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:

We have reached an accord on the first point on the agenda contained in the “General Accord for the termination of the conflict and the building of a stable and lasting peace.”

We have agreed to name it “Toward a new Colombian countryside: Integral Rural Reform.”

In the next cycle of conversations, we will present the first periodic report from the Table.

We have built agreements on the following issues:

  • 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.

What we have agreed in this accord will be the beginning of radical transformations of rural and agrarian reality in Colombia, with fairness and democracy. It is centered on the people, the small producer, access to and distribution of land, the fight against poverty, stimulus to agricultural production, and the reactivation of the rural economy.

It seeks to allow the greatest number of rural inhabitants without land, or with insufficient land, to access it through the creation of a Fund of Lands for Peace.

The national government will progressively formalize, subject to constitutional and legal norms, all landholdings that campesinos occupy or possess in Colombia.

Mechanisms are created to resolve conflicts of land usage, and an agrarian legal jurisdiction to protect property rights with priority placed on the common good.

It is accompanied by housing plans, potable water, technical assistance, training, education, land improvements, infrastructure and soil recovery.

The accord seeks the reversal of the conflict’s effects and the restitution of victims of dispossession and forced displacement.

It includes the formation and updating of rural information for the updating of the respective cadaster, to achieve legal security and better and more efficient information.

Thinking of future generations of Colombians, the accord sets the boundaries of the agricultural frontier, protecting areas of special environmental interest.

Seeking a countryside with social protection, to eradicate hunger through a system of feeding and nutrition.

What is agreed so far forms part of a broader accord that we hope to achieve in the coming months, which contains six points. Beginning with the next cycle of conversations that begins on June 11, we will begin discussion of the second point on the Agenda included in the “General Accord” of Havana, known as Political Participation.

One of the principles that guide these conversations is that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” This means that the accords we have been building are conditioned on us reaching an accord on the totality of the Agenda and, also, that as the discussion advances the accords can be adjusted and complemented on each of its sub-points.

We want to highlight that in these six months of conversations we have not only discussed the agrarian issue. In this time period the conversations process was given life, the means of working in plenary form, commissions, or separate was agreed, and different mechanisms of participation and citizen consultation were launched to receive proposals and opinions from citizens and social organizations. These mechanisms and work and participation procedures are now ongoing, and we expect that from now on we will advance more rapidly in the effort to reach accords.

We emphasize the contribution of the Office of the United Nations in Colombia and the Center of Thought for Peace of the National University to the organization of the forums carried out in Bogotá on the Agrarian and Political Participation issues. We also incorporate the contributions of the regional tables organized by the Peace Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives of Colombia.

We thank the thousands of Colombians, and social organizations, who have sent to us their proposals and opinions on the Agenda points through these forums, the Web Page, or the forms that are available in mayors’ and governors’ offices. Each and every one of these proposals has been received by the delegations in Havana. At the Table of Conversations a procedure was agreed and put in place to receive them in an orderly fashion, to classify them and make them available through electronic means.

We especially want to thank Cuba and Norway, the guarantor countries of this process, for their permanent support and for the atmosphere of trust that they foster. The presence of their representatives at the Table of conversations is a fundamental factor for their development. We equally thank Chile and Venezuela, accompanying countries, whom the delegations periodically inform about the dialogues’ progress.

These four countries make up a group of national friends of the process that we value especially, while we also give thanks for the expressions of support from other nations, bodies, and international leaders who strengthen trust along the road we are traveling.

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