Blog entries, commentaries, and statements from WOLA’s Colombia team

Colombia’s Military and the Peace Process

January 24, 2015
President Santos and government peace negotiators meet with the high military and police command on January 23.

“Fifty-one years of war and we’re going to reach peace, a peace that is your victory,” President Juan Manuel Santos told Colombia’s army in a pre-Christmas speech. “That courage, that determination, have been responsible for us talking about peace, because the enemy finally noticed that you are invincible, and today we have the best Army in our history.”

President Santos, who served as defense minister in the previous administration, regularly offers effusive praise to the armed forces. Except on December 2, when he appeared on the TV station of Bogotá’s left-leaning city government and warned, “People who aren’t acting with loyalty are coming out, and any officer, no matter how important, showing the slightest sign of disloyalty or lack of discipline will be out of the military.”

This comment, which came a day after the resignation of an Army general who had been captured and released by the FARC guerrillas, raised eyebrows in Colombia and reportedly angered the military.

Santos’s words drew attention to a concern brewing below the surface of Colombia’s peace process: that a significant sector of the armed forces and its leadership disagrees with the civilian government’s handling of negotiations with the FARC.

It is impossible to know how large this sector is, as active-duty officers usually respect their constitutional mandate to be “non-deliberative,” avoiding public criticism of civilian leaders. We must rely on off-the-record comments, some of them made to us and some of them reported by a small number of Colombian investigative journalists, as well as the public words of retired officers and of politicians believed to be close to the military.

These comments indicate that military leaders and rank-and-file who are unhappy about the Havana talks aren’t opposed to “peace” or agitating to prolong the conflict. Their likely concerns, listed below, have more to do with the design of the process, or its implications for their institution.

Military discontent is important. Colombia’s armed forces have grown rapidly in this century: today, about 450,000 Colombians wear a military or police uniform, up from less than 300,000 in 2000. While the possibility of a military coup is near zero, opposition from the armed forces could manifest itself in ways that make peace negotiations, or subsequent accord implementation, inviable. Analysts cite military resistance as a key factor in the failure of a 1980s attempt to negotiate with the FARC and mid–1990s efforts to get negotiations started.

Elements in the armed forces can hinder or derail peace talks through what longtime Semana magazine columnist Antonio Caballero called “sometimes quiet and sometimes open opposition, sometimes almost en bloc and sometimes, like now, in the form of surreptitious ‘loose wheels’” within the institution. Methods can include private communications to politicians opposed to the process, incomplete compliance with orders, filtration of damaging allegations (true or invented) by military intelligence, or politically damaging public statements which, as they are rare, often come with high officers’ resignations. In extreme cases, some officers’ opposition could even be expressed through uncredited threats or intimidation against civilians involved in, or supportive of, negotiations.

Evidence of Military Unease

Military commanders insist, and some analysts agree, that the armed forces have stolidly supported President Santos’s peace effort. “The Army’s support for the peace process is proved, clearly, by our work,” Gen. Jaime Lasprilla, the chief of Colombia’s army, told El Espectador journalist Cecilia Orozco in November. “The fact that the transfer of 30 terrorists to Havana has occurred without any incident is a concrete and forceful piece of evidence.”

While the institution as a whole has gone along with the talks, there have been troubling incidents.

Tags: Civil-Military Relations

Bilateral Cease-Fire: What Must Be Negotiated?

January 16, 2015
President Santos last night, announcing his intention to negotiate a bilateral cease-fire with the FARC.

“I have given instructions to the negotiators that they start, as soon as possible, the discussion on the point of the bilateral and definitive cease-fire and cessation of hostilities.”

That was Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, making a rather surprising announcement in the first moments of his televised 2015 new year’s address.

In the nearly two and a half years since peace talks began, the Colombian government had refused the FARC guerrillas’ calls for a bilateral cease-fire, insisting on fighting while negotiations proceeded. Now, one month after the FARC declared a “unilateral, indefinite” but conditional cease-fire, President Santos is talking about making it bilateral. The talks are in such a mature phase, it seems, that the guns and bombs may soon go silent as both sides abstain from offensive actions.

This is a transcendental step. But one might reasonably ask: “If the FARC already wants and has declared a cease-fire, what is there to negotiate?”

There is much to define. “Cease fire” and “cessation of hostilities” are vague terms. When they return to the table on January 26, negotiators—especially the “end of conflict subcommittee” made up of Colombian military personnel and FARC leaders—will have to consider questions like the following.

  • Who would verify it? If the parties at the table in Havana lose time arguing over alleged cease-fire violations, the negotiating agenda could get derailed. Some trusted third party, perhaps an international entity, may be needed to investigate and rule on such allegations.
  • Can the Colombian security forces go after non-participants? In many areas, the FARC are not the only active armed or organized-crime group. The Colombian government is charged with protecting its citizens throughout the national territory and will insist on being able to confront these groups—as well as to confront FARC elements that, in its view, have gone rogue or broken away.
  • Will this be a “cease-fire in place?” The government might suggest that, in order to verify the cease-fire more easily, the FARC concentrate its members in specific locations. The guerrillas will reject this.
  • If guerrillas are not concentrated in specific locations, can the security forces carry out arrest warrants for wanted guerrilla leaders? If the authorities locate or encounter a known and wanted FARC leader, Colombia will insist on the ability to arrest that leader despite the cease-fire.

Tags: Cease-Fire

“There Are Other Circumstances Now”

January 6, 2015
Yesterday, from left to right: lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle, President Juan Manuel Santos, and High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo.

With his declaration about the FARC peace talks yesterday, President Juan Manuel Santos took a big step toward de-escalating Colombia’s conflict.

Santos was indirect, but hinted that—as long as current conditions prevail—the government and guerrillas are approaching a sort of undeclared, de facto cease-fire. Or at least, that the government is no longer insisting on total war on the battlefield while talks proceed at the table.

A translation of the key section:

Of course, we have taken very much into consideration the unilateral and indefinite cease-fire that the FARC declared. And on this point we must recognize that the FARC have complied.

We want to invite the ELN to join the initiative of a unilateral cease-fire, as the FARC did.

Until now, we have followed that maxim made famous by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, where he said that we must negotiate as though the war or conflict didn’t exist, and we had to maintain the military offensive as though the peace process didn’t exist.

But the advances in the negotiations indicate to us that there are other circumstances now, and that this disconnect is no longer applicable.

Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper explained:

Sources close to the peace process confirmed to El Tiempo that, while this doesn’t refer directly to a “bilateral cease-fire,” which would imply a halt to the security forces’ offensive actions against the FARC, the message of “de-escalation” will begin to be reinforced so that society may understand that a definitive stage of the negotiations has been entered.

El Tiempo noted that the armed forces’ high command asked for clarification last night from Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón. The response came this afternoon in a tweet from the President: “Instructions to the Armed Forces have not changed. Bilateral cease-fire will be discussed when the appropriate moment arrives.”

If this sounds a bit contradictory, so is the situation on the ground. While not quite a bilateral cease-fire, the de facto battlefield status can be summed up in two events that took place on December 31:

  • That day, Colombia’s CERAC think-tank, which monitors conflict activity, reported: “CERAC’s violence monitoring has not registered a single offensive act attributable to the FARC that would violate its cease-fire. Nor have we registered any offensive action against the FARC on the security forces’ part.”
  • That evening, Army soldiers, police, and Prosecutors’ Office police captured Carlos Andrés Bustos Cortez, alias “Richard,” identified as the second-in-command of the FARC’s powerful Teófilo Forero Column in the southwestern department of Huila. “Richard” was located by a joint intelligence operation, and captured after a brief firefight in which he was wounded.

Tags: Cease-Fire, De-escalation

At Year’s End, It’s Clear: This Peace Process Is For Real

December 24, 2014

In the weeks before Christmas 2001, the FARC broke Colombia’s heart.

Andrés Felipe Pérez, a 12-year-old boy in a Bogotá hospital’s cancer ward, transfixed the country with his dying wish: to say farewell to his father. Police Corporal Norberto Pérez had spent the previous two years as one of dozens whom the FARC were holding hostage in Colombia’s jungles. As three-year-old peace talks with the government floundered, the guerrillas refused Andrés Felipe’s dying wish. The boy died a week before Christmas. He never saw his father. The next year, months after the peace talks’ collapse, FARC captors killed Corporal Pérez during an escape attempt.

A month ago, the FARC had another military captive, a far bigger prize: a Colombian Army general who wandered right into the guerrillas’ clutches. This time, though, the FARC let him go after just two weeks. Gen. Rubén Darío Alzate will spend Christmas at home with his family.

Why did the guerrillas’ behavior shift so radically? Again, they are in peace negotiations with the Colombian government. But this time, unlike 2001, they really don’t want them to end. A government suspension of the talks forced the guerrillas to choose between holding a general and continuing to talk peace. They chose peace.

This would seem like ironclad proof that today’s peace process is for real. Colombia has tried and failed to negotiate with the FARC three times in the past thirty years. But the current attempt in Havana, with three of six agenda items concluded in an orderly manner, might really be the one that ends fifty years of fighting.

Still, Colombian public opinion isn’t so sure. While polls show a clear majority of Colombians supporting the dialogues, a similar majority still doubts they will succeed.

Tags:

Before a Bilateral Ceasefire, “Humanitarian De-Escalation”

December 21, 2014
FARC negotiators meet with survivors of the 2002 Bojayá massacre on December 18.

El Tiempo Editor Marisol Gómez Giraldo offers a clear but largely optimistic overview today of where discussions of “de-escalation” stand, following the FARC’s declaration of a unilateral, conditional cease-fire and the government’s refusal to accept the guerrillas’ terms.

Key paragraphs:

If the Havana negotiations follow the logic that the parties expect, this clear gesture of peace from the FARC should be followed, in a gradual process, by the de-escalation of the conflict, a bilateral cease-fire, and the abandonment of arms. And that this depends, in principle, on the guerrilla group, because the results of their cessation of offensive operations should first be reflected among the civilian population.

At the outset, this means the diminution of the war’s intensity, reducing its impact on civilians. That is why the government, in a first phase, calls it “humanitarian de-escalation.” This is what the government and FARC negotiators have currently been talking about in Havana.

Military de-escalation, which also implies a withdrawal of the armed forces, is for a second phase. For when it has been proved that the guerrillas are not using the truce to prolong the peace negotiations.

It is, in fact, one of the reasons why President Juan Manuel Santos repeats that the bilateral cease-fire will only happen when abandonment of weapons has already begun to occur.

Tags: Cease-Fire, De-escalation

The FARC’s Unilateral Truce Offer: Good News, But New Questions

December 18, 2014

The FARC today released a potentially historic statement. The key sentences:

“We have resolved to declare a UNILATERAL CESSATION OF FIRE AND OF HOSTILITIES FOR AN INDEFINITE PERIOD, which should transform itself into an armistice. For the achievement of its full success, we aspire to count with the oversight of UNASUR, CELAC, the ICRC, and the Broad Front for Peace. This unilateral cease-fire, which we hope to prolong over time, would end only if it is proven that our guerrilla structures have been the object of attacks from the security forces.”

A full cease-fire and cessation of hostilities would be very welcome. Even just a cessation of force-on-force combat would be welcome. Since 2012, the FARC’s declarations of unilateral holiday and election-season cease-fires have reduced tensions and strengthened confidence in the peace process. To prolong this indefinitely—as long as government forces halt offensive operations—would give hundreds of communities a chance to know peace, in some cases for the first time in their citizens’ lifetimes.

The FARC statement, though, does not define the key phrase “cessation of fire and of hostilities.” What are “hostilities?” It’s virtually certain that the FARC intends to halt attacks on military and police targets, and presumably on civilian populations and public infrastructure. But what about other hostile acts?

  • Does the term cover extortion, perhaps the FARC “hostility” that Colombians feel the most?
  • Does it cover guerrilla recruitment (especially of minors)?
  • The laying of anti-personnel mines and IEDs?
  • Coca cultivation and cocaine production? Illegal mining? Illicit arms purchases?
  • Does a “cessation of hostilities” mean an end to threats against civilians? Does an individual threatened by FARC fighters—for instance, one whom the guerrillas accuse of being a “snitch”—suddenly have nothing to fear from them?

To cease committing these “other hostile acts” would be to bring an unprecedented level of tranquility to vast areas of Colombia. But doing so is far harder to verify than a more basic cease-fire, in which both sides merely abstain from attacking military targets. No organization has the capacity to investigate and certify that all guerrilla extortion, laying of landmines, and forced recruitment have truly ceased throughout the country.

Tags: Cease-Fire, De-escalation

Drug Trafficking as a “Connected Political Crime”

December 6, 2014
Paramilitary leader “Julián Bolívar” won a vastly reduced sentence for his past drug trafficking, though he awaits a decision on extradition to the United States.

President Juan Manuel Santos caused a stir this week when he told an interviewer from Colombia’s RCN Radio network that the country would have to alter its laws to benefit FARC members who have trafficked drugs.

“For us to be able to apply justice in a more effective way will require broadening that concept of ‘political crimes,’ above all ‘connected crimes.’ Today it is too restrictive, and if we at least want to commute or pardon sentences, or in some way to legalize, thousands of FARC combatants, we’re going to have to be a little more flexible in the application of that concept.”

Colombia’s prosecutor-general [fiscal general], Eduardo Montealegre, agreed.

“It’s absolutely possible that narcotrafficking might be considered a crime connected with political crime, since ‘connectedness’ means something has a relation to something else, and it’s beyond discussion that in the Colombian armed conflict, narcotrafficking has been used in the guerrillas’ armed struggle.”

Their point is that negotiations with the FARC guerrillas will not succeed if, upon demobilizing, FARC leaders will face jail or even extradition to the United States because of their past involvement in the drug trade. Guerrillas simply won’t demobilize. It would seem apparent, then, that Colombia will have to offer ex-guerrillas reduced or waived penalties for past drug trafficking.

But many in Colombia are not prepared to accept that. Internal-Affairs Chief [Procurador] Alejandro Ordóñez alleged that calling narcotrafficking a “connected political crime” would “disguise criminals as politicians” and “shield FARC leaders from their status as capos” in the drug trade. Former President Álvaro Uribe, the talks’ most prominent critic, tweeted, “How could it be that they are going to classify as a political crime with altruistic motives an activity like narcotrafficking, which for many years in Colombia has only systematically financed horrors and atrocities?”

(Uribe is guilty of some hypocrisy here. In 2005, his administration introduced a legislative provision that would have classified paramilitary groups’ activities, including narcotrafficking, as “sedition”—a political crime.)

This week’s debate raised a question that remains unsettled in Colombia, where for decades illegal armed groups with political goals have supported themselves by participating in the drug trade. When it comes time for these groups’ members to demobilize, how should the legal system deal with their drug trafficking crimes? Can they be considered “connected” to the political crime of rebellion, or must they be considered separately as criminal offenses?

Colombia has already wrestled with these questions since the middle of the last decade, when thousands of paramilitary leaders demobilized via the so-called “Justice and Peace” process. The case of paramilitary leader “Julián Bolívar” is illustrative, if not emblematic, of the need for greater clarity.

Rodrigo Pérez Alzate, alias “Julian Bolívar,” was the terror of Colombia’s Magdalena Medio region at the beginning of the 2000s. He oversaw the paramilitaries’ bloody takeover of the oil-refining city of Barrancabermeja.

Pérez demobilized in 2005 as part of the “Justice and Peace” arrangement, which would give him a reduced prison sentence in exchange for a full confession of his crimes and reparations to victims. In 2006, Pérez was transferred to prison and his case slowly went to trial. In September 2013, the Justice and Peace Tribunal sentenced him to eight years imprisonment—most of which Pérez had already served—for a long list of human rights crimes.

Tags: Drug Policy, Extradition, Transitional Justice

As Talks Resume, “De-escalation” Is on the Table

December 3, 2014

Update 2:00PM: Negotiators in Havana have just announced that the peace talks will formally resume on December 10. Colombia’s El Tiempo reports, “Starting on December 10, they will dedicate themselves to discussing the issue of de-escalation of the conflict.”

On Sunday, FARC guerrillas released Gen. Rubén Darío Alzate and two others whom they had held for two weeks in Chocó, in northwestern Colombia. On Monday, the Colombian government ended its suspension of peace talks, sending four senior negotiators to Havana to meet with the guerrillas for two days. The sides met for four hours Tuesday, in “an atmosphere of cordiality and respect.” They are meeting again Wednesday.

But they are not picking up where they left off, continuing their discussion of “Victims,” the dialogues’ fourth agenda point. Instead, President Juan Manuel Santos explained, the negotiators are in Havana “for a couple of days to evaluate where the process is, where we’re going, and to do a cold, objective evaluation of the process, to see how we can continue.”

This probably means that we can expect some rewriting of the ground rules that have governed the peace talks since 2012. These specified that although the FARC had to abandon its practice of kidnapping civilians, the conflict could otherwise continue while talks proceed. There would be no cessation of hostilities, and what happens on the battlefield would not affect what happens at the table.

Dialogue amid conflict has not been easy. In July, after the FARC bombed several civilian energy infrastructure targets—a violation of International Humanitarian Law but not a violation of the talks’ "ground rules”—President Santos warned, “Keep this up and you are playing with fire and this process can end.” (The attacks died down.) And then on November 16, guerrillas captured Gen. Alzate. While this was an unplanned event—Gen. Alzate wandered, dressed as a civilian, into a town where FARC fighters were present—and although capturing enemy prisoners is a common act of war, the General’s capture proved too much for the Colombian government, which immediately suspended the peace talks.

The government has made clear that “negotiating amid conflict” has tacit limits. These limits have become tighter as the peace process has progressed. Today in Havana, the government likely wants to make them more formal.

The guerrillas likely agree with that, in broad terms. They probably expect some guarantees, or restraint, from the government in return for releasing Gen. Alzate. If capturing military officers is now “against the rules,” they will seek new rules that are more favorable to their fighters in the field.

“Those who suspended the conversations cannot return with the intention of imposing the date of their re-initiation, as though nothing has happened,” reads a FARC communiqué issued Monday. “The rules guiding the process will have to be re-made, since the government broke them, damaging the bridge of trust that we had built.”

The FARC wants a full, bilateral cease-fire. That is unlikely. The government argues that the FARC would use the resulting respite to re-arm and strengthen itself. It would be hard to get the Colombian military to go along with a bilateral truce. And it would be nearly impossible to verify: the talks’ agenda could be derailed as negotiators in Havana argue over reports of bombings, ambushes, killings and similar alleged cease-fire violations.

Instead, the word we are hearing most often right now is “de-escalation.”

Tags: Cease-Fire, Crises, De-escalation

An Advanced Peace Process Demanded a General’s Release

November 20, 2014
Las Mercedes, Chocó, where the FARC captured Gen. Rubén Darío Alzate on Sunday.

On their second anniversary, peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas are frozen. The impasse may soon be over, though: the peace process “guarantor” states, Cuba and Norway, announced a breakthrough on Wednesday evening.

A new round of talks was to begin in Cuba yesterday (November 18), but government negotiators refused to go to Havana until the FARC releases Gen. Ruben Darío Alzate, the chief of the Colombian military’s “Joint Task Force Titan” in the northwestern department (province) of Chocó. Guerrillas captured Gen. Alzate the afternoon of Sunday, November 16. It was the first time in 50 years of conflict that a general has fallen into guerrilla hands.

After several days of behind-the-scenes discussions involving Cuban and Norwegian diplomats and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the FARC appears to have agreed to release Gen. Alzate, along with a civilian lawyer and a corporal who were traveling with him, plus two soldiers captured a week earlier in the department of Arauca near the Venezuelan border. “The liberations will be carried out as soon as possible,” pending logistical arrangements, announced Cuban and Norwegian diplomats.

The Gen. Alzate affair shows us that as the peace talks have advanced, the ground rules governing them have tacitly changed. Taking a general prisoner did not violate the pre-conditions that FARC agreed for the talks. The guerrillas agreed to stop kidnapping civilians, not military personnel—and in warfare, adversaries capture and imprison the other side’s combatants all the time.

But the ground has shifted, in a positive direction. Ultimately, even if the FARC followed the peace process “rules,” its action left Colombian government negotiators with no choice. There is no way that Colombian public opinion, Colombia’s political class (including center-left politicians), and especially Colombia’s military would have allowed talks to go on while the FARC held an army general. Not because of rules, but because of a shifting political climate, the FARC had to choose between keeping Gen. Alzate or keeping the peace process alight. The government now faces similar informal constraints on its actions against top FARC leaders while talks continue.

This episode is also a consequence of negotiating amid war. As the Colombian government refused to declare a cease-fire, incidents like Gen. Alzate’s abduction were a foreseeable, and even probable, risk. On the other hand, negotiating amid a cease-fire has practical disadvantages: the parties could end up wasting time at the table disputing alleged cease-fire violations instead of attending to the points on the talks’ agenda.

Tags: Cease-Fire, Crises

Competing Views and “Trial Balloons”

November 16, 2014

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.

Jaramillo

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.”

Mora

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?

Tags: Disarmament, Ratification, Transitional Justice

The FARC, Its Victims, and the Peace Process

November 9, 2014
An October 27 gathering of FARC victims in Bogotá.

On October 30 Colombia’s FARC guerrilla group made its clearest recognition that it owes something to its victims. It came in a statement issued during the 30th round of peace talks between the FARC and Colombia’s government in Havana, Cuba. These talks are on their fourth agenda topic, “Victims.” The statement came on the eve of a fourth of five planned visits to Havana of conflict victims.

“It is evident that we have intervened actively and we have impacted our adversary, and in some way affected the population that has lived immersed in the war,” read guerrilla negotiator Pablo Atrato.

“We make ourselves expressly responsible for each and every one of the acts of war executed by our units in conformance with the orders and instructions imparted by our command, and we assume its derivations. We are conscious that the results of our actions have not always been foreseen or expected by the FARC-EP, and we assume the consequences, as could not be otherwise. The FARC-EP will assume responsibility for what concerns us.”

Pablo Atrato reads the FARC statement about victims on October 30.

This sounds sensible, but still modest given the FARC’s treatment of civilians in Colombia’s long conflict. Though pro-government paramilitary groups committed a majority of massacres, extrajudicial killings, and forced displacement, the FARC is responsible for a significant share of these. For their part, the guerrillas dominate categories like kidnapping, child recruitment, use of landmines, indiscriminate bombings of civilian populations, and attacks on civilian infrastructure.

When confronted with the group’s victimizer status, FARC leaders’ usual response has been defiant: to avoid the issue, to insist that the government recognize its own victims, or even to say that FARC members themselves are victims.

Some observers applauded the latest FARC statement’s acceptance of reality. “The 30th round of peace dialogues between the government and the FARC produced the event that the country has most been expecting in the two years of negotiations in Havana: the recognition of responsibilities on the guerrillas’ part,” read an analysis in the Colombian daily El Espectador. “For the first time in its history,” read the newsweekly Semana, “the FARC guerrilla group admitted… that its actions have affected the civilian population throughout the armed conflict.”

Others noted that FARC negotiators had said similar things in the past. “Without a doubt there has also been cruelty and pain provoked by our forces,“ FARC Secretariat member Pablo Catatumbo had said in August 2013. ”We must all recognize the need to take on the issue of victims, their identity and reparation with total loyalty to the cause of peace and reconciliation.” Before a group of visiting conflict victims in Havana three months ago, chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez had asked for forgiveness and signaled an intention to make amends.

The October 30 communique was “a first step,” Congresswoman Clara Rojas, who spent six years as a FARC hostage, wrote on Twitter. Though it was “an important step toward full satisfaction of victims’ rights,” chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said, the FARC statement wasn’t enough.

Tags: Victims

ANAFRO Afro-Colombian Social Movement Statement on the Peace Process and Presidential Elections

June 26, 2014

The following is a statement from the Afro-Colombian Social Movement published on June 9, 2014

We, the people of African descent in Colombia, are the main victims of the internal armed conflict. As historic and current victims, we have the sufficient political, ethical and moral authority to say that war is not the way. Neither the historical damages of violent submission to enslavement nor the current damages of the war have been repaired to us. For this reason, mentioning victims, especially Afro-Colombian victims, should be done with an eye on the past and present. The present sufferings of our people, namely racism, racial discrimination, marginalization and exclusion, are closely linked to past suffering: slavery. There is nothing more violent than this situation.

In order to defend our culture of peace, the black, Afro-Colombian, palenquero, and raizal people of Colombia will not vote for war. We strengthen our historic commitment to achieve enduring peace and social justice for all.

We do not want the tragedy or the violence that was planted in our land to be reissued; violence, which has left thousands of Afro-Colombians murdered, displaced, despaired, widowed, orphaned, or used as war booty.

Our call to support and promote peace calls on various popular forces to strengthen the constitution of the FRENTE AMPLIO POR LA PAZ DE COLOMBIA, so that we can rethink this country without bloodshed. For this reason, we laud and join the progressive social sectors, political parties and others, that knowing the implications of what is at stake, have stepped forward to support a negotiated solution to the conflict. By doing so, together we further the State’s commitment to provide victims with reparations, land rights restitution and the implementation of distributive actions to overcome definitely the barriers that undermine our people’s welfare and future.

We support and will vote for the reelection of President Santos. We have hope in the search for peace and social justice, and the recognition of our people as historic victims of slavery and colonialism and as the largest victims of the economic, social and political internal armed conflict in the country.

We will vote for Juan Manuel Santos to give him a second chance to build a government that culminates the negotiation task with the insurgency and that sows the pillars of peace with society. We will vote for him to advance economic and social policies that benefit the Colombian people, policies that will end misery, hunger, and unemployment, policies that will resolve the situation for the rural and urban poor, but above all, policies that meet the pending legislative developments in the large agenda of rights of the black, raizal and palanquero people. Only a series of BIG political concessions to the Colombian people on economic and social reforms can produce true peace and reconciliation.

Colombia has never had a true peaceful and democratic revolution in its history. It is for the democrats, the social movements, the majority groups, the national country and the ethnic groups to bring home the idea of a modern democratic State as a peaceful alternative to the State with authoritarian tendencies against minorities.

UBUNTU

I AM BECAUSE WE ARE  

 

For the full list of signatories, please click here.

Tags: Afro-Descendant Communities

AFRODES Statement on Colombia Peace Process

June 26, 2014

The following is a statement from the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) support the peace process. The statement was originally published on June 24, 2014.

WAR DESTROYS, PEACE BUILDS, PEACE IS POSSIBLE:

 

AFRODES SUPPORTS THE AGREEMENTS REACHED IN

THE PEACE NEGOTIATIONS IN HAVANA, CUBA BETWEEN

NATIONAL GOVERNMENT AND THE GUERRILLA FARC-EP 

Today, the number of displaced persons in Colombia has reached a record high: more than six million displaced citizens, of which more than two million are Afro-Colombians. In AFRODES’s view, this situation is a great humanitarian tragedy that requires urgent and civilized resolutions.  Considering that Afrocolombians constitute 10.62% of the country’s population, according to the latest census in 2005, it is clear that the impact of the war on this group has been disproportionate and has had irreparable consequences on our people. War is unacceptable!

The National Association of Displaced Afro-AFRODES seeks to further peace proposals. Our group is formed by families that have been affected by the internal armed conflict and the violence that has battered the country for over 50 years. AFRODES is a network of 107 organizations with more than 90,000 members at the national and international level. The members of AFRODES have suffered from forced displacement and the murder of their families. They have lost the legal right over their ancestral lands and their material possessions. They have witnessed the forced dismemberment of their families. They have lost their political, social and cultural rights along with their autonomy. Despite their status as displaced persons, AFRODES’s members lack housing, healthcare and education. They continue to suffer from targeted killings, threats, physical and psychological torture as well as from racial and political discrimination, sexual abuse and stigmatization from sectors of Colombian society. Due to our status as victims, we fully understand the indelible marks that the conflict has had and continues to have our lives.

The AFRODES family exalts the dialogue between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the guerrillas of the FACR-EP; we value the achievements that have been accomplished at the negotiation table in Havana, Cuba. In particular, AFRODES highlights the importance of acknowledging the victims and their contributions to achieve truth, justice and reparations. We support the parties’ will to continue working towards an agreement that will terminate the armed conflict.

AFRODES understands that the war’s continuation will only bring about the furthering of the irreparable implications of conflict and of the deepening of the humanitarian crisis affecting our people and country. For this reason, at this historical juncture, AFRODES expresses its support for the parties at the negotiation table to maintain a purposeful dialogue and to reach a humanitarian agreement. This agreement will be a first step to enter the country’s era of the post-conflict and democratization, in which we will work together to achieve true social, economic and political inclusion of Afro-Colombian people and other marginalized sectors of the country. In this way, AFRODES appreciates the parties’ efforts and extends its support to President Juan Manuel Santos’s search for peace.

We call on our members, friends and political allies to support the path of peace with social justice, that will leads us to the reconciliation with all Colombians, to the acknowledgment of victims and their rights, to reparations and to pledge never to repeat.

AFRODES will continue to contribute and to demand the termination of the armed conflict in the country.

“PEACE NEEDS US, WE BUILD PEACE, PEACE IS POSSIBLE.”

 

 

Tags: Afro-Descendant Communities

PCN Statement: Peace has to be a multidimensional commitment and a radical and sustainable political act

June 24, 2014
For Immediate Release
June 12th, 2014

We, the Kuagro Ri Ri Changaina PCN, a group of women members of the Black Communities’ Process in Colombia, declare our radical and passionate decision to support Peace in Colombia.

We recognize that the desire for Peace is at the forefront of the country’s political discussions within the context of electoral process in Colombia. Therefore, this desire for peace among a significant majority of Colombians presents an opportunity to discuss the social, political and economic foundations that will generate the conditions to reach a real and sustainable peace.

It is also clear to us that, in spite of demonstrations of good faith, peace continues to be viewed in a superficial and one-dimensional manner –the talks in Havana. We believe that all the aspirations and commitments and discussion regarding Peace must recognize all the social actors and interests impacted by the various wars that are bleeding the nation. A viable, comprehensive peace process must consider the different scenarios, the multiple actions and wills that are required to advance a policy of peace and democracy, and must recognize the importance of having all the voices of victims and social actors involved to build from below, and not from a centralized and elitist process. Furthermore, we believe that without the direct and plural participation of women, any aspiration to Peace will continue to be androcentric.

For this reason the Kuagro Ri Ri Changaina Ri PCN firmly states that:

  • We will recognize that there is PEACE when within the context of Colombia’s social, economic and political life, our unique and concrete presence and voice as women and Afro-descendants are recognized and respected, at the individual and collective level and within the framework of recognition and respect for the rights of Afro-descent people, a people of which we are part.
  • We recognize each other in PEACE when all forms of violence are banished from our ancestral territories and from our bodies as living spaces of identity, expression and exercise of Being Afro-descendant women. This must be done in such a way that these acts of violence that shed the blood of our brothers and sisters; that plundered the cultural, environmental and material heritage that belongs to our daughters and sons; that imposed policies of war and devastation; that discriminated against us to prevent us from educating ourselves and advancing to the same level of dignity as others, including the poor, but not the Black, are never repeated.
  • We recognize each other in PEACE when society, the actors involved in the war and violence, and the State, as one of those actors, have converted their discourse into acts of transformation of consciousness that views peace and its construction in a multidimensional way, not restricted to the internal armed conflict, not biased towards some of the armed groups without recognizing them all, not conditioned to the actions of armed war without recognizing the economic actions defined by neoliberal, capitalist policies, that have generated the social, economic, and environmental violence that undermines our culture and identity.
  • We recognize each other in PEACE when there is a conscious cultural transformation coming from an imaginary, conscience and social practices that are committed to fighting and banishing racism, patriarchy and the class discrimination that strikes us in a particular and genocidal form.
  • We recognize each other living in PEACE when we feel the freedom, spiritual and material peace to develop our individual lives and the communal (family, community, political and organizational) lives. Only by doing so, will we be able to participate in equity and equality in all the areas that our political project encompasses. Only by doing so, will we be able to live fully and joyfully in the private territory of our bodies and ancestral collective lands, exerting the autonomy to be Black-Afro-descendant women.
  • We recognize each other in PEACE when the integral reparation for the country’s historical debt with the people of Afro-descent is paid. This must be done based on the recognition and the judgment of the crimes against humanity that were committed against our kidnapped and enslaved African ancestors, as well as those crimes that continue to be committed against their descendants, who still suffer the discrimination and marginalization resulting from the structural racism that the country fails to recognize.
  • We recognize each other in PEACE when justice has been achieved; when the truth dawns on crimes committed against us and other members of our rural and urban communities; when we can give our deceased the proper ritual of release of their spirits, which will guide them to the place of our Ancestors; when we can say that there is place for our descendants and that the fate of their lives is determined by our self-determination not by a racist system.
  • We will participate, resist and fight for our project of self-determination until Peace and the Historical Reparation of the Black/Afro-descendent people, victims not only of the internal armed conflict, but also victims of structural and historical racism, become State policies, not mere “acts of good faith” or circumstantial racial-democratic rhetoric.

Until this kind of peace is achieved, as Afro-descendant women we declare ourselves to be in resistance. Our struggle and actions are in defense of our rights as Afro-descendants women, and to defend and protect our vital territories: the bodily and the ancestral, both of which are wombs of individual and collective life. Our commitment, as Kuagro and as part of the PCN, is to build a peaceful, democratic process that will allow us to return to our bodily and ancestral territories of joy, peace and freedom and exercise authentic self-determination.

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El Kuagro Ri Changaina Ri PCN does not claim to represent the voice of all Black women in Colombia or PCN. The Kuagro is a collective of women that reaffirms its commitment with the political principles of the Black Communities’ Process in Colombia and the struggle in defense and appropriation of the territorial, political, economic, social and cultural rights of Black/Afro-descendant, Raizal and Palenque women and communities, within the context of the struggle against all forms of oppression exercised through racism, imperialism, capitalism, neoliberalism and patriarchy. Our commitment to this political project is reflected in our critical assumption of a radical feminist position informed by our own experience as Black-Afro descent women.

Tags: Afro-Descendant Communities

Indigenous groups issue declaration calling for peace, respect for territory

June 24, 2014

On May 20, 2014, indigenous groups from throughout Colombia published a declaration on the grave situation their communities face. They called attention to their risk of extinction; the importance of land to their cultural survival; their position as symbols of harmony with the environment; unity through cultural diversity; the wisdom indigenous peoples offer to achieve peace; and that dialogue and harmony are necessary for peace. Peace is the foundation of harmony, life, governability and more.

They also identify the need for a bilateral ceasefire to guarantee the safety of their respective peoples. Participation of indigenous groups will also be essential for a lasting peace.

As such, the groups propose:
• Use the National Indigenous Council for Peace with the goal of guaranteeing the active participation of indigenous communities in the peace process.
• Develop programs that draw on indigenous wisdom and traditions to teach peace in Colombia
• Ensure the full implementation of protection and reparation plans.
• Review the existing trade agreements to ensure they protect these groups sovereignty and food security.
• Guarantee Free, Prior and Informed Consent programs with indigenous communities.
• Ensure proper reparation for lands destroyed by fumigation.
• Ensure the implementation of the Constitutional Court Decision 092, among others, to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

Signed by:
The Indigenous peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC)
The Tayrona Indigenous Confederation (CIT)
The Indigenous Authorities of Colombia
The Traditional Indigenous Authorities of Colombia

Tags: Indigenous Communities

New Report: Ending 50 Years of Conflict

April 14, 2014

As Possibility for Peace Grows in Colombia, a New WOLA Report Analyzes the Challenges Ahead

The U.S. has an important role to play and should start planning now to help Colombia consolidate peace

By Adam Isacson, WOLA Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy

It looks ever more likely that sometime in the next year, Colombia may reach a landmark peace accord promising to end a half-century of armed conflict. As this likelihood increases, the United States—which provided billions for Colombia’s war effort—must prepare now to help Colombia consolidate peace.   

The new WOLA report, Ending 50 Years of Conflict in Colombia, strikes an optimistic note. Talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, Latin America’s largest and oldest guerrilla group, “are beginning to stick,” the report explains. “Negotiators in Havana, Cuba have gotten significantly further than ever before. It is not unreasonable to expect an accord by the end of 2014.”

With 30 graphics and videos helping to tell the story, WOLA’s latest report walks the reader through the challenges that remain at the negotiating table: finding a dignified solution for millions of conflict victims, devising transitional justice to hold the worst human rights abusers accountable, and overcoming objections from the negotiations’ political opponents.

Once an accord is reached, a new series of challenges awaits: implementing the commitments agreed upon at the table, demobilizing and reintegrating all ex-combatants, and getting a functioning government presence into territories long abandoned to illegal armed groups.

The U.S. role will be crucial, the report contends. Since 2000, the United States has provided Colombia with over US$600 million per year in mostly military aid. In the years following a peace accord, this aid should not only continue, it should increase and reorient toward civilian institution-building and economic needs.

Colombia will need help bringing government into lawless areas; demobilizing and reintegrating combatants; assisting displaced populations’ return; protecting rights defenders; helping to fulfill accords on land, political participation, and victims; supporting transitional justice and a truth commission; and guaranteeing a strong international verification and monitoring presence. The United States can leverage the strong relationship it has built with Colombia’s powerful armed forces to help them weather a difficult transition to a smaller post-conflict role.

As negotiations proceed, the Obama administration must continue voicing its support for the process. It must do so even if negotiators agree to changes in counter-drug policy—such as suspending crop eradication through aerial herbicide spraying—that parts of the U.S. government would prefer not to implement.

The time to help Colombia prepare for the post-conflict is fast approaching. The United States and other international donors must begin planning now, not on the day an accord is actually signed. Ending 50 Years of Conflict in Colombia urges that this planning begin as soon as possible, while offering a roadmap to help guide it.

Click here for a printer-friendly PDF of the full report.

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Colombia Peace Process Update (November 15, 2013)

November 15, 2013

Contents

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:

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Colombia Peace Process Update (July 16, 2013)

July 16, 2013

The period since our last Colombia Peace Process Update (May 20) saw a big step forward in the Havana, Cuba peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. This was followed by several weeks of reduced momentum, marked both by minor crises and encouraging developments.

Land and rural development agreement

On May 26th, at the conclusion of their ninth round of talks, the Colombian government and the FARC announced a breakthrough. After more than six months, they had reached agreement on land and rural development, the first of five points on the negotiating agenda. This is the first time the government and FARC have agreed on a substantive topic in four different negotiating attempts over 30 years.

While the agreement’s text remains secret under the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” the two sides’ joint statement (EnglishSpanish) indicates that it covers the following:

  • Land access and use. Unproductive lands. Formalization of property. Agricultural frontier and protection of reserve zones.
  • Development programs with a territorial focus.
  • Infrastructure and land improvements.
  • Social development: health, education, housing, eradication of poverty.
  • Stimulus for agrarian production and a solidarity-based, cooperative economy.
  • Technical assistance. Subsidies. Credit. Income generation. Labor formalization. Food and nutrition policies.

A bit more information about what was agreed appears in the negotiators’ first joint “report of activities” (EnglishSpanish), which was published on June 21st.

Foreign governments and international organizations applauded the agreement on the first agenda item. “This is a significant achievement and an important step forward,” reads a statement from the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. “This is a positive step in the process to achieve peace in Colombia,” said OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called the agreement “historic” and “the best peace message that the Bolivarian peoples could receive.” The government of Chile said it “constitutes a very relevant achievement, which has required flexibility and moderation from both sides.” European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton expressed “hopes that this crucial, albeit partial, agreement will add fresh impetus to the Havana negotiations, with a view to the rapid conclusion of a final peace agreement.”

U.S. reactions, too, were positive. U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, on a May 26-27 visit to Colombia, praised the land accord and the FARC-government process, calling them “serious and well designed.” Biden added in a joint appearance with President Santos, “Just as we supported Colombia’s leaders on the battlefield, we support them fully at the negotiating table.” U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Peter Michael McKinley called the accord “an advance that encourages the possibility that these negotiations are going to end the conflict in Colombia.” U.S. State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said, “The agreement on land reform is the first ever between the Colombian Government and the FARC, and as such the terms of its – and in terms of its substance it’s a highly positive step forward in the peace negotiation. So we’ve long given our strong support for President Santos and the Colombian Government as they pursue lasting peace and security that the Colombian people deserve.”

Venezuela crisis

The post-accord honeymoon was brief, however, as an argument between the Colombian and Venezuelan governments dominated the period leading up to the mid-June start of talks on political participation. Relations between Bogotá and Caracas, rather hostile when Álvaro Uribe and Hugo Chávez were presidents of their respective countries, warmed in 2010 when incoming President Juan Manuel Santos sought a rapprochement with the Venezuelan government. Venezuela’s leftist government went on to play an instrumental role in getting the FARC to the negotiating table, and is officially one of two “accompanying countries” of the process (along with Chile).

The episode began on May 29, when President Santos agreed to meet in Bogotá with Henrique Capriles, the leader of Venezuela’s political opposition. Capriles narrowly lost Venezuela’s April 14 presidential vote to, and refuses to recognize the election of, President Nicolás Maduro. The Maduro government responded with vehement anger. “I made efforts with the Colombian guerrillas to achieve peace in Colombia. Now they’re going to pay us like this, with betrayal,” Maduro said. “The situation … obliges us to review Venezuela’s participation as a facilitator in this peace accord,” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua. Venezuela recalled its envoy to the talks for “consultations” in Caracas.

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Colombia’s Peace Talks Take a Big Step Forward

May 28, 2013

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.
 

Joint Communiqué, Havana, May 26, 2013

The delegates of the government and the FARC-EP inform that:

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Colombia Peace Process Update (May 20, 2013)

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.

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U.S. Congress Supports Peace in Colombia

April 18, 2013

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.

Tags: U.S. Congress, U.S. Policy

Colombia Peace Process Update (March 27, 2013)

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.

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Colombia Peace Process Update (March 8, 2013)

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!”

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Colombia Peace Process Update (January 26, 2013)

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.”

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

November 15, 2012

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.

Tags: Afro-Descendant Communities, Gender Perspective