By Adam Isacson*
It is official now. For the fourth time in 30 years, and the first time in 10 years, the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group have launched a negotiation that will attempt to end Latin America’s longest armed conflict.
On September 4, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed that, after more than 6 months of exploratory talks in Havana, Cuba, the government and guerrillas had agreed on a framework for more formal negotiations. These negotiations will begin during the first half of October (most likely the 8th) in Oslo, Norway, and move later to Havana.
FARC representatives, meeting in Havana, confirmed the same information and insisted that they would not get up from the table until a peace agreement is reached. On the 5th and 6th, both the government and the FARC named their negotiating teams. The agenda for talks [PDF] is to cover three thematic issues and three logistical issues, in this order:
- Rural development policy (including land tenure)
- Political participation (including the FARC’s possible political future)
- Ending the conflict (including a cease-fire, demobilization, and paramilitarism)
- Solving the illicit drug problem (including alternative development)
- Implementation and verification
In WOLA’s view, there are several reasons to be more optimistic about this peace process than about past attempts.
1. The state of the conflict. In the 10 years since the last peace talks failed, Colombia’s security forces grew by about two-thirds, about 23,000 people died in combat alone, and the FARC has been weakened. The group has shrunk in size by about half, and has lost several of its most senior leaders. Ten years ago, the FARC may have felt some momentum; today it must not. However, the FARC’s ability to persist – and evidence that guerrilla actions have increased since 2008 – make clear that Colombia’s conflict is nowhere near ending on the battlefield. The “home stretch” remains far off. For both sides, the cost of negotiating may appear to be lower than the cost of continued fighting.
2. The FARC appears more flexible. Most of the guerrilla leaders who managed the FARC’s intransigent positions during the failed 1998–2002 peace process have been killed or captured. The new leadership appears somewhat more pragmatic. The guerrillas have abandoned a longstanding demand (which was met during failed 1998–2002 talks) that talks occur on Colombian soil, in a territory free of military presence. Talks will instead take place in other countries. The agenda indicates that the guerrillas are willing to contemplate disarming after an accord is reached; in earlier processes they had declared their intention to keep their weapons. The FARC pledged in February (though without verification of compliance) that it would halt the practice of kidnapping civilians for ransom, and publicly expressed willingness to negotiate even after its top leader was killed in late 2011.