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.
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.