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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Colombia Civil Society and the Peace Process

As Colombia's peace process advances, here are some words to live by.

“We can't condemn Colombians to another one hundred years of solitude and violence.”
--Enrique Santos Calderón, former editor of El Tiempo, brother of President Juan Manuel Santos

“It's one thing that the victims aren't present at the table in Havana, and it's another thing to ignore their voice, deny their rights. A peace without victims will have neither political nor moral legitimacy.”
--Senator Juan Fernando Cristo

"The dialogue for ending the armed conflict should be a moment in which sectors of Colombian society that have been marginalized, discriminated against and excluded have an opportunity to effectively present their demands, needs and rights that have long been neglected."
--Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos

What has happened so far in the process? The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas opened peace negotiations on October 18th, 2012 in Oslo, Norway, raising some hope of putting an end to the hemisphere's longest-running armed conflict. In August, the two parties had agreed upon a five-point agenda which consists of: rural development, political participation, ending the conflict, solving the problem of illicit drugs, and victims.

With the governments of Norway and Cuba acting as guarantors for the peace process and Venezuela and Chile providing logistical support and accompaniment, the substantive talks started in Havana in November on point number one, rural development. The government and the guerrilla delegations each have 30 members, with five from each team participating at the negotiating table at any one time. The U.S. government has repeatedly indicated its support for the Colombian government's decision to enter into peace talks, although the USG is not playing a direct role in negotiations. Colombia's second principal guerrilla group, the ELN, has offered to join the talks but the Colombian government asserts that it will proceed solely with the FARC at this moment. President Santos has stated his intention to achieve a final accord with the FARC before the end of November of this year.

The talks are closed door, although information does leak. While the FARC floats proposals aimed at more sweeping change, President Juan Manuel Santos has repeatedly made clear his determination that Colombia's basic economic and political model is not on the table for negotiation. He has stated that fundamental aspects of national life such as the Constitution, the development model, and the concept of private property are not up for discussion.

Bones of contention. A cease-fire has been an important bone of contention. The Colombian government has so far refused to establish a cease-fire until the FARC lays down its weapons, and indeed has escalated military action in a number of areas of the country. The FARC announced a unilateral cease-fire in November, which it then lifted on January 20th, stating it would not continue as the government had not reciprocated. There were accusations that the FARC had violated its own cease-fire. Another area of contention is over keeping the negotiations under wraps; the FARC complained after President Santos's brother, Enrique Santos, gave an all-too frank media interview revealing details of the negotiations.

Progress? Despite these differences, talks do appear to be moving forward. On the first agenda point, for example, both sides have agreed to the need to provide land to the landless and displaced, while the FARC has backed off of its longstanding demand for more sweeping agrarian reform. While some sectors—notably former President Alvaro Uribe and his active twitter account—raise objections to the negotiations, broad sectors of the Colombian public at the start of negotiations appeared to be willing to give the process a chance, even if optimism is greatly tempered by the wreckage of past failed peace efforts that litters the Colombian mental landscape.

Civil society involvement in the peace process. There is no formal civil society involvement at the negotiating table. The Colombian government and the FARC have agreed to several more indirect mechanisms for civil society involvement at this stage. First, they have set up a web page ( where any Colombian citizen or civil society organization can submit a proposal. This very limited mechanism receives “proposals” of up to 500 words, which are provided to negotiating teams but not displayed publicly. Second, the negotiating teams asked the National University and the UN agencies in Colombia to convene working groups on the first agenda item, rural development, and to summarize and synthesize the proposals that emerge for them. Over 1300 people participated from 1200 organizations. Potentially, this kind of effort could continue for other agenda items. Third, Colombia's congressional peace commission is organizing regional forums to collect and debate civil society input.

The negotiating teams have stated that civil society participation can be more substantial in the third phase, which is the discussion of how to implement the agreements. However, this leaves the victims of the violent conflicts – victims of the guerrillas, of government forces, and of paramilitary warlords—on the margins as crucial decisions that affect them are made, including the measure and quality of truth, justice and reparations for victims that these peace accords promise to deliver.

Rural development ideas from civil society. In the public forums on rural development, civil society organizations called for protection for communities returning to their lands; distribution of unproductive state-owned land to small-scale farmers; building of “campesino reserve” areas where small-scale farming will be protected; promotion of opportunities for rural youth; improvement of rural infrastructure; respect for indigenous and Afro-Colombian territories, including use of “prior consultation processes” for development projects; and limits on mining exploration.

Human rights groups raise concerns for truth and justice—and safety for the civilian population. A major network of civil society groups, Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos, raised the following concerns and recommendations:

  • Protect the civilian population now, as talks proceed. As peace talks advance, the war is only escalating in certain regions, particularly indigenous and Afro-Colombian areas. Coordinación calls on both the Colombian government and the FARC to respect international humanitarian law, including ending recruitment of minors, sexual violence, aerial bombardments of civilian populations, and military operations in indigenous and Afro-Colombian territories. The coalition called on both parties to agree to a bilateral cease-fire.
  • Provide more effective inclusion of civil society, particularly victims' organizations, in this current phase of dialogue. “Given that the agenda should address the rights to truth, justice, reparation and the guarantee of non-repetition [that abuses will not continue], how the parties can attempt to reach agreement on these issues without the participation of victims and human rights groups cannot be comprehended”; “this leaves their participation for the implementation phase, when everything has already been decided."
  • Add to the agenda the topic of justice for grave human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Justice “has been excluded from the agenda.”
  • Establish a fully independent Truth Commission, as a “crucial and nonnegotiable demand.” The Coordinación calls for a commitment from all actors—whether “state, para-state, and against the state” –to speak the truth about their actions that have violated the human rights of Colombia's citizens. This includes revealing what happened to the kidnapped and the disappeared. Transitional justice measures cannot be applied without truth and reparations to victims.
  • Ensure a complete and effective demobilization of paramilitary groups and paramilitary successor organizations.
  • As the peace talks advance, we hope that the voices of victims of the conflict, victims of all armed actors, whether the guerrillas, paramilitaries or state security forces, can be truly heard, and that their demands for truth, justice and meaningful reparations will be reflected in the negotiations and agreements. As Senator Juan Fernando Cristo, who had championed the Victims' Law which President Santos signed into law, cautioned, “A peace without the victims will have no political or moral legitimacy.”

    Saturday, January 26, 2013

    Colombia Peace Process Update

    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.”

    January 20 saw the FARC end a two-month unilateral “holiday” cease-fire, with attacks on a pipeline in Putumayo and a police station in Norte de Santander, and the murder of an indigenous leader in Cauca. The FARC have not carried out a large scale offensive, despite Colombian National Police predictions that they were preparing a “terrorist wave” after January 20th. During the two months, the FARC mostly respected the truce. Colombia’s human rights ombudsman said that the FARC carried out 57 attacks during the two months. The Bogotá-based Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris think-tank counted 7 to 15 attacks, a nearly 90 percent reduction from the FARC’s usual pace. According to President Santos,

    “The truth is that there was an important reduction in this organization’s number of actions, there was a very important reduction in the number of our soldiers and police killed or wounded. With that we can conclude that there was compliance [with the cease-fire]. But a relative compliance, because there were also actions.”

    The government did not join in the FARC’s cease-fire. During the two months, Colombia’s armed forces bombed FARC encampments in Nariño and Antioquia, killing dozens of guerrilla fighters. The government continues to reject repeated FARC requests for a bilateral cease-fire. “We want peace, but not at any cost,” said chief government negotiator de la Calle. “Not at the cost of, as a result of the conversations, the guerrillas strengthening themselves to continue the war.”

    The current negotiation topic, land and rural development, is difficult and complicated, underlying much of the conflict with a 49-year-old guerrilla group whose base is almost entirely rural. In five recent communiqués (1) (2) (3) (4) (5), the guerrillas laid out ten proposals for land and rural development that, for the most part, cannot be described as radical — in fact, observers note, many of the proposals dovetail with the Santos government’s own positions. While both sides seem to share a concern for Colombia’s remarkably high land concentration (1.15 percent of landholders own 52 percent of agricultural land), they disagree about what to do about it. The FARC would prefer to take unproductive land from cattle ranchers, who own approximately 40 million hectares in Colombia (the country’s total surface area is 113 million hectares; a hectare is 2.5 acres). “From this big balloon of land, at least 20 million hectares could be taken,” chief FARC negotiator Iván Marquez said. The government would prefer to distribute unused land in state hands, or land seized from narcotraffickers, and minimize confrontation with the country’s politically powerful cattle ranchers.

    The country’s cattle-rancher federation, FEDEGAN, senses that it has the most to lose from any land redistribution, and has been one of the most vociferous critics of the peace talks so far. FEDEGAN made a point of boycotting a December forum, cosponsored by UNDP and Colombia’s National University, designed to channel civil-society proposals for the negotiators to consider. More than 1,300 participants in that forum produced 546 proposals.

    If the talks complete the five points on the agenda, there is a sixth and final issue: how to cement the final accord into Colombian law. The government says it favors a public referendum to approve what was agreed at the negotiating table. The FARC, however, have been calling for a “constituent assembly,” in which representatives, chosen by voters, rewrite Colombia’s constitution. The government rejects this. It is unclear why the FARC is pushing for this, given the strong showing that Colombia’s right wing has enjoyed in recent elections: the likelihood of a conservative majority rewriting the country’s constitution would be high.

    No negotiations are currently occurring with Colombia’s other 49-year-old guerrilla group, the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN). In early December, though, maximum ELN leader Nicolás Rodríguez acknowledged that the group has engaged in contacts with the Santos government. On January 18, after kidnapping five mining workers in Bolívar, the ELN released a video in which Rodríguez asked, “Why aren’t we at the table? That is a question for President Santos.”

    Foreign governments’ statements about the talks have been uniformly supportive. “We support the effort. We are impressed by the way that President Santos and his team have organized the conversations,” said U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough. “We, the United States, are not a part of Colombia’s peace process, although we support President Santos’ efforts because we believe that it is extremely important that the Colombian people can finally live in peace and security,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Mike Hammer. "We support the efforts of President Santos in Colombia and the peace process. We have great confidence in President Santos and we are ready, with other countries in the international community, to help the Colombian government to implement it," said Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson. “I’m sure that my government and many of its leaders support the current process,” said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during a January 12 visit to Bogotá. “We fully support this process, and should Colombia consider it useful, we are willing to contribute,” said Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that the FARC talks are “one of the happiest pieces of news in recent decades for our Americas.” In mid-January, representatives of the two “accompanying” countries in the process, Venezuela and Cuba, met with and received an update from both negotiating teams.

    Looking toward later in 2013, the fourth topic on the negotiating agenda, drug policy, could pose challenges for Washington. President Santos has been more critical of the current, U.S.-backed anti-drug approach. For its part, the FARC wants sweeping changes in drug policy; within its ten rural development proposals is a call for the coca leaf to be declared legal for “medical, therapeutic, or cultural purposes. The sides may agree on something — such as limits on forced eradication or aerial herbicide fumigation — that will require some real flexibility from the United States.

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    Podcast: The 25th anniversary of the Esquipulas II accords: Bill Goodfellow on Central America's peace processes

    On August 7, 1987, Central America's presidents signed an agreement that brought an eventual end to the country's civil wars. Adam talks to William Goodfellow, executive director of the Center for International Policy, who accompanied the Esquipulas process.

    • The August 14 event mentioned in the podcast is open to the public and will take place at 9:00 AM in the OAS Hall of the Americas. The announcement and RSVP instructions are at CIP's website here.
    • Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.