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.


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Formal Talks with ELN Set to Begin in Quito

October 12, 2016

After more than five failed efforts at peace negotiations between Colombia’s second largest guerrilla organization, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the Colombian government, and after two years of exploratory talks that included more than 22 rounds, the parties announced on Monday, Oct. 10 the start of the first formal peace talks.  The peace table will be installed in Quito, Ecuador, on October 27, 2016, and the first cycle of talks will begin on Nov. 3rd.  (Read their statement here, or view it below.):

Hurdles Surpassed

The ELN was launched in 1965, and is said to have some 2,500 members with a presence in 99 municipalities of the country.  Its influence is greatest in the eastern departments of Colombia, especially Arauca, Norte de Santander, and the Arauca-Boyacá-Casanare triangle.  Chocó, Bolívar, Cauca and Nariño are also ELN strongholds. (See more here.)

In June 2014, the Colombian government announced that secret exploratory talks in Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil had been underway with the ELN since January 2014.  A public phase of the talks was announced last March 30 along with a framework agreement to guide them.  The “Accord for Peace Talks between the Government and the ELN”  indicated that the goal of the talks would be to “put an end to the armed conflict, eradicate violence from politics, put the treatment of the victims in the center, and advance toward national reconciliation through the active participation of society in the building of a stable and durable peace.”

Nonetheless, the formal talks hit turbulence before they could be launched.  The impasse was apparently due to the issue of ELN kidnapping/retention practices.  Subsequent to the March announcement, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had insisted that the release of all hostages would be a pre-condition to the talks.  The ELN balked, noting that it had agreed to no pre-conditions and that these were added belatedly.  Talks stalled, and new kidnappings, including of three Spanish journalists, temporarily torpedoed progress.

In July, the government named two ex-ELN guerrillas–‘Francisco Galán’ and ‘Felipe Torres,’ as peace promotors (gestores de paz)– to move the process forward.  Both had been engaged in prior efforts to bring the ELN to the peace table.

The impasse appears now to have been resolved.  On Sept. 27, the day after the signing ceremony of the peace accord with the FARC in Cartagena, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he was prepared to begin formal negotiations with the ELN within a week if it agreed to release all of those individuals that they held hostage.  The ELN accepted his invitation.

Within days, the Domingo Laín Front of the ELN released Diego José Ulloque, a young entrepreneur from rural Arauca. Shortly thereafter, the ex-mayor of Charalá (Santander), Fabio León, was freed after being held for more than three months.  Then, last Monday, the ELN released Nelson Alejandro Alarcón in Fortul (Arauca).  Five more civilians are said to be held, but these three releases have sent a clear sign of interest in moving forward, particularly since ‘Pablito’, the powerful ELN commander in the Arauca region, has long been seen as opposed to peace talks, and the liberations of the aforementioned civilians are seen as an indication of his readiness to negotiate.  President Santos’s announcement that the peace talks would officially begin at this month’s end responded to these positive actions, as well as to the ELN’s call for a unilateral ceasefire during the plebiscite to vote on the Accord with the FARC on Oct. 2.

Agenda for the Talks

Monday’s joint announcement indicated that the government and the ELN will initially take up two of the points from the six-point agenda the parties laid out in March of this year.  (For the full agenda, see my earlier post here.)  These items include three unique issues–social participation in the process, democracy for peace, and transformations for peace– and three issues shared with the FARC agenda, namely, victims, end of the conflict, and implementation of the accords.

There is hope that the ELN negotiations will be able to build on much of the groundwork set in place with the FARC in Havana.  In an interview in El Tiempo, ‘Felipe Torres’ (Carlos Velandia) expressed hope that a unilateral ceasefire might be announced, and that the process could be expedited if the ELN agrees to begin with the agreement already reached with the FARC.  (See article here.)   In any case, the parties have agreed to move judiciously to end the conflict.

While there is overlap on key issues between the FARC and ELN agendas, most experts readily admit that the process with the ELN is likely to be much more difficult than the one with the FARC has been.  Perhaps the main reason is that the ELN does not have the kind of tight command-and-control for which the FARC is known.  The distinct origins of the two groups have also defined quite different agendas.  The FARC’s agenda has historically centered around rural, agrarian issues, while the ELN agenda has been more urban and with an intellectual and progressive social bent–a product of the Cuban Revolution, Liberation Theology, and Marxist philosophy.  The demands of the ELN –for social justice, national sovereignty over natural resources (including extractive industries)–have  traditionally been harder to pin down in a negotiations setting.

The agenda agreed on with the ELN in March is indicative.  The parties agreed that they will start their discussions on the issue of social participation, the first of the six points.  In November, they expect to establish mechanisms for civil society to participate in the peace process on the agenda that has been achieved.  In a Q&A issued by the government, the latter noted, “Through participatory mechanisms that will be defined, citizens will be able to contribute with their initiatives around substantive themes such as the restitution of victims’  rights, a central axis of the conversations; the peaceful and constructive treatment of conflicts, and the construction of citizenship.”  (See Preguntas-y-respuestas.)  Such citizen engagement is expected to lead “to the end of the armed conflict, the eradication of violence in politics, and to offer the ELN a transition to legal politics, without arms.”  Similarly, the parties have each committed themselves to undertaking “other actions and humanitarian dynamics in order to create an environment favorable to peace.”

As with the peace talks with the FARC, the agreed agenda with the ELN will not include any discussion about the economic development model, private property, military doctrine, or the future of the Armed Forces.

El Espectador reports that each round of talks is expected to last for six weeks without interruption, at the end of which time a joint report will give an accounting of the cycle. (Ver Alfredo Molano, “Todo está listo para sentarse con el ELN.”)


In a speech to the nation on Monday evening, President Santos noted that he would be announcing the members of the negotiating team in coming days.  Each side will have up to 30 members, including 5 plenipotentiaries and 5 alternates.  Signatories on yesterday’s statement for the government side included Mauricio Rodríguez (head delegate),  (ret.) Eduardo Herrera Barbel, José Noe Ríos and Julián Arévalo. Pablo Beltrán (chief of the delegation), Aureliano Carbonel, Gustavo Martínez, Bernardo Tellez and Consuelo Tapias signed for the ELN.  Frank Pearl, who had led the government negotiations with the ELN for many years beginning in the era of President Alvaro Uribe, and ELN delegation head during the exploratory phase, Antonio García, were conspicuously absent.

Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba, Chile, Norway and Brazil will serve as international guarantors for the talks, and will host the talks as determined by the negotiating teams.  International delegates who signed the agreement and have been engaged in the exploratory talks included Ramón Rodríguez Chacín and Carola Martínez (Venezuela), Juan Meriguet (Ecuador), Rodolfo Benítez Verson and Abel García (Cuba), Raúl Vergara Meneses and Luis Maira (Chile), Torleif Kveim (Norway), and José Solla (Brazil).


Back in Colombia, the prospect of a return to war has lit a fire under civil society, and the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize has energized the efforts to bring the peace project to fruition.  See my recent analysis in the press, especially:


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Why did Colombia’s Plebiscite for Peace Fail?

October 4, 2013

Following a plebiscite that rejected by a hair the peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP that was just signed in Cartagena on September 26, there is much soul-searching, self-critique, and reflection among those of us who have worked for a political solution that would put an end to so many years of war in Colombia.   More on this later.  For now, I have found some solace in the reminder from Mercedes Sosa that change is a constant.

“Todo Cambia”


I am working on a longer piece that looks at the roller coaster many of us have been on in recent weeks.  In the meantime though I wanted to share with my readers some of my initial reactions to unfolding events that I put into a press advisory issued by the U.S. Institute of Peace early Monday morning.  I include links below to my analysis from the media and online.

Was peace defeated in Colombia’s plebiscite?

“The results reflect a country united in seeking peace, but deeply divided over how to do so.  Both sides are accepting the results as legitimate and discussing ways to move the country toward peace.  The plebiscite results appear unlikely, in the short term at least, to reverse the march toward a political solution.”

“The Colombian people voted –by a narrow margin of less than 60,000 votes out of 13 million votes cast-to reject the Havana peace accords.  There is much speculation and soul-searching about how and why so many voted “no” and why the polls, which had predicted a “yes” win of some two-thirds of the voters–got it so wrong.”

Is former President Alvaro Uribe to blame?

“It’s a shame that ex-President Alvaro Uribe did not accept either President Santos’s or Timochenko’s invitations to dialogue before the plebiscite.  It might have saved everyone a lot of anguish.”

Did social media play a role?

“Disinformation, particularly within the social media networks, was pervasive, and misrepresentations of what the accords did or didn’t say were virtually impossible to correct.”

Why did supporters of the plebiscite lose?

“The “yes” vote had a much harder sell. The accord was 297 pages and few had read it (they had only one month). The agreement on justice was particularly complex; there was confusion about amnesties and pardons and concern that the FARC would not be adequately punished for their crimes.”

Will the ceasefire be maintained and what is FARC’s reaction after the defeat?

“The government and the FARC-EP are handling the results with cool heads and the parties have reiterated their commitment to peace. President Santos has announced that the bilateral ceasefire will be maintained, and that he will convene political and social sectors from both campaigns tomorrow to discuss ways forward.  FARC commander in chief Rodrigo Londoño has indicated that “no” win, words will be their only weapons.  The negotiators will be back at the peace tables in Havana tomorrow to establish a process for moving forward.”

Was peace defeated?

“The results reflect a country united in seeking peace, but deeply divided over how to do so.  Both sides are accepting the results as legitimate and discussing ways to move the country toward peace.  The plebiscite results appear unlikely, in the short term at least, to reverse the march toward a political solution.”

“The Colombian people voted –by a narrow margin of less than 60,000 votes out of 13 million votes cast-to reject the Havana peace accords.  There is much speculation and soul-searching about how and why so many voted “no” and why the polls, which had advertised a healthy 66-72% win by the “yes” vote–got it so wrong.”


To see more of my analysis in the news and online:

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The Accord: Colombia’s Commitment to Peace

September 30, 2016

There are landmark moments in the history of a nation that transcend borders and herald a new vision for the future. The signing of the peace accord in Colombia represents such a moment. If the Colombian people ratify the Havana peace agreement in the plebiscite scheduled for October 2, it will be the beginning of a transition that finally puts decades of war behind and opens the way to genuine peace. It will be mined across the globe for lessons that might apply to other intransigent conflicts.

As senior advisor for peace processes at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), an independent and bipartisan organization funded by the United States Congress, my work in the past decade has been dedicated to facilitating a political resolution to the armed conflict in Colombia. In this capacity, I have had the privilege of witnessing this process and multiple attempts to achieve peace. As a result, I recognize the significance, the challenges and the possibilities of this historic moment.

The Significance of the Accord for Colombia

No one should underestimate the significance for Colombia of the signing of a peace accord. After four years of hard and steady work at the negotiating table in Havana, two bitter enemies have agreed to end a conflict that has lasted over half a century.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP), the most persistent insurgency in the Western Hemisphere, has promised to hand over all of their weapons within six months of the signing to the United Nations, the principal guarantor of both the ceasefire between the sides and the decommissioning of arms.

In exchange, the government has agreed to guarantee the FARC security conditions and 10 seats in Congress for the next two terms.

The practice of opening space in political life for insurgents who demobilize has helped make successful transitions in South Africa, Northern Ireland, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Philippines and other countries affected by armed rebellion. Even in past peace processes in Colombia, the country has benefited from opening the way for ex-combatants to participate in politics.

The peace agreement not only silences the guns in Colombia but also provides a roadmap to prevent any resumption of warfare. The accord institutionalizes profound changes—though not radical ones—that go to the heart of the issues behind so many years of violence. This accord seeks to correct an accumulation of historic inequities and injustices left unattended for far too long.

These changes include long-delayed proposals such as formalization of land titles and a better balance of resources between rural areas and major cities; more equitable political participation with guarantees for everyone; development programs, credit, and plans that offer alternatives to illicit crop production; and a greater effort by the state to fight criminality.

The final agreement creates mechanisms to confront the past through historical memory in ways that conform to international standards. In addition to establishing a new comprehensive transitional justice system, both state and FARC representatives are taking responsibility for their victims in places including Putumayo, Bojayá, La Chinita, Valle del Cauca and Chocó.

Over the past year, without any media attention, each side has begun to offer symbolic reparations, as well as emotional relief, to victims, as they prepare to address the local impacts of the war and to implement a peace accord.


For the world, the peace agreement in Colombia has additional significance. Colombia has introduced a series of innovations that are already becoming models for other countries in conflict. I will mention a few here:

First, the agreement formally signed in Cartagena provides evidence that peace is possible even in conflicts generally viewed as intractable. There are no conflicts where resolution is impossible, only conflicts that have not yet been resolved.

Second, Colombia has put its victims in the center of the process. The negotiators established shared principles on victims, they invited victims to participate at the negotiating table in Havana, they listened to their proposals, and they gave them a leading role in the new transitional justice system established by the accords. These roles are unprecedented.

Third, the accord provides a reasonable formula to balance the tension between peace and justice; the lead government negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, asserted that the accord achieved in Havana represents the best deal that could have been obtained. The Colombian formula is one of the first to explicitly deny amnesty or impunity for sexual violence or other war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. The amnesty it offers will apply only to crime of rebellion and related activities, a practice promoted by international humanitarian law when a war ends.

Fourth, the Colombian formula favors restorative justice. Rather than throw criminals in jail (generally at a high cost without many positive results), the new system (through the Special Jurisdiction for Peace) seeks to establish a dialogue between victims and victimizers that satisfies the rights of the victim to truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition of the wrongs committed. It goes futher, though, as it also seeks to contribute to reconciliation and to the restoration of the victim into society, and a constructive re-weaving of the social fabric.

In Colombia (as in other countries like Sierra Leone), where perpetrators are often young or have been victims themselves, a generous approach can offer new paths for reconciliation. This process is being watched carefully from around the globe.

Fifth, the process offers some important innovations on the issue of gender. The table in Colombia established a gender sub-commission with a mandate to ensure the final agreement has a differential gender approach, something that was fully fulfilled. The only other peace process that ever set up a similar sub-commission was Sri Lanka’s, and theirs fell far short of Colombia’s.

Colombia’s final agreement reflects and responds to the differences in harm experienced by women and the LGBTI community. It meets the demands made by delegations of women, lesbians, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex people to protect their rights and recognize them as citizens equal before the law.

As the agreement is implemented, it is expected to close traditional social gaps that have blocked these groups’ access to land, credit and training, education and justice, and economic projects. It should also be noted that indigenous and Afro-descent organizations established an ethnic commission apart from the negotiations, spurred by their exclusion from the formal process and supported by members of the international community. At the last minute, this effort resulted in a chapter on ethnic groups placed at the end of the final peace accord document. The experience of these ethnic organizations reminded the international community that going forward, it will need to think more concretely about how to integrate excluded voices in other peace processes in order to avert new conflicts later.

Paths for Reconciliation

At the end of the day, the significance of a peace process depends on the rigor with which it is implemented. For now, the route forward set by the accords is clear. The next hurdle is the referendum. The world watches with hope and anticipation, ready and willing to assist Colombia and contribute whatever it may need to end an anachronistic war.

While Colombia enters this new stage—one perhaps even more demanding than the negotiations themselves—the world wishes Colombia success and looks forward to learning from Colombian efforts to establish a stable, lasting and inclusive peace.

(This article is an updated version of a piece published in El Tiempo on September 26, 2016, the day of the signing of the peace accords in Cartagena, Colombia.  Thanks to María Antonia Montes for assistance with translation.  See link here.)  This piece will also be posted simultaneously on the Olive Branch blog of the .U.S. Institute of Peace.)

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El Acuerdo: Un Compromiso de Colombia para la Paz

26 Septiembre 2016

Ver mi artículo que apareció en El Tiempo el día de la firma del acuerdo de paz en Cartagena.  Haga clic aquí.

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No Hedging of Bets for Colombia’s Plebiscite

September 9, 2016

Colombian rebel troops are heading to decommissioning centers and minors are set to leave guerrilla ranks on Sept. 10 as the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) begin implementing their peace accord ahead of an Oct. 2 plebiscite on the deal.

While a “no” vote on the referendum would formally invalidate the accord and send the parties back to the drawing board, the government and the FARC appear to be doing their best to make the peace plan irreversible. With just weeks to go, there is a clear effort afoot to speed up the timetable for securing the ceasefire that the decades-old antagonists agreed to even before the final deal, and to begin decommissioning the FARC’s weapons—with or without the plebiscite’s endorsement.

Plans for electoral reform and reintegrating FARC fighters into civilian life are also underway. The negotiators in Havana met with representatives of The Carter Center, the political science departments of the University of the Andes and Colombia’s National University, and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy to formalize an earlier request to those groups to assist in forming a special electoral mission. In the next six months, the mission will craft recommendations for making the electoral system “more modern and transparent,” offer greater guarantees for “political participation in equality of conditions,” and “improve the quality of democracy.” (See Joint Communiqué 97.)

In addition, this week the Colombian consulate in Havana was issuing identification cards to members of the FARC peace delegation—a first stop in their journey toward rejoining civilian life. The government and the FARC have also asked the National University to conduct a socio-economic census to help facilitate this reintegration.

Forging ahead with implementing the peace accords before the referendum is complete is legal under Article 22 of Colombia’s Constitution, which guarantees the citizenry’s right to peace. Holding a referendum on the deal, which was initialed by negotiators in Havana on Aug. 24 but will be formally signed by Colombia’s head of state, President Juan Manuel Santos, and the FARC commander-in-chief Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (aka “Timochenko”) on September 26 in Cartagena, was Santos’s political choice.  It marks the first time that any of Colombia’s many peace agreements with rebel groups is being put to a public vote.  The move isn’t required by law and some consider it extraneous. But others consider it key to legitimizing the mandate for peace and ensuring implementation of the accords beyond Santos’s tenure, which ends in 2018.

Polarization Over the Peace Accord

The campaigns for the “yes” and “no” votes are just getting into gear. While polarization over the peace accord remains intense, polls released by major media this week show that given the choice, 72 percent of voters would favor the agreement against 28 percent who would vote “no,” according to the news magazine Semana.

The government is running a vigorous campaign to sway public opinion, and so far appears to be having some success. Its negotiators argue that four years of talks have produced the best possible deal and that an innovative transitional justice system that puts victims at its center will not allow the parties to “exchange impunities,” a major concern of skeptics. They note that this is the only agreement in the world where the negotiators have agreed to forswear amnesties for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. They also cite successful reintegration of rebel forces in Northern Ireland, El Salvador, Nepal and South Africa as proof that political engagement of the FARC is the path forward. Voters should weigh a future of peace against the spectre of prolonging a war that has already lasted for 52 years, they say.

The “no” forces have strong backing from the still popular ex-President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010), now a senator, and former President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002), who led the last peace process with the FARC. The Council of State, Colombia’s top administrative tribunal, this week annulled the re-election of Alejandro Ordóñez, who has doggedly challenged the legitimacy of the peace process, to his position as Comptroller General, and the optics and the timing may inadvertently create a backlash favoring the “no” vote.

These powerful opponents of the accord contend that tougher terms for the FARC could have been (and should still be) exacted. They oppose in particular plans to give the FARC temporary seats in Congress and the transitional justice formula which they claim would allow FARC militants to avoid jail time for their crimes. While the issue of punishment resonates with the population, their argument distorts the arrangement; the agreement does allow prison sentences for the rebels where they don’t fully confess their crimes.

International Roles

The international elements supporting the peace process have also been busy.  The United Nations mission that will oversee the ceasefire and FARC’s decommissioning is already on the ground, ahead of schedule. Eighty leaders have just completed training for the tripartite mechanism to monitor those parts of the agreement. The government and FARC representatives have been putting protocols in place and FARC troops have begun to move toward some two dozen temporary locations where the troops will be concentrated in order to turn their weapons over to the U.N. and begin the transition to civilian life.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will oversee coordination of the departure of minors who were recruited as FARC fighters, which will involve a range of other international organizations, including the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF. These agencies have begun working with Colombian social organizations and others that will monitor the “reincorporation, comprehensive reparations and social inclusion” of the youths, who, under the protocols, are considered to be victims of the conflict.

Finally, on Sept. 7, negotiators in Havana announced that they had officially installed the Commission for the Implementation, Monitoring [and] Verification of the Final Peace Accord and for [the] Resolution of Differences. The commission is part of an impressive strategy, including the collaboration of numerous elements of the international community, to ensure that the final peace deal is put into motion immediately and that all agreements are monitored and implemented.

Challenges Ahead

The challenges ahead for the peace process are enormous and go beyond the plebiscite and the subsequent technicalities of approving, refining and implementing agreements. The lack of a peace deal with the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group, is perhaps the country’s most pressing threat to peace. Formal peace talks with the ELN announced earlier this year have yet to materialize. A new wave of ELN-related violence recently killed 30 Colombians in the ELN-dominated territory of Arauca on the Venezuelan border, sparking new calls for peace talks.

Finally, ELN troops and criminal bands including the “Usuga clan” (another looming threat to peace) are poised to take over the lucrative coca trade, illegal mining and extortion opportunities in areas being abandoned by the FARC. All signs show that peace without the ELN will be an “incomplete peace,” and that failure to bring the ELN to the peace table soon will undermine the long-awaited political solution with the FARC.

[This post was initially published as “Colombian Rebels, Government Accelerate Peace Moves Ahead of Vote: Proponents Leave Nothing to Chance,” at the U.S. Institute of Peace’s “Olive Branch”. ] 



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The War is Over!

August 29, 2016

The war in Colombia is officially over.  At zero hours this morning, a definitive bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities went into effect, officially ending Colombia’s fifty-two year old internal armed conflict with the FARC.  President Juan Manuel Santos presented the final peace accord that negotiators had finalized in Havana last Wed., August 24, to Mauricio Lizcano and Manuel Ángel Pinto (presidents of the Senate and House, respectively).  As required by law, he announced his intent to hold a plebiscite on October 2, the symbolic date on which Gandhi was born, so that the Colombian people could have “the final word on peace in Colombia,” and he outlined the reasons for holding a plebiscite.  Although this may be the first time a peace accord is put to a public vote, a rather risky endeavor, President Santos has long argued that public endorsement would give the accords greater legitimacy and would give the Colombian people the final word.  He said, “Peace is always better than war.  Peace will remove the fear with which all Colombians have grown up…it will allow the displaced to return to their zones to have a dignified life.  Peace will open opportunities the the majority of Colombians have never seen or had,” he said.

Accompanied by a crowd of victims, peace organizations, politicians, Afro-Colombians, indigenous, women and others on the short walk from the Casa de Nariño to the Capitol building on the Plaza de Armas, President Santos announced that, “as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces,” he had “ordered the definitive ceasefire with the FARC to begin at 00:00 hours on next Monday August 29.” (Read the President’s statement here.)

Yesterday, FARC commander-in-chief Timoleón Jiménez (aka “Timochenko”) noted that the FARC-EP received the news of the President’s order with great emotion.  Timochenko issued a parallel order to FARC troops and combatants, noting the FARC’s “clear and definite vocation for reconciliation,” and announcing the war’s end.  “Let us live together as brothers and sisters,” he said.  (Read Timochenko’s statement here).

Watch here the video of the announcement from Havana on August 24, 2016:

Read my analysis of events as they were unfolding in articles that appeared last week on the Olive Branch, published by the United States Institute of Peace; and the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory.

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