, facilitation, guidance, and support throughout the recent crises, as have the Special Envoys from the United States, the European Union, and Germany.  At carefully chosen, critical moments, Cuba and Norway have issued statements designed to keep the parties on track and to calm public animosity.  Most recently, they issued a statement following the plebiscite testifying to the solidity of the process, the strong will of the parties to build peace in Colombia, and the commitment of the international community to  continue to support the process.  (See their statement here.)

Representatives of other international guarantors (Cuba and Norway) and accompanying nations (Chile and Venezuela), issued a statement in the throes of the crisis, testifying to the solidity of the process, the strong will of the parties to build peace in Colombia, and the commitment of the international community to  continue to support the process.  (See their statement here.)

The unanimous decision of the UN Security Council to extend the mandate for the UN’s political mission in Colombia is providing stability and critical technical support that buys the parties room to renegotiate terms in Havana while maintaining the ceasefire in the Colombian countryside that they signed into effect last June.

The international community upped the ante when the Norwegians announced  just days after the plebiscite that the Nobel Peace Prize this December will be awarded to President Santos.   Similarly, on Oct. 29, twenty-two heads of State provided a ringing endorsement of the peace process in their “Special Communiqué on the Peace Talks in Colombia,” at the close of the XXV Ibero-American Summit meeting being held in Cartagena.  The leaders praised President Santos for his efforts and noted that peace will bring “great benefits to the Colombians, with positive repercussions for all of the countries of the region.” (See their declaration here.)

Way Forward

For now, the Colombian negotiators are building on the track record they have accumulated and the good will they have achieved in resolving differences, finding common ground, and complying with interlocking and mutual commitments.  The Colombian public and the international community will need to exercise patience to allow the process to function and constructive solutions to be crafted.  They too need to be working hard to ensure that this critical moment for peace does not escape.  To the extent possible, international donors should maintain earmarks to support Colombia’s post-accord reconstruction, with or without the benefit of a peace deal.  The deal will come in its own time and fashion–perhaps in a matter of days as President Santos suggested, but just as likely in a matter of weeks or months.  In either case, it is likely to transpire in the thoughtful and thorough way that has characterized the process thus far.

Pressure on the parties to stay at the table until agreement is reached, and supporting a formal agreement by all the potential Presidential candidates that whoever wins the 2018 elections will implement the agreements as a matter of state policy could help to lend stability to what has been a period of tremendous uncertainty.  Support for young people, many of whom have not been active in politics before, and for women’s groups, that have been working in a culture that still does not accept that human rights are universal and apply to everyone (women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, gay, trans, and intersex persons, among others) will be an investment in strengthening Colombia’s democracy now and in the future.  In the end, the extra consultations and refinements, the dialoguing across differences, and the tremendous domestic and international support to find a negotiated solution as soon as possible will make for a stronger accord.  When the new accord is reached, having gone through this process of social dialogue, the peace accords should also have a greater chance of being implemented.  In the end, this may be more important than the specifics of the accord itself.


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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