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!”

Colombia Peace Process Update (January 26, 2013)

By Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security

Negotiators from Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas held a third round of talks in Havana, Cuba on January 14-24. The next round is to begin on January 31.

The negotiators are discussing the first of five topics on the talks’ agenda: land and rural development policy. Topics to follow are the guerrillas’ future participation in politics; demobilization and post-conflict; drug policy; and victims’ rights.

We know very few details about what is actually being discussed in Havana. Both sides are respecting the negotiations’ secrecy, avoiding having their content aired before the media. Leaks have been extremely scarce. The dialogues’ disciplined conduct, along with a general atmosphere of seriousness and collegiality, increases confidence that these dialogues may succeed. It also reflects well on the role of diplomats from Norway and Cuba, the two “guarantor” countries the process.

The dialogues’ pace, however, has caused some concern. After the last round of talks ended, FARC negotiator “Jesús Santrich” said that the guerrillas were seeing “concrete results,” and that the talks were advancing at a rapid “mambo rhythm.” Chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle acknowledged that there have been “convergences” on some issues, but that “notable differences” remain. Before the last round of talks began, de la Calle had told reporters, “We need a faster pace.” In late December, Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo said that the government expected to be done with the land issue, and to have moved on to the second negotiation topic, by Easter week (late March). De la Calle quickly contradicted him, clarifying that the Santos administration had not set an end date for the negotiating topic. For his part, President Juan Manuel Santos has said that he is unwilling to extend the FARC talks beyond November 2013. A mid-December Gallup poll found 71 percent of Colombians supporting the process, but only 43 percent believing that an accord will actually be reached. 54 percent were “pessimistic.”

Peace Talks: An Opportunity to Fill Colombia’s Deficit to Afro-Colombian Women

By Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, Senior Associate for the Andes

As the Colombian Government prepares to meet with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana, Cuba, later this month for the second phase of the peace talks, the role of women—and in particular Afrodescendant women—in guaranteeing a successful peace effort requires support from the international community.

Olga Amparo of Colombianos y Colombianas por la Paz noted that while it is unsurprising that women are not on the negotiating teams—women are neither part of the FARC nor in the armed forces’ top command structures—“it does expose Colombia’s democratic deficit” of female political participation. Though Colombia has adopted norms favoring women’s rights, in practice, the political voice of Colombian women has remained muffled, and exclusion of Afro-Colombian women is particularly problematic. Incorporating the perspective of Afro-Colombian women into the issues debated at the peace talks will do more than just dramatically increase the odds that the process will succeed. It will strengthen Colombia’s democracy by bridging the political gap that exists for Colombian women and ethnic minorities and stabilize this post-conflict country.

According to Ms. Amparo, a WOLA partner, the peace talks are not going to resolve all of Colombia’s chronic, systemic problems. The most likely outcome is that they result in an agreement to end the internal armed conflict and establish a series of mechanisms for how to address the underlying issues that contribute to conflict. For the latter to happen effectively, certain major challenges must be addressed. First, Colombia is a place where violence has been used for decades to resolve differences. To change that dynamic, confidence must be built among Colombians of all walks of life. Stakeholders must promote the idea that political change is possible through a participatory democratic system in which the different perspectives within Colombian society are guaranteed a voice. Second, bold efforts must be undertaken to dismantle the remnants of paramilitary and organized criminal structures. Third, civil society input—particularly by women—is necessary to help reconcile Colombian society and to contribute to constructive avenues by which to deal with difficult issues. A final challenge lies with the demilitarization of Colombian society. All sides of the conflict, and the society itself, must begin to think of order and security without arms as the way forward. Women are essential in ensuring that all of these challenges are addressed.   

Both as activists and as victims, women have played an important role in raising awareness of how the internal armed conflict and violence has impacted them. With the support of the Open Society Foundations, WOLA had the privilege of conducting advocacy workshops with Afro-Colombian women in four conflict-ridden areas along the country’s Pacific Coast earlier this year. We were able to view firsthand the tenacity, resilience, strength, and political sophistication of women in the Chocó, Valle del Cauca, and Cauca.

During our conversations with Afro-Colombian women, we learned of the complexities of internal displacement, militarization, sexual violence, and mothers’ horrors of experiencing forced recruitment of their children into the conflict. More striking than the terrible stories of violence and abuses, though, was the leadership exerted by many of these women and the belief that their circumstances could change and justice could be achieved if their recommendations and efforts were supported.