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.
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.”
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?