- A new accord
- Referendum versus constitutional convention
- Transitional justice
- Colombian Politics
- Next topic: drug policy
- U.S. policy toward the dialogues
- The ELN remains on the sidelines
A new accord
Colombia’s peace talks took a large step forward on November 6th. In Havana, Cuba, negotiators from the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, Colombia’s largest guerrilla group) announced that they had reached agreement on reforms to ease political participation for opposition movements, including any post-conflict party incorporated by demobilized FARC members. This was the second of six points on the negotiating agenda [PDF] agreed in August 2012.
Between May 26th—the date that they announced an accord on the first agenda item (land and rural development)—and November 6th, negotiators met in Havana for seven rounds encompassing about 65 days of talks. They extended their latest negotiating round, their 16th, an extra five days to achieve this new agreement. It moves the talks’ agenda forward, after five months that saw growing impatience in Colombian public opinion. It provides the process with a badly needed boost of momentum, just as campaigning gets underway for Colombia’s March 2014 legislative and May 2014 presidential elections.
With the second agenda item concluded, the topics remaining to be agreed are “ending the conflict” (demobilization and transitional justice); “solution to the problem of illicit drugs”; conflict victims; and “implementation, verification, and legalization of accords.” None of these are easy, though transitional justice—how to bring the worst human rights violators to justice—promises to be most challenging. The negotiators have decided to skip that agenda item for now, and will begin discussing drug policy when they reconvene in Havana on November 18th.
The text of the “rural development” and “political participation” agreements is secret for now, and under the principle of “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” the negotiators may still revise them before they sign a final accord. Still, the negotiators’ joint November 6 declaration gave a reasonably detailed overview of what was agreed. Points include the following.
- A multi-party commission to seek input and make recommendations for a new “Opposition Statute.” This law will spell out guarantees for peaceful political opposition movements, which have often met violent ends in Colombia, and a series of guarantees for channeling citizen demands and protests.
- Measures to improve social and political movements’ access to institutional, regional, and community media.
- National and local “Councils for Reconciliation and Coexistence” to implement guarantees, and a plan for citizen oversight and transparency of public policy.
- Changes to ease the formation of political parties.
- Improvements to transparency over elections.
- The creation of Temporary Special Peace Districts encompassing “zones especially affected by the conflict and government abandonment.” These districts will elect their own legislators to Colombia’s House of Representatives.
- A security system to protect opposition candidates, “especially those of the new movement that may emerge from the FARC-EP to legal political activity.”
- The joint declaration notes that implementing the peace accord “will imply the relinquishing of arms and the prohibition of violence as a method of political action.”
- “A gender focus assuring women’s participation.”
The technical, detailed nature of these agreed measures is itself an important reason for optimism about the peace process. It indicates a degree of discipline and seriousness that the government and FARC frankly never reached during three previous negotiation attempts since 1982.
Probably the most controversial of these elements are the special temporary congressional districts for historically conflictive areas. These appear designed to give demobilized FARC candidates an advantage in zones where the group has long had de facto political influence or control. Negotiatiors have not yet determined their number and duration.
This falls short of the FARC’s original demands for a number of guaranteed temporary congressional seats or a new chamber of Congress with equal numbers of representatives from each department (province). Still, it is controversial within mainstream Colombian public opinion, where polls consistently show a large majority of Colombians opposed to the prospect of former FARC members serving in the national legislature. Unless the pace of the talks picks up remarkably, though, this accord will have no effect on the March 2014 congressional elections. The temporary congressional districts benefiting former FARC candidates would likely not exist until Colombia’s next legislative elections, in 2018.
In this striking image from Colombia's Semana magazine, FARC Secretariat member Iván Márquez (right) walks by former Colombian Armed Forces chief Gen. Jorge Mora on November 6th in Havana.
Five months may seem like a long time to have achieved agreement on these rather technical points. The Colombian newsweekly Semana called them “a letter of good intentions that, in general terms, coincide with rights already guaranteed in the constitution.” The delay in reaching this second agreement appears to owe at least as much to three issues that were only partially or tangentially relevant to the “political participation” agenda item: