Good news, but new questions

The FARC today released a potentially historic statement. The key sentences:

“We have resolved to declare a UNILATERAL CESSATION OF FIRE AND OF HOSTILITIES FOR AN INDEFINITE PERIOD, which should transform itself into an armistice. For the achievement of its full success, we aspire to count with the oversight of UNASUR, CELAC, the ICRC, and the Broad Front for Peace. This unilateral cease-fire, which we hope to prolong over time, would end only if it is proven that our guerrilla structures have been the object of attacks from the security forces.”

A full cease-fire and cessation of hostilities would be very welcome. Even just a cessation of force-on-force combat would be welcome. Since 2012, the FARC’s declarations of unilateral holiday and election-season cease-fires have reduced tensions and strengthened confidence in the peace process. To prolong this indefinitely—as long as government forces halt offensive operations—would give hundreds of communities a chance to know peace, in some cases for the first time in their citizens’ lifetimes.

The FARC statement, though, does not define the key phrase “cessation of fire and of hostilities.” What are “hostilities?” It’s virtually certain that the FARC intends to halt attacks on military and police targets, and presumably on civilian populations and public infrastructure. But what about other hostile acts?

  • Does the term cover extortion, perhaps the FARC “hostility” that Colombians feel the most?
  • Does it cover guerrilla recruitment (especially of minors)?
  • The laying of anti-personnel mines and IEDs?
  • Coca cultivation and cocaine production? Illegal mining? Illicit arms purchases?
  • Does a “cessation of hostilities” mean an end to threats against civilians? Does an individual threatened by FARC fighters—for instance, one whom the guerrillas accuse of being a “snitch”—suddenly have nothing to fear from them?

To cease committing these “other hostile acts” would be to bring an unprecedented level of tranquility to vast areas of Colombia. But doing so is far harder to verify than a more basic cease-fire, in which both sides merely abstain from attacking military targets. No organization has the capacity to investigate and certify that all guerrilla extortion, laying of landmines, and forced recruitment have truly ceased throughout the country.

Drug Trafficking as a “Connected Political Crime”

Paramilitary leader “Julián Bolívar” won a vastly reduced sentence for his past drug trafficking, though he awaits a decision on extradition to the United States.

President Juan Manuel Santos caused a stir this week when he told an interviewer from Colombia’s RCN Radio network that the country would have to alter its laws to benefit FARC members who have trafficked drugs.

“For us to be able to apply justice in a more effective way will require broadening that concept of ‘political crimes,’ above all ‘connected crimes.’ Today it is too restrictive, and if we at least want to commute or pardon sentences, or in some way to legalize, thousands of FARC combatants, we’re going to have to be a little more flexible in the application of that concept.”

Colombia’s prosecutor-general [fiscal general], Eduardo Montealegre, agreed.

“It’s absolutely possible that narcotrafficking might be considered a crime connected with political crime, since ‘connectedness’ means something has a relation to something else, and it’s beyond discussion that in the Colombian armed conflict, narcotrafficking has been used in the guerrillas’ armed struggle.”

Their point is that negotiations with the FARC guerrillas will not succeed if, upon demobilizing, FARC leaders will face jail or even extradition to the United States because of their past involvement in the drug trade. Guerrillas simply won’t demobilize. It would seem apparent, then, that Colombia will have to offer ex-guerrillas reduced or waived penalties for past drug trafficking.

But many in Colombia are not prepared to accept that. Internal-Affairs Chief [Procurador] Alejandro Ordóñez alleged that calling narcotrafficking a “connected political crime” would “disguise criminals as politicians” and “shield FARC leaders from their status as capos” in the drug trade. Former President Álvaro Uribe, the talks’ most prominent critic, tweeted, “How could it be that they are going to classify as a political crime with altruistic motives an activity like narcotrafficking, which for many years in Colombia has only systematically financed horrors and atrocities?”

(Uribe is guilty of some hypocrisy here. In 2005, his administration introduced a legislative provision that would have classified paramilitary groups’ activities, including narcotrafficking, as “sedition”—a political crime.)

This week’s debate raised a question that remains unsettled in Colombia, where for decades illegal armed groups with political goals have supported themselves by participating in the drug trade. When it comes time for these groups’ members to demobilize, how should the legal system deal with their drug trafficking crimes? Can they be considered “connected” to the political crime of rebellion, or must they be considered separately as criminal offenses?

Colombia has already wrestled with these questions since the middle of the last decade, when thousands of paramilitary leaders demobilized via the so-called “Justice and Peace” process. The case of paramilitary leader “Julián Bolívar” is illustrative, if not emblematic, of the need for greater clarity.

Rodrigo Pérez Alzate, alias “Julian Bolívar,” was the terror of Colombia’s Magdalena Medio region at the beginning of the 2000s. He oversaw the paramilitaries’ bloody takeover of the oil-refining city of Barrancabermeja.

Pérez demobilized in 2005 as part of the “Justice and Peace” arrangement, which would give him a reduced prison sentence in exchange for a full confession of his crimes and reparations to victims. In 2006, Pérez was transferred to prison and his case slowly went to trial. In September 2013, the Justice and Peace Tribunal sentenced him to eight years imprisonment—most of which Pérez had already served—for a long list of human rights crimes.

As Talks Resume, “De-escalation” Is on the Table

Update 2:00PM: Negotiators in Havana have just announced that the peace talks will formally resume on December 10. Colombia’s El Tiempo reports, “Starting on December 10, they will dedicate themselves to discussing the issue of de-escalation of the conflict.”

On Sunday, FARC guerrillas released Gen. Rubén Darío Alzate and two others whom they had held for two weeks in Chocó, in northwestern Colombia. On Monday, the Colombian government ended its suspension of peace talks, sending four senior negotiators to Havana to meet with the guerrillas for two days. The sides met for four hours Tuesday, in “an atmosphere of cordiality and respect.” They are meeting again Wednesday.

But they are not picking up where they left off, continuing their discussion of “Victims,” the dialogues’ fourth agenda point. Instead, President Juan Manuel Santos explained, the negotiators are in Havana “for a couple of days to evaluate where the process is, where we’re going, and to do a cold, objective evaluation of the process, to see how we can continue.”

This probably means that we can expect some rewriting of the ground rules that have governed the peace talks since 2012. These specified that although the FARC had to abandon its practice of kidnapping civilians, the conflict could otherwise continue while talks proceed. There would be no cessation of hostilities, and what happens on the battlefield would not affect what happens at the table.

Dialogue amid conflict has not been easy. In July, after the FARC bombed several civilian energy infrastructure targets—a violation of International Humanitarian Law but not a violation of the talks’ "ground rules”—President Santos warned, “Keep this up and you are playing with fire and this process can end.” (The attacks died down.) And then on November 16, guerrillas captured Gen. Alzate. While this was an unplanned event—Gen. Alzate wandered, dressed as a civilian, into a town where FARC fighters were present—and although capturing enemy prisoners is a common act of war, the General’s capture proved too much for the Colombian government, which immediately suspended the peace talks.

The government has made clear that “negotiating amid conflict” has tacit limits. These limits have become tighter as the peace process has progressed. Today in Havana, the government likely wants to make them more formal.

The guerrillas likely agree with that, in broad terms. They probably expect some guarantees, or restraint, from the government in return for releasing Gen. Alzate. If capturing military officers is now “against the rules,” they will seek new rules that are more favorable to their fighters in the field.

“Those who suspended the conversations cannot return with the intention of imposing the date of their re-initiation, as though nothing has happened,” reads a FARC communiqué issued Monday. “The rules guiding the process will have to be re-made, since the government broke them, damaging the bridge of trust that we had built.”

The FARC wants a full, bilateral cease-fire. That is unlikely. The government argues that the FARC would use the resulting respite to re-arm and strengthen itself. It would be hard to get the Colombian military to go along with a bilateral truce. And it would be nearly impossible to verify: the talks’ agenda could be derailed as negotiators in Havana argue over reports of bombings, ambushes, killings and similar alleged cease-fire violations.

Instead, the word we are hearing most often right now is “de-escalation.”

An Advanced Peace Process Demanded a General’s Release

Las Mercedes, Chocó, where the FARC captured Gen. Rubén Darío Alzate on Sunday.

On their second anniversary, peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas are frozen. The impasse may soon be over, though: the peace process “guarantor” states, Cuba and Norway, announced a breakthrough on Wednesday evening.

A new round of talks was to begin in Cuba yesterday (November 18), but government negotiators refused to go to Havana until the FARC releases Gen. Ruben Darío Alzate, the chief of the Colombian military’s “Joint Task Force Titan” in the northwestern department (province) of Chocó. Guerrillas captured Gen. Alzate the afternoon of Sunday, November 16. It was the first time in 50 years of conflict that a general has fallen into guerrilla hands.

After several days of behind-the-scenes discussions involving Cuban and Norwegian diplomats and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the FARC appears to have agreed to release Gen. Alzate, along with a civilian lawyer and a corporal who were traveling with him, plus two soldiers captured a week earlier in the department of Arauca near the Venezuelan border. “The liberations will be carried out as soon as possible,” pending logistical arrangements, announced Cuban and Norwegian diplomats.

The Gen. Alzate affair shows us that as the peace talks have advanced, the ground rules governing them have tacitly changed. Taking a general prisoner did not violate the pre-conditions that FARC agreed for the talks. The guerrillas agreed to stop kidnapping civilians, not military personnel—and in warfare, adversaries capture and imprison the other side’s combatants all the time.

But the ground has shifted, in a positive direction. Ultimately, even if the FARC followed the peace process “rules,” its action left Colombian government negotiators with no choice. There is no way that Colombian public opinion, Colombia’s political class (including center-left politicians), and especially Colombia’s military would have allowed talks to go on while the FARC held an army general. Not because of rules, but because of a shifting political climate, the FARC had to choose between keeping Gen. Alzate or keeping the peace process alight. The government now faces similar informal constraints on its actions against top FARC leaders while talks continue.

This episode is also a consequence of negotiating amid war. As the Colombian government refused to declare a cease-fire, incidents like Gen. Alzate’s abduction were a foreseeable, and even probable, risk. On the other hand, negotiating amid a cease-fire has practical disadvantages: the parties could end up wasting time at the table disputing alleged cease-fire violations instead of attending to the points on the talks’ agenda.

Competing Views and “Trial Balloons”

Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, ran a series of articles Friday about a forum it co-hosted about the country’s peace talks with the FARC guerrillas. The event was noteworthy because its participants included several of the government’s negotiators, plus officials and legislators who would play a large role in a possible post-conflict period.

The speakers revealed much current government thinking about the peace process, and raised eyebrows with some “trial balloons”—statements perhaps intended to prepare public opinion for some tough decisions if the government and guerrillas reach an accord. Here are some standout examples.

Disarmament: whether the FARC will “stop using” or “turn in” its weapons

Disarmament is one of the main questions left to be negotiated in Havana. The FARC is reluctant to hand over its weapons immediately after an accord is signed. Doing so gives the appearance of defeat or surrender, and guerrillas also fear being killed if disarmed, as happened to thousands of members of a political party the FARC tried to form during a failed 1980s peace process. Instead, guerrillas wish to promise not to use weapons in the short term, and perhaps to give them up in the long term, once they are certain that the government is complying with its peace accord commitments.

Jaramillo

Debate at the forum centered on the difference between “abandonment” (dejación) of weapons and “surrender” (entrega) of weapons. Even a verifiable abandonment of weapons (like Northern Ireland, where the IRA kept weapons “beyond use” for nearly seven years after the 1998 Good Friday Accord) does not satisfy many in Colombian politics and public opinion, as it leaves open the option that the FARC might take them up again.

“Of course there has to be abandonment (dejación) of weapons,” said government negotiator Sergio Jaramillo, the Colombian Presidency’s high commissioner for peace. Jaramillo added that the distinction between abandoning and surrendering weapons is “a false dilemma,” noting, "The government said clearly in the secret stage, and will continue to insist, that there must be a verifiable abandonment of those weapons so they are out of use.”

Negotiator Jorge Mora, a retired general and former chief of Colombia’s armed forces, agreed. “Call it what you want: abandonment, surrender, destruction, whatever. What matters is what they will have to do. They will not practice politics with weapons. If it’s not like that, we simply won’t sign the accords. As soon as the guerrillas sign, they will have to do away with their strategy of combining all forms of struggle [violent and non-violent]. Demobilization is an implicit activity to end the conflict.”

Mora

Ángela Ospina, the vice-president of Colombia’s Conservative Party, disagreed: “abandonment and surrender of arms are different.” She wondered to whom the FARC would hand over its weapons, and whether the government has any idea how many weapons the guerrillas possess. “We are convinced that there must be a surrender of weapons and their destruction, to demonstrate that there is a genuine desire for peace,” she said.

Alfredo Rangel, a security analyst who is now a senator in ex-President Álvaro Uribe’s right-of-center political party, warned that if it merely “abandons” weapons, the FARC will end up conducting “armed oversight of the peace agreements.”

Whether human rights violators will go to prison or something else

Another pending issue for the negotiations is transitional justice. There is broad consensus—upheld by Colombia’s membership in the International Criminal Court—that there can be no amnesty for those who committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. What, then, must happen to the worst human rights violators in the FARC and in Colombia’s armed forces?

The FARC, Its Victims, and the Peace Process

An October 27 gathering of FARC victims in Bogotá.

On October 30 Colombia’s FARC guerrilla group made its clearest recognition that it owes something to its victims. It came in a statement issued during the 30th round of peace talks between the FARC and Colombia’s government in Havana, Cuba. These talks are on their fourth agenda topic, “Victims.” The statement came on the eve of a fourth of five planned visits to Havana of conflict victims.

“It is evident that we have intervened actively and we have impacted our adversary, and in some way affected the population that has lived immersed in the war,” read guerrilla negotiator Pablo Atrato.

“We make ourselves expressly responsible for each and every one of the acts of war executed by our units in conformance with the orders and instructions imparted by our command, and we assume its derivations. We are conscious that the results of our actions have not always been foreseen or expected by the FARC-EP, and we assume the consequences, as could not be otherwise. The FARC-EP will assume responsibility for what concerns us.”

Pablo Atrato reads the FARC statement about victims on October 30.

This sounds sensible, but still modest given the FARC’s treatment of civilians in Colombia’s long conflict. Though pro-government paramilitary groups committed a majority of massacres, extrajudicial killings, and forced displacement, the FARC is responsible for a significant share of these. For their part, the guerrillas dominate categories like kidnapping, child recruitment, use of landmines, indiscriminate bombings of civilian populations, and attacks on civilian infrastructure.

When confronted with the group’s victimizer status, FARC leaders’ usual response has been defiant: to avoid the issue, to insist that the government recognize its own victims, or even to say that FARC members themselves are victims.

Some observers applauded the latest FARC statement’s acceptance of reality. “The 30th round of peace dialogues between the government and the FARC produced the event that the country has most been expecting in the two years of negotiations in Havana: the recognition of responsibilities on the guerrillas’ part,” read an analysis in the Colombian daily El Espectador. “For the first time in its history,” read the newsweekly Semana, “the FARC guerrilla group admitted… that its actions have affected the civilian population throughout the armed conflict.”

Others noted that FARC negotiators had said similar things in the past. “Without a doubt there has also been cruelty and pain provoked by our forces,“ FARC Secretariat member Pablo Catatumbo had said in August 2013. ”We must all recognize the need to take on the issue of victims, their identity and reparation with total loyalty to the cause of peace and reconciliation.” Before a group of visiting conflict victims in Havana three months ago, chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez had asked for forgiveness and signaled an intention to make amends.

The October 30 communique was “a first step,” Congresswoman Clara Rojas, who spent six years as a FARC hostage, wrote on Twitter. Though it was “an important step toward full satisfaction of victims’ rights,” chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said, the FARC statement wasn’t enough.

ANAFRO Afro-Colombian Social Movement Statement on the Peace Process and Presidential Elections

The following is a statement from the Afro-Colombian Social Movement published on June 9, 2014

We, the people of African descent in Colombia, are the main victims of the internal armed conflict. As historic and current victims, we have the sufficient political, ethical and moral authority to say that war is not the way. Neither the historical damages of violent submission to enslavement nor the current damages of the war have been repaired to us. For this reason, mentioning victims, especially Afro-Colombian victims, should be done with an eye on the past and present. The present sufferings of our people, namely racism, racial discrimination, marginalization and exclusion, are closely linked to past suffering: slavery. There is nothing more violent than this situation.

In order to defend our culture of peace, the black, Afro-Colombian, palenquero, and raizal people of Colombia will not vote for war. We strengthen our historic commitment to achieve enduring peace and social justice for all.

We do not want the tragedy or the violence that was planted in our land to be reissued; violence, which has left thousands of Afro-Colombians murdered, displaced, despaired, widowed, orphaned, or used as war booty.

Our call to support and promote peace calls on various popular forces to strengthen the constitution of the FRENTE AMPLIO POR LA PAZ DE COLOMBIA, so that we can rethink this country without bloodshed. For this reason, we laud and join the progressive social sectors, political parties and others, that knowing the implications of what is at stake, have stepped forward to support a negotiated solution to the conflict. By doing so, together we further the State’s commitment to provide victims with reparations, land rights restitution and the implementation of distributive actions to overcome definitely the barriers that undermine our people’s welfare and future.

We support and will vote for the reelection of President Santos. We have hope in the search for peace and social justice, and the recognition of our people as historic victims of slavery and colonialism and as the largest victims of the economic, social and political internal armed conflict in the country.

We will vote for Juan Manuel Santos to give him a second chance to build a government that culminates the negotiation task with the insurgency and that sows the pillars of peace with society. We will vote for him to advance economic and social policies that benefit the Colombian people, policies that will end misery, hunger, and unemployment, policies that will resolve the situation for the rural and urban poor, but above all, policies that meet the pending legislative developments in the large agenda of rights of the black, raizal and palanquero people. Only a series of BIG political concessions to the Colombian people on economic and social reforms can produce true peace and reconciliation.

Colombia has never had a true peaceful and democratic revolution in its history. It is for the democrats, the social movements, the majority groups, the national country and the ethnic groups to bring home the idea of a modern democratic State as a peaceful alternative to the State with authoritarian tendencies against minorities.

UBUNTU

I AM BECAUSE WE ARE  

 

For the full list of signatories, please click here.

AFRODES Statement on Colombia Peace Process

The following is a statement from the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) support the peace process. The statement was originally published on June 24, 2014.

WAR DESTROYS, PEACE BUILDS, PEACE IS POSSIBLE:

 

AFRODES SUPPORTS THE AGREEMENTS REACHED IN

THE PEACE NEGOTIATIONS IN HAVANA, CUBA BETWEEN

NATIONAL GOVERNMENT AND THE GUERRILLA FARC-EP 

Today, the number of displaced persons in Colombia has reached a record high: more than six million displaced citizens, of which more than two million are Afro-Colombians. In AFRODES’s view, this situation is a great humanitarian tragedy that requires urgent and civilized resolutions.  Considering that Afrocolombians constitute 10.62% of the country’s population, according to the latest census in 2005, it is clear that the impact of the war on this group has been disproportionate and has had irreparable consequences on our people. War is unacceptable!

The National Association of Displaced Afro-AFRODES seeks to further peace proposals. Our group is formed by families that have been affected by the internal armed conflict and the violence that has battered the country for over 50 years. AFRODES is a network of 107 organizations with more than 90,000 members at the national and international level. The members of AFRODES have suffered from forced displacement and the murder of their families. They have lost the legal right over their ancestral lands and their material possessions. They have witnessed the forced dismemberment of their families. They have lost their political, social and cultural rights along with their autonomy. Despite their status as displaced persons, AFRODES’s members lack housing, healthcare and education. They continue to suffer from targeted killings, threats, physical and psychological torture as well as from racial and political discrimination, sexual abuse and stigmatization from sectors of Colombian society. Due to our status as victims, we fully understand the indelible marks that the conflict has had and continues to have our lives.

The AFRODES family exalts the dialogue between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the guerrillas of the FACR-EP; we value the achievements that have been accomplished at the negotiation table in Havana, Cuba. In particular, AFRODES highlights the importance of acknowledging the victims and their contributions to achieve truth, justice and reparations. We support the parties’ will to continue working towards an agreement that will terminate the armed conflict.

AFRODES understands that the war’s continuation will only bring about the furthering of the irreparable implications of conflict and of the deepening of the humanitarian crisis affecting our people and country. For this reason, at this historical juncture, AFRODES expresses its support for the parties at the negotiation table to maintain a purposeful dialogue and to reach a humanitarian agreement. This agreement will be a first step to enter the country’s era of the post-conflict and democratization, in which we will work together to achieve true social, economic and political inclusion of Afro-Colombian people and other marginalized sectors of the country. In this way, AFRODES appreciates the parties’ efforts and extends its support to President Juan Manuel Santos’s search for peace.

We call on our members, friends and political allies to support the path of peace with social justice, that will leads us to the reconciliation with all Colombians, to the acknowledgment of victims and their rights, to reparations and to pledge never to repeat.

AFRODES will continue to contribute and to demand the termination of the armed conflict in the country.

“PEACE NEEDS US, WE BUILD PEACE, PEACE IS POSSIBLE.”