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.
January 16, 2015