New Report: Ending 50 Years of Conflict

As Possibility for Peace Grows in Colombia, a New WOLA Report Analyzes the Challenges Ahead

The U.S. has an important role to play and should start planning now to help Colombia consolidate peace

By Adam Isacson, WOLA Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy

It looks ever more likely that sometime in the next year, Colombia may reach a landmark peace accord promising to end a half-century of armed conflict. As this likelihood increases, the United States—which provided billions for Colombia’s war effort—must prepare now to help Colombia consolidate peace.   

The new WOLA report, Ending 50 Years of Conflict in Colombia, strikes an optimistic note. Talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, Latin America’s largest and oldest guerrilla group, “are beginning to stick,” the report explains. “Negotiators in Havana, Cuba have gotten significantly further than ever before. It is not unreasonable to expect an accord by the end of 2014.”

With 30 graphics and videos helping to tell the story, WOLA’s latest report walks the reader through the challenges that remain at the negotiating table: finding a dignified solution for millions of conflict victims, devising transitional justice to hold the worst human rights abusers accountable, and overcoming objections from the negotiations’ political opponents.

Once an accord is reached, a new series of challenges awaits: implementing the commitments agreed upon at the table, demobilizing and reintegrating all ex-combatants, and getting a functioning government presence into territories long abandoned to illegal armed groups.

The U.S. role will be crucial, the report contends. Since 2000, the United States has provided Colombia with over US$600 million per year in mostly military aid. In the years following a peace accord, this aid should not only continue, it should increase and reorient toward civilian institution-building and economic needs.

Colombia will need help bringing government into lawless areas; demobilizing and reintegrating combatants; assisting displaced populations’ return; protecting rights defenders; helping to fulfill accords on land, political participation, and victims; supporting transitional justice and a truth commission; and guaranteeing a strong international verification and monitoring presence. The United States can leverage the strong relationship it has built with Colombia’s powerful armed forces to help them weather a difficult transition to a smaller post-conflict role.

As negotiations proceed, the Obama administration must continue voicing its support for the process. It must do so even if negotiators agree to changes in counter-drug policy—such as suspending crop eradication through aerial herbicide spraying—that parts of the U.S. government would prefer not to implement.

The time to help Colombia prepare for the post-conflict is fast approaching. The United States and other international donors must begin planning now, not on the day an accord is actually signed. Ending 50 Years of Conflict in Colombia urges that this planning begin as soon as possible, while offering a roadmap to help guide it.

Click here for a printer-friendly PDF of the full report.

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Colombia Peace Process Update (November 15, 2013)

Contents


A new accord

Colombia’s peace talks took a large step forward on November 6th. In Havana, Cuba, negotiators from the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, Colombia’s largest guerrilla group) announced that they had reached agreement on reforms to ease political participation for opposition movements, including any post-conflict party incorporated by demobilized FARC members. This was the second of six points on the negotiating agenda [PDF] agreed in August 2012.

Between May 26th—the date that they announced an accord on the first agenda item (land and rural development)—and November 6th, negotiators met in Havana for seven rounds encompassing about 65 days of talks. They extended their latest negotiating round, their 16th, an extra five days to achieve this new agreement. It moves the talks’ agenda forward, after five months that saw growing impatience in Colombian public opinion. It provides the process with a badly needed boost of momentum, just as campaigning gets underway for Colombia’s March 2014 legislative and May 2014 presidential elections.

With the second agenda item concluded, the topics remaining to be agreed are “ending the conflict” (demobilization and transitional justice); “solution to the problem of illicit drugs”; conflict victims; and “implementation, verification, and legalization of accords.” None of these are easy, though transitional justice—how to bring the worst human rights violators to justice—promises to be most challenging. The negotiators have decided to skip that agenda item for now, and will begin discussing drug policy when they reconvene in Havana on November 18th.

The text of the “rural development” and “political participation” agreements is secret for now, and under the principle of “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” the negotiators may still revise them before they sign a final accord. Still, the negotiators’ joint November 6 declaration gave a reasonably detailed overview of what was agreed. Points include the following.

  • A multi-party commission to seek input and make recommendations for a new “Opposition Statute.” This law will spell out guarantees for peaceful political opposition movements, which have often met violent ends in Colombia, and a series of guarantees for channeling citizen demands and protests.
  • Measures to improve social and political movements’ access to institutional, regional, and community media.
  • National and local “Councils for Reconciliation and Coexistence” to implement guarantees, and a plan for citizen oversight and transparency of public policy.
  • Changes to ease the formation of political parties.
  • Improvements to transparency over elections.
  • The creation of Temporary Special Peace Districts encompassing “zones especially affected by the conflict and government abandonment.” These districts will elect their own legislators to Colombia’s House of Representatives.
  • A security system to protect opposition candidates, “especially those of the new movement that may emerge from the FARC-EP to legal political activity.”
  • The joint declaration notes that implementing the peace accord “will imply the relinquishing of arms and the prohibition of violence as a method of political action.”
  • “A gender focus assuring women’s participation.”

The technical, detailed nature of these agreed measures is itself an important reason for optimism about the peace process. It indicates a degree of discipline and seriousness that the government and FARC frankly never reached during three previous negotiation attempts since 1982.

Probably the most controversial of these elements are the special temporary congressional districts for historically conflictive areas. These appear designed to give demobilized FARC candidates an advantage in zones where the group has long had de facto political influence or control. Negotiatiors have not yet determined their number and duration.

This falls short of the FARC’s original demands for a number of guaranteed temporary congressional seats or a new chamber of Congress with equal numbers of representatives from each department (province). Still, it is controversial within mainstream Colombian public opinion, where polls consistently show a large majority of Colombians opposed to the prospect of former FARC members serving in the national legislature. Unless the pace of the talks picks up remarkably, though, this accord will have no effect on the March 2014 congressional elections. The temporary congressional districts benefiting former FARC candidates would likely not exist until Colombia’s next legislative elections, in 2018.

In this striking image from Colombia's Semana magazine, FARC Secretariat member Iván Márquez (right) walks by former Colombian Armed Forces chief Gen. Jorge Mora on November 6th in Havana.

Five months may seem like a long time to have achieved agreement on these rather technical points. The Colombian newsweekly Semana called them “a letter of good intentions that, in general terms, coincide with rights already guaranteed in the constitution.” The delay in reaching this second agreement appears to owe at least as much to three issues that were only partially or tangentially relevant to the “political participation” agenda item:

Colombia Peace Process Update (July 16, 2013)

The period since our last Colombia Peace Process Update (May 20) saw a big step forward in the Havana, Cuba peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. This was followed by several weeks of reduced momentum, marked both by minor crises and encouraging developments.

Land and rural development agreement

On May 26th, at the conclusion of their ninth round of talks, the Colombian government and the FARC announced a breakthrough. After more than six months, they had reached agreement on land and rural development, the first of five points on the negotiating agenda. This is the first time the government and FARC have agreed on a substantive topic in four different negotiating attempts over 30 years.

While the agreement’s text remains secret under the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” the two sides’ joint statement (EnglishSpanish) indicates that it covers the following:

  • Land access and use. Unproductive lands. Formalization of property. Agricultural frontier and protection of reserve zones.
  • Development programs with a territorial focus.
  • Infrastructure and land improvements.
  • Social development: health, education, housing, eradication of poverty.
  • Stimulus for agrarian production and a solidarity-based, cooperative economy.
  • Technical assistance. Subsidies. Credit. Income generation. Labor formalization. Food and nutrition policies.

A bit more information about what was agreed appears in the negotiators’ first joint “report of activities” (EnglishSpanish), which was published on June 21st.

Foreign governments and international organizations applauded the agreement on the first agenda item. “This is a significant achievement and an important step forward,” reads a statement from the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. “This is a positive step in the process to achieve peace in Colombia,” said OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called the agreement “historic” and “the best peace message that the Bolivarian peoples could receive.” The government of Chile said it “constitutes a very relevant achievement, which has required flexibility and moderation from both sides.” European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton expressed “hopes that this crucial, albeit partial, agreement will add fresh impetus to the Havana negotiations, with a view to the rapid conclusion of a final peace agreement.”

U.S. reactions, too, were positive. U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, on a May 26-27 visit to Colombia, praised the land accord and the FARC-government process, calling them “serious and well designed.” Biden added in a joint appearance with President Santos, “Just as we supported Colombia’s leaders on the battlefield, we support them fully at the negotiating table.” U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Peter Michael McKinley called the accord “an advance that encourages the possibility that these negotiations are going to end the conflict in Colombia.” U.S. State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said, “The agreement on land reform is the first ever between the Colombian Government and the FARC, and as such the terms of its – and in terms of its substance it’s a highly positive step forward in the peace negotiation. So we’ve long given our strong support for President Santos and the Colombian Government as they pursue lasting peace and security that the Colombian people deserve.”

Venezuela crisis

The post-accord honeymoon was brief, however, as an argument between the Colombian and Venezuelan governments dominated the period leading up to the mid-June start of talks on political participation. Relations between Bogotá and Caracas, rather hostile when Álvaro Uribe and Hugo Chávez were presidents of their respective countries, warmed in 2010 when incoming President Juan Manuel Santos sought a rapprochement with the Venezuelan government. Venezuela’s leftist government went on to play an instrumental role in getting the FARC to the negotiating table, and is officially one of two “accompanying countries” of the process (along with Chile).

The episode began on May 29, when President Santos agreed to meet in Bogotá with Henrique Capriles, the leader of Venezuela’s political opposition. Capriles narrowly lost Venezuela’s April 14 presidential vote to, and refuses to recognize the election of, President Nicolás Maduro. The Maduro government responded with vehement anger. “I made efforts with the Colombian guerrillas to achieve peace in Colombia. Now they’re going to pay us like this, with betrayal,” Maduro said. “The situation … obliges us to review Venezuela’s participation as a facilitator in this peace accord,” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua. Venezuela recalled its envoy to the talks for “consultations” in Caracas.

Colombia’s Peace Talks Take a Big Step Forward

After just over six months of peace talks, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas have reached agreement on the first of five points on their negotiating agenda. This is very encouraging news.

The two sides now have a draft accord on one of the thorniest of issues: land and rural development. This is a breakthrough for Colombia, where land tenure lies at the center of rural violence going back at least as far as 1948.

This is the fourth time in 30 years that the Colombian government and the FARC (founded in 1964) have sat down to negotiate. And this is the first time that the two sides have ever reached agreement on a substantive topic.

Yesterday’s announcement greatly increases the probability that this negotiation attempt will actually be the one that reaches a final accord. Vice President Biden struck the right tone today when, on a visit to Bogotá, he said, “Just as we supported Colombia’s leaders on the battlefield, we support them fully at the negotiating table.”

We don’t know the exact content of this first agreement. It remains confidential and subject to change until the negotiators finish the entire agenda. (The next points are “political participation for the opposition,” “ending the conflict and transitional justice,” “drug policy,” and “victims of the conflict.”) But here is an English translation of the joint statement, which summarizes what was agreed.
 

Joint Communiqué, Havana, May 26, 2013

The delegates of the government and the FARC-EP inform that:

Colombia Peace Process Update (May 20, 2013)

The first bit of news to emerge after our last Colombia Peace Process Update (March 27) gave cause for concern. The seventh round of talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas had ended with no agreement on the first of five agenda points, land and rural development. The eighth round, originally scheduled to begin April 2 in Havana, Cuba, was then delayed for three weeks. The reason given was a need for “separate work on sub-points” of the agenda, while negotiators’ support teams “continue joint work.”

In fact, the “break” between April 2 and the next round’s April 23 launch turned out to be a period of intense activity.

One reason for the delay soon became apparent: the FARC chose to add new representatives to its negotiating team. This required complicated logistical arrangements to extract them from remote areas of Colombia and bring them to Havana. The most prominent addition was Pablo Catatumbo, chief of the FARC’s Alfonso Cano (or Western) Bloc. With Catatumbo’s arrival, the guerrillas now have two members of their seven-member Secretariat in Havana. Lead guerrilla negotiator Iván Márquez has been there since November; he replaced Mauricio Jaramillo, head of the Eastern Bloc, who was present during the talks’ preparatory phase.

Analysts speculated that the addition of Catatumbo, a “heavyweight” within the guerrilla leadership, might speed the pace of talks by simplifying the FARC’s decision-making. Some also speculated that adding Catatumbo, a battle-hardened military leader, might give more voice to the FARC’s field commanders, who had been less represented among the negotiators. The FARC’s powerful Southern Bloc, which has not been represented in Havana, issued a communiqué denying persistent rumors that the guerrillas are divided about the handling of the talks, with the more militarily active units being most reticent.

Other members of the guerrilla negotiators’ support team (Victoria Sandino Palmera, Freddy González, Lucas Carvajal, and others) traveled to Cuba as part of the same operation, which required a temporary suspension of military activities in parts of Cauca and Tolima departments. In a separate operation, two more FARC negotiators (Laura Villa and Sergio Ibáñez) were extracted from a zone in Meta department.

U.S. Congress Supports Peace in Colombia

Earlier today, 62 members of the U.S. Congress sent a bipartisan letter led by Representatives James P. McGovern (D-MA) and Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calling for a U.S. policy that emphasizes peace, development, and human rights in Colombia. Since October 2012, the Colombian government has been in negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas to end the decades-long conflict. The letter urges the Department of State to continue supporting the peace process and encourage the parties to remain at the table until an accord is reached.  The letter emphasizes that truth and justice, and participation by victims and attention to their needs, is essential to achieve a lasting peace.  The United States can promote the realization of peace by continuing its support for rule of law programs, advocating for the rights of victims, ending the culture of impunity, and assisting with the implementation of Colombia’s Victims and Land Law.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) applaud the bipartisan letter and thank the signatories for their commitment to ending Latin America’s longest-running conflict. As longstanding advocates for peace in Colombia, WOLA and LAWG affirm that only by including victims and marginalized populations, such as Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples, in the construction and implementation of peace will Colombia be able to address the roots of its conflict and achieve a just and lasting peace. 

To read the complete letter with signatories, please click here.

Colombia Peace Process Update (March 27, 2013)

By Adam Isacson, WOLA Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy

Since our March 8 Colombia peace process update, negotiators from the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group held one more round of talks. Round seven took place in Havana, Cuba from March 11 to March 21.

The negotiators appear to be near an accord on land and rural development, the first of five substantive agenda items. Before the last round of talks ended, some observers speculated that they would actually complete this accord by the 21st.

But they are not there yet. “We continue to advance in the construction of accords within the first agenda point, although there are still several disagreements remaining,” chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle announced when the round ended. Colombian press noted that the FARC-government negotiators’ joint statement after the seventh round used nearly the same language as their statement after the sixth round.

The biggest unresolved issue appears to be the future extent of “Campesino Reserve Zones,” areas where landholdings are limited in size and restricted to agriculture (and thus excluded to activities like mining). Six such zones legally exist in Colombia, covering 831,000 hectares of land. In the negotiations, the FARC are seeking approval of about fifty more Campesino Reserve Zones, covering 9.5 million hectares (23.5 million acres; Colombia’s entire land area is 113 million hectares). They also appear to be pushing for a degree of administrative autonomy similar to what currently exists for the country’s indigenous territories. Colombia’s government opposes both proposals.

Colombia Peace Process Update (March 8, 2013)

By Adam Isacson, WOLA Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy

Since our January 26 Colombia peace process update, negotiators from the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group have held two rounds of talks in Havana. Round five lasted from January 31 to February 10. Round six ran from February 18 to March 1.

The negotiators continue to discuss the first agenda item: land and rural development. In a joint communiqué on March 1, the two sides indicated substantial progress: “We have advanced in the construction of an accord on the following issues: land access and use; unproductive lands; formalization of property; agricultural frontier; and protection of [smallholder] reserve zones.” The daily El Espectador reported, “The news, to the extent known, is good: there is now a basic document, written jointly by the two negotiating teams, with about five pages on which accords have been reached.”

“With the FARC we have passed from convergences to accords about a profound process of rural development,” said the government’s chief negotiator, former Vice President Humberto de la Calle, in a largely upbeat statement. However, he added, “We know we are in a key moment of the dialogues where results are required, that is, accords on the agrarian issue that will allow us to continue with the discussion of the other points of the agreed agenda.” Five other points on this agenda remain, most of them less complicated than the land issue: political participation, ending the conflict, drug policy, victims’ rights, and implementation logistics.

This moment followed a period of tension in the peace talks, sparked by the FARC’s January 25 capture of two Colombian policemen, Víctor Alfonso González and Cristian Camilo Yate, in the southwestern department (province) of Valle del Cauca. On January 29, the guerrillas issued a statement affirming their claim to have abandoned kidnapping for ransom, but reiterating their intention to continue holding security-force members whom they capture as “prisoners of war.”

The policemen’s capture sent the talks into their most serious crisis to date. “Things must be called by their names,” lead government negotiator De la Calle said on January 30. “A kidnapping is a kidnapping, it doesn’t matter whom the victim is.” Added President Juan Manuel Santos, “If the FARC believe that through kidnappings, which they promised that they wouldn’t carry out, they’re going to try to pressure the government to agree to what they aspire to, a cease-fire within the dialogue process, then they’re wrong! To the contrary!”