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Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Today, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with President Obama for two and a half hours at the White House. This was the fourth meeting between the two leaders since President Santos took office in August of 2010.
There was a fair amount of media coverage ahead of the meeting, not only about what the discussion would cover, but also about the meeting’s political context. Here are five points various articles and analyses have discussed and what the White House overview of the meeting said about them:
1. This visit was different. Both Colombia and the United States stressed the meeting was more about their economic ties than their security relationship
Much of the media attention ahead of the visit focused on the fact that this visit marked a turning point in U.S.-Colombian relations away from centering on security and towards economic partnership. President Santos told Caracol Radio Monday morning this meeting would be “totally different” as Colombia is no longer “coming with the hat out, asking for money.” Now Colombia wants to be seen as a different kind of partner to the United States. “The relations of our two countries find themselves at their best moment ever,” President Santos said in his remarks after the meeting.
For the past 20 years, the U.S.-Colombia relationship has been defined by Washington’s support for Colombia’s fight against guerillas, paramilitaries and narcotrafficking. In recent years, there was also the added push to get Congress to approve the Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The FTA went into effect last year, increasing trade between the countries by 20 percent. While Colombia is still the top recipient of U.S. assistance to the region, aid is at the lowest levels since before 2000, at less than $300 million per year.
Moreover, EFE and Colombian newspaper El Tiempo noted this meeting was important for President Obama’s image in the region as President Santos was the first (and really only) leader in Latin America “who offered President Obama a hand to recover,” following revelations of the National Security Archive’s extensive surveillance of citizens, companies and leaders throughout the hemisphere. President Obama’s former Latin America advisor, Dan Restrepo said, “this is an important meeting for the United States as it allows it to focus on a positive agenda… it’s a relationship that has turned the page.”
2. President Obama supports the peace talks
The peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were expected to be one of the central topics of the private meeting. Also on the agenda: trade, opportunities for energy, education, technology, and Colombia’s role in training security forces in Central America and the Caribbean.
As expected, President Obama emphasized his “strong support” for the peace process and praised President Santos’ “bold and brazen efforts” in engaging in discussions with the FARC. The administration has expressed support for the peace talks over the past year, but the backing of the United States is crucial in the negotiations.
So far the negotiating teams have reached agreements on agrarian development and the FARC’s political participation, but as the talks progress and both sides tackle contentious issues such as drug policy, demobilization and reintegration, transitional justice and extradition, international cooperation will be key. As Colombia is the United States’ main security partner in the region, U.S. support, financial and otherwise, will be needed to ensure a successful post-conflict transition.
Colombian magazine Semana reported President Santos was expected to request support from the U.S. as Colombia moves towards this transition. A statement released today by Latin American Working Group, the Center for International Policy, the Washington Office on Latin America and U.S. Office on Colombia emphasized this:
U.S. policymakers should also consider how best to support a peace accord financially once negotiations are finalized, including by reorienting aid away from military assistance and towards peace accord implementation, such as demobilization and reintegration programs, support for victims of violence, and mechanisms for truth, justice and reparations.
3. The United States’ security relationship with Colombia is changing
The United States is planning to decrease its role in security operations in Colombia and shift its assistance into economic arenas, according to reports from a phone call between journalists and a White House senior official. The official said U.S. security assistance was “designed to be phased out over time” and because “conditions have been improving on the ground” security assistance is likely to be scaled back.
As an article in Foreign Policy noted, elite forces from U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force have deployed to Colombia since 2000 to work closely with the Colombians and that U.S. Special Forces will continue to train Colombian security forces. (See here for information of U.S. military training of Colombian forces)
Speaking at an event yesterday in Washington, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said the Colombian military would continue to train military and police forces in Central America and the Caribbean with U.S. funding. As expected, President Obama and President Santos covered this topic and agreed to triple joint U.S.- Colombian trainings throughout the hemisphere:
In 2013, this security assistance included 39 capacity-building activities in four Central American countries focused on areas such as asset forfeiture, investigations, polygraphs, and interdiction. The United States and Colombia announced the Action Plan for 2014, which aims to increase assistance through 152 capacity-building activities in six countries in Central America and the Caribbean.
4. Human rights and Labor issues exist that must be addressed
The statement mentioned above from the four Washington-baed NGOs called for the meeting to highlight serious labor and human rights problems that persist in the country. Some of the issues discussed during the meeting:
- Land Restitution and Afro-Colombians
Colombia passed the historic Victim’s Law in 2011, which aimed to offer reparations to victims and return land to some of the more than five million Colombians displaced because of violence. This process has been extremely slow, and those that have received restitution from the government often cannot return to the land for fear of being threatened or killed by armed actors, particularly paramilitary successor groups. Land titling for Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups in Colombia, who also continue to be marginalized and targeted, has been particularly slow.
The White House underscored the $68 million slated by USAID in support of this effort and said it intended to “expand the coverage of legal protection of land rights, especially those of small farmers, by strengthening the Colombian government’s land titling efforts.”
- Labor rights
Labor rights continue to be a huge issue in Colombia. Since January at least 11 trade unionists have been killed and hundreds more threatened. Impunity for murder cases of unionists runs at about 90% and workers who try to form unions are fired en mass. When the Colombian government signed the FTA, it also signed a “Labor Action Plan,” which obligated lawmakers to take specific steps to protect unionists and increase respect for labor rights. The majority of these steps have yet to be taken.
Regarding the Labor Action Plan, the White House said the two countries planned to “hold formal meetings through at least 2014 on Action Plan commitments and recognize advances under the Action Plan ad areas where challenges remain.”
The organizations’ statement also called for greater progress to be made in dismantling paramilitary successor groups, responsible for much of the violence and drug trafficking taking place today. It highlighted the need to investigate and prosecute the politicians, military and police members and large landowners that collude with these groups as well as the need to bring the over 3,000 military members accused of extrajudicial killings to justice.
5. U.S. political divisions and the peace process
This point was not discussed at all in English media, but touched on in Colombia. So far support for the peace process has been bipartisan, although some anti-Castro lawmakers have voiced their opposition to Havana hosting the talks. As Restrepo and Georgetown Professor Erick Langer noted, the U.S Congress has elections coming up next November and Colombia must be ready to ensure this bipartisan support continues in light of the uncertain makeup of next year’s Congress.
“Santos has to ensure that the Republicans feel that they are part of this process and it is not just an Obama issue. Traditionally the United States has maintained strong support for Colombia. But with the degree of polarization that exists currently in Washington creates the worry that this could change,” Langer said.
During his visit Santos also spoke to the Organization of American States, met with Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, with Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, among others. On Wednesday morning, he will appear on Morning Joe followed by a breakfast with the Washington Post’s editorial board and a lunch at the Chamber of Commerce.
For a list of links to more articles in Spanish and English, please see our Just the Facts Colombia news page.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
This post was written by the Washington Office on Latin America and is cross-posted with their blog.
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 (English – Spanish) 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” (English - Spanish), 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.”
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.
FARC negotiators declared themselves to be “worried, very worried” on June 1, and wrote on June 7 that the dialogues were “in limbo” due to Venezuela’s temporary absence.
By then, however, tensions between Colombia and Venezuela were diminishing. “The Colombian armed conflict remains, and we are dedicated, beyond our differences, beyond the current conjuncture, to bring the eradication of this last focus of violence,” Jaua said on June 4. By June 12 Venezuela’s envoy to the talks, OAS Ambassador Roy Chaderton, had returned to Havana. “It would be a historic crime to deny Colombia the opportunity to reconcile,” Chaderton said on June 23.
Two rounds of talks, little agreement
The Colombian government and FARC negotiators went on to hold two ten-day rounds of talks in Havana (June 11-21 and July 1-9) on the second agenda topic, “political participation,” which includes three sub-points:
- Rights and guarantees for political opposition, especially for post-peace accord political movements. Access to the media.
- Democratic mechanisms for citizen participation, including direct participation.
- Promoting greater participation in the political process, especially for the most vulnerable populations.
As difficult as the land and rural development agenda topic was, noted Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, “the political participation issue may be even thornier.” Indeed, there is little progress yet to report. The guerrilla-government joint communiqué issued on July 9, after the eleventh round concluded, noted simply, “Each side presented its general vision on political participation, beginning with the issue of security guarantees for the opposition, as an essential element to build a final accord.”
A central difficulty appears to be diverging views about what this agenda item’s sub-topics mean. On June 19, the FARC began issuing a series of documents laying out its “10 minimal proposals” for the political participation agenda topic. The guerrillas’ demands are ambitious. They include doing away with presidentialism; abolishing the House of Representatives and replacing it with a “Territorial Chamber”; creating a new branch of government called “Popular Power”; and restructuring the armed forces, the tax system, and the central bank.
The Colombian government has repeatedly rejected these topics as beyond the scope of the agreed-upon agenda, calling on the guerrillas to pursue them through the political process after the accord is reached.
The demand upon which the FARC has insisted most strongly is a Constituent Assembly: an elected body that would rewrite Colombia’s constitution after a peace accord is reached. Guerrilla leaders have repeated this demand, calling it “the key to peace.” On June 11, the first day of the tenth round of talks, the FARC proposed that this constitutional convention take place in 2014, thus delaying for one year Colombia’s March 2014 legislative elections and May 2014 presidential election. Lead government negotiator Humberto De la Calle rejected both proposals: “That [the election delay] won’t happen, a constitutional convention won’t happen.”
De la Calle published a column in the June 16 issue of Colombia’s most-circulated newsmagazine, Semana, laying out the government’s case against the constitutional convention. “This is neither the optimal mechanism, nor the most practical, as it is more burdensome than other tools and doesn’t produce the desired effects.” The convention, he adds, would render the peace accords irrelevant, as its elected members could go well beyond — or completely reverse — what was agreed in Havana.
It is not clear why the FARC are seeking a constitutional convention. It would be a very risky move: the guerrillas are very unpopular in densely populated areas of Colombia, and would be unlikely to win more than a tiny minority of assembly members (though they may seek a number of automatic seats). Meanwhile former President Álvaro Uribe, a fierce opponent of the peace talks, remains quite popular, and his political group would be likely to win many seats: perhaps enough to roll back any of the FARC’s gains at the negotiating table, and maybe even enough to change election rules to allow Uribe to run for another term in office.
FARC leaders may be calculating that, although they would be a minority, Colombia’s elite would be so split on key issues that the ex-guerrillas could cast decisive, tie-breaking votes. The FARC also does not want a deal that appears to be inferior to what the smaller, weaker M-19 guerrilla group got in a 1990 peace process: those ex-guerrillas played a pivotal role in the convention that wrote Colombia’s 1991 constitution.
Instead of a constitutional convention, Colombia’s government is offering a referendum: a popular vote that would cement the peace accords’ commitments into law. The FARC rejects this. In a letter to Semana responding to De la Calle’s column, the group’s negotiators argue, “To submit to referendum an agreement that even in the partial definition of its first point is already more than 20 pages long … would not be practical or technically possible.”
In statements to the press on July 7, FARC negotiator Andrés París appeared to show some heretofore unseen flexibility on the constitutional convention demand. “Neither this point nor any other has to become an unmovable obstacle that impedes the progress of the process,” said París who, according to Medellín’s El Colombiano newspaper, “said that a constitutional convention is not the only way to legalize the peace process.” However, in a July 9 statement marking the end of the eleventh round of talks, the FARC repeated its insistence on a constitutional convention. The government remains firmly against the idea.
Another issue that may prove difficult is whether the FARC will disarm after a peace accord is reached. In past peace processes, the guerrillas have indicated a desire to keep their weapons even after the conflict ends, citing concerns for their own security. At the outset of the current talks, it appeared that the FARC may have been moving away from this position. But now the guerrillas are indicating reluctance to disarm.
Interviewed in Cali’s El País newspaper on June 16th, guerrilla negotiator Andrés París said, “[We are interested in following] the Irish model because principles were established and, for example, they did not turn in weapons.” (The Irish Republican Army did not fully disarm until 2005, seven years after the Good Friday Agreement officially ended the conflict.) París added that the guerrillas have “repeatedly” told the government that “it will never have” a photo of a ceremony in which guerrillas symbolically turn in weapons.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos voiced frustration in a June 23 speech before a march of conflict victims in El Carmen, Bolívar department. “Keep your word! Negotiate over those [agreed agenda] points, play clean, don’t start asking for the impossible, don’t start asking for things that nobody is going to concede, things that aren’t in the accords.” Santos continued, “Now we see that maybe they won’t turn in their weapons. One of the agenda points is precisely that they turn in their weapons because if not, why are we talking?” The President concluded his remarks by reminding the FARC that “the Colombian people’s patience is not unlimited.”
The U.P. is restored
On July 9 the State Council, Colombia’s top administrative tribunal, issued a decision that breathed some oxygen into the “political participation” issue. The magistrates reinstated the legal status of the Patriotic Union party. Founded during a failed mid-1980s peace process and at least initially linked to the FARC, the Patriotic Union saw about 3,000 of its members, candidates, and officeholders murdered in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The party lost its legal charter when it failed to present candidates in the 2002 elections. The State Council ruled that this should not have happened because the party had been illegally forced to the margins by violence.
During June and July, the peace talks took place amid a backdrop of social protest, particularly a weeks-long series of road blockades and demonstrations carried out by small farmers in the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department, in northeastern Colombia near the Venezuelan border. There, thousands of protesters have been demanding an end to aerial herbicide fumigation in coca-growing areas, the establishment of a “peasant reserve zone” to limit the size of landholdings, and more state services. Colombia’s government has met the protesters with high-level attempts to negotiate, but also with heavy force. Violent clashes with protesters (some of whom themselves have employed violence) have killed four Catatumbo protesters.
As Catatumbo is a zone with much illegal armed group presence (FARC, National Liberation Army [ELN], and a tiny remnant of the otherwise demobilized EPL guerrillas), some Colombian government officials accuse the FARC and others of instigating the protests. Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo accused the FARC of “seeking to influence the process in Havana, and that is something we are not going to permit.” In a July 8 statement, the FARC negotiators in Havana expressed support for the Catatumbo protesters and denied that they have infiltrated them. However, journalists from Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine reported that while the protesters’ grievances are real and guerrillas are certainly not in charge, “we could confirm that many campesinos have been pushed into mobilization by the guerrillas.”
“Please, listen to the campesinos of Catatumbo; don’t repress them, don’t kill them, don’t criminalize them with the same old frame-up that they’re guerrillas,” said FARC negotiator Iván Márquez. President Santos replied: “It’s a stupid move, because with those messages, what they [the FARC] are doing is proving that those demonstrations were infiltrated by the guerrillas.”
A FARC-ELN partnership?
The July 1 start of the FARC talks’ eleventh round was accompanied by a new guerrilla announcement. The FARC and Colombia’s smaller but similarly long-lived guerrilla group, the ELN, released two joint communiqués indicating that the groups’ top leaders had held a “summit” somewhere in Colombia. At this meeting, these statements report, the FARC and ELN agreed to put behind past disputes (including a late-2000s conflict that claimed hundreds of lives in Arauca department), and to work for “unity of all political and social forces working to carry out profound changes in society.” The groups say that “a political solution to the social and armed conflict” is part of their “strategic horizon.” The ELN, notes the Colombian investigative website La Silla Vacía, appears to endorse the FARC’s call for a constitutional convention. Speaking to reporters in Havana, FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo said, “We will do everything we can so that talks between our sister organization and the government begin.”
It remains far from clear, however, how the ELN might be incorporated into talks. Joining the ongoing FARC talks at the same table, mid-agenda, might prove unwieldy and further slow down a process that is already not moving at great speed. A separate, parallel negotiating table, however, would give the guerrillas less leverage and create pressure on the government to appear to give both groups “equal treatment” despite their unequal strength.
Even if this could be worked out, two more immediate obstacles remain: resource policy and kidnapping. The ELN’s banner issue — as land is to the FARC — is Colombia’s policy toward mining and energy investment. This is a topic of central economic importance, accounting for much of Colombia’s current export revenue. The Santos government convinced the FARC to exclude mining and energy from the agenda of the Havana dialogues. But for the ELN it is probably the most important issue, and it is difficult to imagine a political negotiation that excludes it.
On kidnapping, President Santos has stated several times that talks with the ELN — a group that pioneered kidnapping for ransom as a fundraising tactic — will not start until the group releases all of its captives. In Arauca on July 4 (the group’s 49th anniversary), the ELN released an army corporal, Carlos Fabián Huertas, whom it had captured during an attack on a military column in mid-May. President Santos called the release “a gesture in the right direction.”
But the ELN continues to hold a Canadian mining company manager whom it kidnapped in Bolívar in January. Talks with the government will not begin until Jernoc Wobert is released. On July 11, though, in letters to President Santos and the Colombians for Peace civil-society group, the guerrillas reiterated their refusal to free Wobert. The ELN continues to insist that Wobert’s company first renounce four mining titles that it claims were obtained illegally.
Other indications of foreign support
The peace talks received an outpouring of international expressions of support after the May 26th accord on land and rural development. Since then, backing has been more sporadic, but the following examples stand out.
- UK Prime Minister David Cameron expressed “great support for the peace process and said that we must persevere, because it is not easy,” President Santos reported after meeting with Cameron in London on June 6. “I congratulated the President on progress in the peace talks with the FARC and looked forward to seeing more progress on this, and on human rights concerns, in the future,” read a statement from UK Foreign Minister William Hague.
- “We will keep supporting [the peace talks] in any way that we can be of use,” said the foreign minister of Chile, Alfredo Moreno, during a June 27 meeting with Colombian Foreign Minister María Angela Holguín.
- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “expressed his enormous respect for the peace process in Colombia and highlighted the advances of the country, the work and leadership of President Santos to achieve a much safer and prosperous country,” according to a Colombian Foreign Ministry readout of a June 7 meeting, at the OAS General Assembly in Guatemala, between Kerry and Colombian Foreign Minister Holguín.
A twelfth round of talks between the FARC and the Colombian government is to begin in Havana on July 22nd. “If there is sufficient political will, we can achieve an agreement by the end of the year … as long as there is a wish to advance,” President Santos said on July 3. The FARC may not be in as much of a hurry, however. Guerrilla leaders continue to state that they “don’t want an ‘express process.’”
“We are certain that the five-decade long Colombian armed conflict is nearing an end,” FARC negotiator Iván Márquez told Colombia’s RCN television network on July 15. “It is possible [to reach an agreement by November]. But to achieve peace you need time. A bad peace deal is worse than war.”
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Interview with Ariel Ávila of Fundación Paz y Reconciliación from Adam Isacson on Vimeo.
A conversation with Ariel Ávila of Colombia's Fundación Paz y Reconciliación. Ariel, who until 2013 ran the Conflict Observatory at the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris
think-tank, is one of Colombia's most cited analysts of the country's armed conflict and security situation.
Here, Ariel talks with Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security policy at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), about prospects for a successful peace process between Colombia's government and the FARC guerrilla group, the challenges this process might face, the likelihood of violence in a possible "post-conflict" phase, and whether the FARC are unified.
Recorded at WOLA's offices in Washington in June 2013.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
This post first appeared as an op-ed in Colombian newspaper El Espectador. It was written by Lisa Haugaard, Director of the Latin America Working Group. It was translated by CIP intern Ashley Badesch.
Topics that the Vice President of the United States and the President of Colombia should discuss: Washington’s role in the peace process, the fuero militar, and the Labor Action Plan.
The visit of Vice President Joe Biden to Colombia, Brazil, and Trinidad and Tobago is part of a series of diplomatic events intended to tell Latin America that it has not been forgotten. The visit follows President Barack Obama’s visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, and the leaders of Peru and Chile plan to visit the White House. In spite of Secretary of State John Kerry’s clumsy reference to Latin America as the United State’s “backyard,” these diplomatic efforts are an overdue recognition of the economic and political power and independent spirit of Latin America.
In Colombia, they will discuss economics, trade, and security issues, but one hopes that Joe Biden will also emphasize that the United States fully supports the peace process. “Just as we have supported Colombia’s leaders in the battlefield, we’ll fully support their efforts to end the conflict at the negotiating table," Biden said before his visit.
The White House has supported the peace process since its beginning, but they’ve done so with a low profile. It is now time to emphasize that the U.S. government wants to see successful negotiations and is prepared to cooperatively and diplomatically support the implementation of an agreement and, even more challenging, a just and lasting peace. This will require a different form of cooperation; cooperation by means of peace rather than war.
Despite Bush’s and Obama’s support of President Uribe, at the end of Uribe’s presidency and after the revelations of the terrible reality of false positives and the DAS scandal, the U.S. government looked with relief towards the arrival of Juan Manuel Santos, with his more inclusive discourse, his openness to negotiations, and his focus on the Victims Law. The State Department remains concerned about the impact of the constitutional reform that opens the door for human rights violations committed by the military to be investigated and tried in military courts, despite the Colombian government’s promises that this will not be the case. Paradoxically, Washington still looks at Colombia as a great security success and a model that should be “exported” to Central America and Africa.
If there is to be frankness in the discussions between Santos and Biden, it would be good that they share with each other some truths. Biden should tell Santos that it is extremely important to ensure that the soldiers and officers who have committed serious human rights violations should be investigated and tried in ordinary court proceedings. Biden should also remind him that the two governments signed a Labor Action Plan for the passage of the Free Trade Agreement, and that the commitments of this plan meant to protect the labor rights of Colombians are very far from being met.
And Santos should tell Biden that the United States needs to listen carefully to the criticism of the war on drugs. As several presidents expressed, including Santos, this war is not going to be won, and the producer and transit countries pay enormous costs in violence and lost lives. After decades of the same failed policy, it’s time to listen.
Among close friends, the truth can be told.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is on a six-day trip to Colombia, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago. His trip comes just a few weeks after President Obama's trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, and just a few days after the Pacific Alliance economic bloc convened in Colombia.
During remarks in a press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Biden applauded Colombia's security improvements, pleased that trade and economic issues are now front and center in the relationship. He praised Colombia for "reclaiming your nation from civil war," noting that it is a "remarkable milestone that today when we meet the main topic is not security, it is economic prosperity."
Vice President Biden said the United States is willing to join the Pacific Alliance as an observer country. President Santos indicated that Colombia "will certainly support that request" and submit it to the other member nations.
At the same press conference, Biden put more weight behind U.S. support for the peace talks. "Just as we support Colombia's leaders on the battlefield, we support them fully at the negotiating table" he said. "We understand that some real progress appears to have been made yesterday on the agrarian front. We applaud every advance -- every advance -- that gets Colombians closer to the peace they so richly deserve.
Despite the overall positive tone of the meeting, Biden did voice concern over possible impunity for human rights abuses as a result of a law that allows certain crimes by security forces to be tried in military courts. According to the Associated Press, "Biden did note Washington's insistence that human rights violators be tried in Colombia's civilian courts."
On Sunday, the FARC and the Colombian government announced a preliminary agreement on the first of five agenda items in the talks: land tenure and rural development. Ginny Bouvier a senior program officer for Latin America in the Center of Innovation at the U.S. Institute of has a summary of some of the key points of their statement on the agreement and Adam Isacson has the entire English translation.
Today Vice President Biden was in Trinidad and Tobago and tonight he will be traveling to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil before heading to Brasilia late Thursday.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
This post was written by the Washington Office on Latin America and is cross-posted with their
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.
Before this latter operation occurred, former President Álvaro Uribe, a constant critic of the peace talks, posted the coordinates of the pickup zone to his Twitter account. It is believed that a member of Colombia’s armed forces leaked this information, known only to a small number of officials, to Uribe. This individual remains unidentified.
The “coordinates” episode raised alarm that Colombia’s military – or elements within it – might be quietly opposing the peace process. Citing anonymous military sources, Colombian journalists reported that active members of the armed forces have two chief concerns about the possible aftermath of a peace accord. First, that the armed forces may be forced to cut their numbers and budget during a post-conflict phase. And second, that human rights violators from the military might serve prison sentences while guerrilla human rights violators are amnestied.
FARC negotiator Andrés Paris sharpened the first concerns when he told reporters in mid-April that a peace accord could bring “an eventual drastic reduction of the official military forces of Colombia,” adding that this is an issue “that we will surely bring up” in the Havana talks.
On several occasions, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has sought to reassure the military on this subject. On May 9, for example, he told a military audience, “On the [negotiating] agenda there is no topic that has to do with the Colombian armed forces, this topic is not on the agenda and as a result it will not be discussed, period. It is not negotiable.” In his speech to a military audience before the April 9 peace march discussed below, Santos promised, “We are not going to diminish the presence of our forces in any corner of our territory” after a peace accord, adding, “to the contrary, we will need more presence.”
On the second topic of military concern, Santos and other government officials have pledged that any arrangement that offers leniency to FARC human rights violators will also apply to the military. A “peace framework” constitutional amendment, passed in June 2012, already holds out this possibility. A scenario frequently mentioned is a transitional justice model that requires judicial trials, followed by suspended sentences and reparations to victims, for guerrillas and officers allegedly involved in crimes against humanity.
This proposal (or something similar) is favored by Colombia’s Prosecutor-General (Fiscal), Eduardo Montealegre, a vocal defender of the “peace framework” constitutional amendment. Montealegre proposes that those accused of crimes against humanity be banned from politics, though they may receive suspended sentences. Colombia’s more conservative Inspector-General (Procurador), Alejandro Ordóñez, challenges the validity of the framework law, opposing an arrangement that allows FARC rights violators to stay out of prison. Ordóñez has also held out the possibility that extrajudicial executions committed by the armed forces might not count as “crimes against humanity” and might thus be eligible for amnesty.
The FARC, meanwhile, remains defiant on the issue. In a May 3 statement, the guerrillas rejected the idea of facing Colombia’s justice system after a peace process concludes: “The assassins and their tribunals have no moral authority to judge us.” FARC negotiators have repeatedly weakened public support for the talks with statements that minimize and even deny that the group has abused human rights or must make amends to victims.
The FARC’s post-conflict future as a political movement was a principal topic of an April 28-30 forum, hosted in Bogotá by Colombia’s National University and the UN Development Program. At this event, 1,265 participants presented about 400 proposals on “political participation,” the second item on the FARC talks’ agenda. As occurred after a December forum on the first agenda item, these proposals will be presented to both negotiating teams. Topics include electoral reforms, guarantees for opposition parties’ security, women’s participation in politics, and similar issues. “Everything is possible once peace is signed,” said a former guerrilla who is now president of Uruguay, José Mujica, in a recorded video message to the forum participants.
An even greater show of public participation took place on April 9, the 65th anniversary of the assassination of populist politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, which triggered an outbreak of nationwide violence that has never fully abated. Pro-peace and victims’ groups, the “Marcha Patriótica” political movement, and the Bogotá mayor’s office convened a large march in Bogotá in support of the peace process. Estimates of the number of participants ranged from 200,000 to over a million. After giving a speech before the armed forces, President Santos joined the marchers for several blocks.
The April 9 march was part of a general shift in public opinion in support of the talks. A mid-April Ipsos Napoleón Franco poll commissioned by several prominent Colombian news outlets found 63 percent of Colombians favoring the peace process, up from 57 percent in November. 37 percent disapproved. 52 percent still believed that the process won’t successfully reach an accord and a guerrilla demobilization, while 45 believed that it will. 69 percent opposed an arrangement in which FARC rights violators do not go to prison. 67 percent opposed allowing FARC members to participate in politics after a peace accord.
Colombia’s Catholic Church, which had been largely quiet about the talks, voiced support with a statement from the Episcopal Peace Council of the Colombian Catholic Church Episcopal Conference (PDF).
Some important expressions of support came from the United States. 62 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry expressing support for the government-FARC dialogues, urging a greater role for victims, and encouraging the U.S. government to take steps to support the talks and a possible post-conflict transition. The FARC wrote a letter back to the members of Congress on April 25. This letter was the first time that the FARC clearly mentioned the possibility of a truth commission to investigate human rights abuses, including their own “kidnapping, forced disappearance, recruitment, use of explosives of all kinds.”
Fifty-six U.S. and Colombian faith leaders signed two letters to President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and President Santos supporting the peace process and “calling for a U.S. policy that prioritizes peace and human rights in Colombia.”
On a late April visit to Colombia, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Rajiv Shah, said, “On behalf of the United States and of President Obama, we want to reaffirm our commitment for economic support, and to be one of the principal allies for Colombia in its peace process. … As we discussed with the President [Santos], in the government of the United States we are very optimistic that the process is going to be very fruitful, and we are going to continue lending our support. … We are going to respond to all requests that President Santos makes to help and develop this process.” (This is a translation of the Colombian Presidency’s Spanish transcription of Shah’s remarks.)
At the conclusion of a lengthy visit to the United States, meanwhile, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said, “In my Washington meetings I have found a desire to support President Santos’s process and a will to strengthen the armed forces to accelerate it.”
With new guerrilla negotiators in place, the eighth round of talks began on April 23. “We want results,” said chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle. “That is the instruction that we have received from President Santos. This is a process that cannot be prolonged indefinitely.” When the round of talks ended ten days later, De la Calle told reporters, “The pace of the conversations has been insufficient, inconstant. We could have progressed much more.”
FARC negotiators disagreed. Lead FARC negotiator Iván Márquez said, “We’re advancing. The peace delegation of the FARC feels satisfied with the gains we are making.” FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich dismissed De la Calle as a “picturesque” figure “who speaks to the gallery.”
The joint communiqué released at the end of the talks’ eighth round indicated that the government and guerrillas have a draft agreement on the first agenda item, land tenure and rural development. This document is still under revision and will not be made public. “Partial accords can easily be manipulated or wrongly interpreted to poison the process,” President Santos told reporters, repeating the oft-used phrase, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
Colombia meanwhile continued to see indications that talks between the government and a smaller guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), may be near. On April 22, Colombia’s La FM radio network reported that the Colombian government might launch dialogues with the ELN guerrillas during the second week of May. That timeframe has passed because of the ELN’s January kidnapping of a Canadian mining company employee in Bolívar department. If the ELN wishes to begin talks, President Santos said on May 9, it “has to free its kidnap victims, above all the Canadian [Jernoc Wobert] it is holding.” A day earlier, the ELN had said it would not release Wobert until his company cedes mining rights to local communities.
While visiting the Vatican, where he heard words of support for the talks from Pope Francis on May 13, President Santos said that Colombians are not “totally optimistic” about the FARC talks, but that “a moderate optimism exists.” In a speech (English PDF) (Spanish) at Bogotá’s Universidad Externado, by far his lengthiest public statement, High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo portrayed an eventual peace accord not as the end of a peace process, but as the beginning of a larger, rather ambitious transition to governance in Colombia’s historically conflictive territories. A FARC statement at the outset of the ninth round of talks, meanwhile, indicated the group’s “full expectation and desire to take up the second [agenda] point very soon,” but went on to voice concerns about land tenure and rural development, the first topic.
As they pass their six-month anniversary, the talks are proceeding in an atmosphere of increased, though still moderate, optimism. This will grow dramatically if the ninth round makes clear that the agenda has moved beyond the first item, and if the FARC, in its public statements, more explicitly addresses its responsibilities to its victims.
Other Colombia Peace Process Updates:
March 27, 2013
March 8, 2013
January 26, 2013
Hope for Peace in Colombia: Reasons for Optimism, Awareness of Obstacles (September 6, 2012)
Friday, April 26, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Ahead of President Obama's visit to Mexico next week, 24 lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to urge the administration to make human rights in Mexico "a central part" of the agenda. The legislators voiced concern about Mexico's human rights record, including "the widespread use of torture in Mexico to obtain confessions" and a fivefold increase in reported abuses by security personnel under former President Felipe Calderón.
As the Pan-American Post reports, President Obama "has not been particularly vocal" about the abuses, and if he does speak up during this trip, "he will likely do so in the context of applauding the Peña Nieto government's response to victims of the violence" with the passage of a law for victims' compensation.
Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch published an illuminating report on disappearances in Mexico, prompting the government to release an official database of over 26 thousand disappeared between 2006 and 2012.
On Monday a federal district ruled the U.S. government must release the names of all graduates of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). According to The Hill, "Plaintiffs say releasing the names of attendees at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) at Fort Benning - formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas - will help Congress ensure that U.S. funds aren't used to train human-rights violators." The judge found no evidence to support Defense Department claims that the release of such information would violate attendees' personal privacy or create a security risk.
The U.S. State Department released its Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2012. The report was particularly critical of Venezuela for its repression on freedom of expression. It also indicated that police and soldiers were involved in 392 extrajudicial killings in Venezuela last year compared to 173 in 2011.
This week the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Appropriations Committee held hearings on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) budget request. During the Senate hearing, several congressional members criticized some cuts to humanitarian assistance in the region. Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Robert Menendez (D-NJ) complained about the decline in humanitarian assistance to Latin America, saying the reduction comes as there is a move away from democracy to dictatorship in the region. According to Menendez, the one bright spot in the agency's request was the Central American Regional Security Initiative, which USAID administrator Rajiv Shah testified would receive a 29 percent increase under the requested budget.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) responded to budget cuts to Cuba as "a terrible precedent, a terrible idea." The planned reduction would cut aid to the island by 25 percent -- from $15 million to about $11.25 million. Senator Menendez also questioned the reduction, asking, "why are we cutting democracy assistance to Cuba? Will cost us when there will be a major political or environmental crisis in the region."
The video of the Senate hearing can be viewed here and the video of the House hearing here.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón arrived in Washington, DC on Wednesday to start his week-long visit to the United States. Minister Pinzón planned to meet with members of Congress and high-level government officials, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, to discuss Colombia's strategies to combat the drug trade and illegal armed groups, according to El Colombiano. "It must be remembered that with all the fiscal cuts the U.S. is applying, there is always the possibility that it will cut funds beyond what was originally agreed upon. For this reason, its important to ensure that these resources are maintained and serve to strengthen capacities that help us to be effective in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and other transnational crimes," Pinzón said.
Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC restarted this week. On Wednesday the FARC delegation submitted the last of its land reform proposals, calling for tax reform, a rewritten constitution, and the participation of rural residents in policy-making. The government delegation did not immediately respond, but negotiator Humberto de la Calle had previously said that changes to economic policy would not be on the table. During this round of talks, both sides will be pushing for an agreement on the land reform issue, which will allow the negotiators to move on to the remaining four topics up for discussion.
On Thursday a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Colombia released its 2012 activity report. While it applauded the Colombian government's victims law, which looks to compensate victims of guerrilla groups and security forces, it expressed concern that the victims of other criminal groups known as Bandas Criminales or BACRIMs are not receiving compensation because they are not covered by the law. Last week a report released by Colombia's national Ombudsman reported that BACRIMs are responsible for 30 percent of human rights abuses in the country.
The FARC thanked 62 members of the U.S. Congress in a statement read in Havana yesterday. The group reiterated the congressional group's calls for U.S. support of the peace process. "We share ... your consideration that the United States is able to support the process, offering an assistance package designed to support a just and lasting peace," the group wrote. Last week the 62 members signed a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for a U.S. policy that promotes peace, development and human rights in Colombia. Read the complete letter with signatories here.
Guerrero state governor Angel Aguirre Rivero signed a pact with local vigilante groups to legalize such groups. As InSight Crime reports, "the agreement aims to legally define the self-defense groups' responsibilities, obligations and powers, the governor said. It also sets out plans for the groups to receive training from the Mexican Army in human rights and security strategies."
Also in Guerrero, striking teachers from the radical Education Workers Union (CETEG) went on a rampage Wednesday to protest an education reform law. The teachers destroyed the offices of four major political parties in the town of Chilpancingo, setting fire to the state headquarters of the ruling PRI. The law, signed by President Peña Nieto two months ago, prohibits the traditional practice of buying and selling teaching positions and establishes teacher evaluations. Union members argue that the reform will lead to mass layoffs and privatization of education. The Associated Press has more details and photos of the attacks.
Opposition party PAN released videos that show government officials allegedly planning to use funds from social programs to support the PRI's campaigns ahead of local elections this July. The scandal upset party leaders and put Peña Nieto's "Pact for Mexico" in jeopardy, until the president held an emergency meeting to smooth over relations. According to a statement from the Interior Ministry, the main parties have settled their differences and agreed that "the reform agenda laid out in the Pact comes before party interests."
The Congressional Research Service released a report, "Mexico's Drug Trafficking Organizations: Source and Scope of the Violence." The report "provides background on drug trafficking in Mexico: it identifies the major DTOs; examines how the organized crime 'landscape' has been altered by fragmentation; and analyzes the context, scope, and scale of the violence. It examines current trends of the violence, analyzes prospects for curbing violence in the future, and compares it with violence in Colombia."
United States Attorney General Eric Holder visited Mexico on Tuesday to discuss ways to "deepen" cooperation between the two countries on justice and security. His visit comes ahead of President Obama's trip to Mexico on May 2-3.
InSight Crime published an interesting article examining why the Zetas have been so effective at expanding their influence. It argues that the key to the group's success was that "the Zetas understood something the other groups did not: they did not need to run criminal activities in order to be profitable; they simply needed to control the territory in which these criminal activities were taking place."
Since President Nicolás Maduro's narrow victory over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles on April 14, the Venezuelan government has increasingly cracked down on those critical of the government. Last week both parties agreed to an audit of the vote -- which will take about another three weeks. Since then Capriles has called for the process to include an examination of who voted and if fingerprint scanners meant to prevent double voting functioned. For its part, the government has placed much of its focus on implicating Capriles in the post-election violence that broke out during protests surging with opposition supporters calling for a recount.
On Monday the country's minister of prisons, Iris Varela, called Capriles the "intellectual author" of the violence and said she was "preparing a cell for him," while National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello has launched an investigation into Capriles' role in the violence that killed nine and injured at least 60.
As James Bosworth points out, some media and citizens have provided evidence showing the government has lied about the violence. He writes, "Clinics allegedly destroyed by opposition mobs have been photographed as being just fine. Photos shown on state media of injured 'chavistas' have turned out to actually be opposition supporters who were beaten by pro-government thugs." It was also reported this week that the government is threatening to "throw out" any workers suspected of being Capriles supporters -- over 300 government employees have said to be fired over such claims already. The Associated Press reported that Capriles supporters are being arrested, beaten and threatened by the hundreds. Capriles has reportedly warned that the audit process risks becoming a joke and that he will challenge the election results in court.
On Sunday Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro named a new head of the country's diplomatic mission in the United States. Calixto Ortega, a member of Venezuela’s delegation to the Latin American parliament, was appointed as the new chargé d'affaires in Washington. "We hope one day to have respectful relations with the United States, a dialogue between equals, state-to-state," Maduro said. "Sooner rather than later, the elites running the United States will have to realize there is a new, independent, sovereign and dignified Latin America."
In Honduras a recent poll ahead of the presidential elections in the country showed that 1) at this point no candidate is ensured a win and 2) that many voters are dissatisfied with their choices, as the choice "None of the above" received the highest ranking of all five candidate and 3) that former president Manuel Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro is narrowly ahead of all others, while National Party (currently in power) candidate Juan Orlando Hernández's popularity is much lower than many had expected it to be at this point.
Here are the poll numbers:
19%: Xiomara Castro
1,800 police went on strike this week in the country's capital Tegucigalpa, protesting for better wages and working conditions. According to the Associated Press, officers make around $150 a month and are required to pay for their own uniform and bullets. The same officer also noted that police stations lack equipment and do not even have toilets. On Friday InSight Crime reported that residents in the capital say police are working with gangs to extort a fee of almost $80 a month.
17%: Salvador Nasralla
16%: Juan Orlando Hernández
10%: Mauricio Villeda
22%: None of the above
15%: Don't know/Not responding
The fate of the genocide trial against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt remains unclear. This week Guatemala's Constitutional Court passed the case over to a judge who last week called for all testimonies to be annulled -- a move which would put the trial back to square one.
Despite Flores' rulings, the Constitutional Court will decide if the proceedings were legal. So far the court has voted on six of twelve petitions in the case, but has yet to rule if the testimonies will be annulled.
The United States, in a show of support for the proceedings, sent its Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen J. Rapp to the country to meet with officials and civil society groups about the trial.
For a more complete run-down of events, check the Pan-American Post, Open Society's Justice Initiative's blogs and the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala.
On Wednesday Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning the judicial reform proposals made by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The statement argues that the reforms would "give Argentina's ruling party an automatic majority on the council that oversees the judiciary, which seriously compromises judicial independence." Included in the package is a bill that would require most members of the Council of the Judiciary, the body that selects judges, to be nominated by political parties and chosen by popular vote during the general election. The reforms, which have already been approved by the Senate, are now being considered in the Chamber of Deputies.
Economy Minister Hernán Lorenzino caused a stir on Argentine social media when a video surfaced of him telling an aide "I want to leave" during an interview with a Greek reporter who questioned him about the country’s true inflation rate. The Twitter hashtag "#mequieroir" was retweeted by many and one person made a video remix of the interview mashed with the Peronist March.
This post was written with CIP intern Marissa Esthimer.
Friday, March 8, 2013
(Cross-posted from WOLA)
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!”
For reasons that remain unclear — though messages from government negotiators in Havana, especially Gen. Oscar Naranjo, a former National Police chief, likely played a role — the FARC announced on February 2 that they would release the two policemen, plus a soldier whom they had also captured. By February 15, all three had been delivered to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the non-governmental group Colombians for Peace.
Still, the policemen’s captivity, which brought back memories of the FARC’s past practices of kidnapping thousands of civilians for ransom, took a heavy toll on public opinion. So did an uptick in FARC attacks following the guerrillas’ two-month unilateral cease-fire, which ended on January 20th. Headline-making hostilities included the February 5 detonation of two car bombs in Caloto, Cauca, which killed two people and wounded several more.
President Santos insisted on February 11 that although “there has been more noise in the media,” the frequency of FARC attacks had not increased. But a February 18 Datexco poll showed 67.34% of Colombians surveyed believing that the FARC peace process would not be successful. On February 25, the bimonthly Gallup poll showed the percentage of Colombians believing that the talks will end the conflict with the FARC falling to 36, from 43 in December. The percentage of Colombian respondents saying they supported the FARC talks fell to 62, from 71 in December. President Santos’s favorability rating, meanwhile, fell to 44 percent, from 53 percent in December. Gallup respondents gave ex-President Álvaro Uribe, who has been actively opposing the talks, a 65 percent favorability rating.
Tensions rose further with President Santos’s February 20th appearance in San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá, part of the zone that hosted peace talks which failed eleven years earlier that same day. The President was there to distribute to farmers lands recovered from the FARC. Maximum FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez issued a statement complaining that President Santos’s speech in San Vicente made no mention of the current peace process. “While it’s true that the dialogues have made some important advances toward accords, official attitudes… threaten to mire it in a swamp,” read the statement. “Let’s get it out of there now, Santos. This narrow and calculated conception of the process threatens to drown it. Let’s save it.”
“[T]he people should understand that we are conversing in the midst of conflict, that this is difficult, often contradictory, but that it is the route that we deliberately chose,” said President Santos on February 23, controversially adding, “At this moment I would have no problem getting up from the table and saying that this is over. But I’m going to make every possible effort so that this doesn’t happen, because just imagine Colombia without that conflict.” On February 26th, FARC negotiators responded with a statement calling on the government not to “kick aside” (patear) the negotiating table.
This all seemed to contradict the mood at the table in Havana, where negotiators appear to be making steady progress toward an accord. In a February 3 statement condemning what it characterized as “the ultra-right wing’s campaign against the Havana peace process,” FARC negotiators insisted, “The conversations at the table are proceeding normally, nobody has gotten up or formally threatened to leave.” The talks are moving forward “at the speed of a bullet train,” FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda added on February 10. “We’ve put together at least two or more pages of an agreement, and this is an advance that had not been achieved in previous processes,” lead FARC negotiator Iván Márquez told Semana magazine columnist María Jimena Duzán on February 24. (As mentioned above, El Espectador cited a figure of five pages a few days later.)
At the March 1 conclusion of the sixth round of talks, the mood was slightly better. On March 3-4, with government permission, a group of Colombian legislators, including Senate President Roy Barreras and members of both houses’ Peace Committees, visited Havana, where they met with both sides’ negotiators. “After hearing Colombians’ concerns throughout the country, we decided it was time to transmit these doubts and concerns about the timeframe of the process to the negotiators on both sides of the table,” said Barreras. FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda told reporters that following a successful peace process, FARC leaders would not run for office, at least not under the current “electoral regime,” which in his view is stacked against leftist candidates.
The March 5 death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez then added a measure of uncertainty to the process. Venezuela, along with Chile, is officially designated an “accompanying country” of the peace process, and President Chávez had played an important behind-the-scenes role in convincing the FARC to take part. According to Semana journalist María Jimena Duzán, who spent a week in Havana in February, “Who really convinced the FARC to allow Jaramillo [FARC Eastern Bloc chief Mauricio Jaramillo, the guerrillas’ chief negotiator during the dialogues’ agenda-building phase] to board that helicopter [to Havana] was President Chávez himself. The FARC delegates with whom I spoke in Havana confirmed that to me.”
“These were his words before beginning his last fatal trip to Havana.’I believe that with the guarantees that the Colombian government offers and that Colombian society offers … the FARC can enter into a political process without arms. … I hope that all the comandantes at the FARC’s various levels, and its combatants and fronts, join in this process, and I hope that they arrive at the best possible accord, and I hope that we can see the day in which peace is signed in Colombia. On that day there will be celebration in Venezuela and in the whole continent.’”
In an analysis, Juanita Leon of the Colombian politics website La Silla Vacía outlined three possible scenarios for Venezuela’s role post-Chávez:
- Interim President Nicolás Maduro is reelected easily, and continues Venezuela’s current facilitating role.
- Divisions appear in the pro-Chávez governing bloc, leading Maduro to pressure for the FARC to speed the negotiation.
- (The nightmare scenario:) The pro-Chávez bloc sees itself as seriously threatened, and a faction of it seeks the FARC’s help to strengthen its resistance.
The seventh round of talks is to begin on Monday, March 11 in Havana.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
You’ve likely heard about the exciting buzz that has been permeating in Colombia. Yes, you guessed it; we’re talking about the announcement of the peace talks! We’ve decided to compile our own list of interesting sources –including the important voices of different civil society actors that are sometimes not heard –for our faithful readers to easily access.
We’ll begin with the voices of civil society and their takes on the peace process. Some of the main points brought up by these actors are:
- Civil society inclusion and participation in the peace process
A Colombian victims’ group, MOVICE, made this official statement regarding the peace talks, in which they welcome peace and call for the inclusion of victims in the peace process, as well as call for a bilateral ceasefire.
LAWGEF and USOC’s statement regarding the peace talks; warmly receiving the negotiations, the organizations call for the full inclusion of civil society, including women, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities.
A critical explanation from La Silla Vacia of why civil society’s demand to be included in the actual peace negotiations is unfeasible.
- The topic of a bilateral ceasefire
The Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos (CCEEU), a major coalition of Colombian NGOs, issued this official statement regarding the peace talks, calling for special attention to be given to the victims of the armed conflict and for both parties in the negotiations to refrain from escalating the violence during the actual negotiations.
Colombians for Peace issued an open letter addressed to President Santos, Timochenko of the FARC and Nicolas Rodriguez of the ELN calling for the parties to develop an agreement to respect international humanitarian law as a peace agreement is developed. The letter asks that the government stop bombing civilian buildings and that the FARC stop using landmines and give information about kidnapped persons. Colombians for Peace also emphasize four points to “humanize the conflict” which revolve around: ending the use of landmines, stopping child recruitment, stopping attacks on civilian buildings and establishing a truth commission.
Next, we’ve compiled an assortment of editorials from Colombian newspapers and news magazines such as El Tiempo and Semana.
An interview with León Valencia, director of the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, in which he analyzes statements from President Juan Manuel Santos and head commander of the FARC, Timoleón Jiménez, alias “Timochenko” regarding the peace talks. He notes that of particular interest is the FARC’s agreement to include laying down its weapons in the agenda. This piece in El Tiempo presents the argument that even when taking into consideration the frustrations of previous talks with the FARC, this time there's a real, genuine possibility that the negotiations will be successful.
A special reconciliation issue from El Tiempo focuses on the need for broader social change in Colombian society, viewing the peace talks as a step on the pathway towards widespread reconciliation.
Experts and analysts weigh in at El Tiempo about the realistic outline of the Colombian peace negotiations without a negotiated ceasefire.
This interesting analysis in Semana looks beyond the public and official announcements about the peace negotiations and instead, examines the important symbols that show why the public should be optimistic about these current peace talks.
Former paramilitary leaders say in an interview with Canal Capital that their peace process failed and caution the government to take into account many of the mistakes that occurred in their peace process when preparing to sit down to negotiate with the FARC.
In Portafolio, several leaders from different Colombian business sectors give their support to the upcoming peace talks, hopeful that if peace negotiations are successful it will be very good for the economy
Just in case those articles were a bit difficult to read in Spanish, we’ve included here some English-language coverage.
Scholar Milburn Line calls for the United States to do a better job in visibly supporting the peace talks. The article suggests it’s time for the U.S. to reexamine its foreign policy in Colombia, including the impact of Plan Colombia, and vigorously support peace negotiations that are more rewarding for U.S. foreign policy and legacy in the region.
Colombia Report’s editorial describes the peace process as a complex process that must incorporate all Colombians, with emphasis on the populations affected most by the conflict, in order to have a successful peace negotiation and sustainable peace throughout the country. It prioritizes systems and strategies for fully supported demobilization and long-term reintegration programs for those fighting.
This Colombia Reports op-ed suggests that the peace talks are “destined to fail” because, in its opinion, the conditions of these negotiations are no different than those of the past. It also argues that the FARC is a terrorist organization that the “desperate-to-please” Santos administration should not negotiate with.
This blog in the Financial Times examines the international politics and possible motives of the peace process, ultimately arguing that successful negotiations are win-win for all: Colombia will have achieved peace and President Santos stands to gain a potential boost in popularity; Cuba creates a reason for the U.S. to relax its embargo; Venezuela helps end gun-smuggling which is good for the region; and the U.S. Plan Colombia policy can be seen as a success and will save the U.S. money not supporting Colombia anymore.
A fairly optimistic article in Commentary Magazine that says peace talks have the potential to be successful this time around mainly due to the fact that “the FARC has been essentially defeated militarily” as a result of the crushing setbacks by the military under the Uribe Administration, forcing the FARC to now negotiate.
Finally, here are some very valuable experts in themes such as conflict resolution and regional security policy.
Hear actual voices from Colombian civil society in this live recording from the event,“The Colombian Peace Talks: Perspectives from Civil Society,” hosted by the Washington Office on Latin America and cosponsored by LAWGEF and other groups.
Colombia Calls is a great blog from long-time astute observer of the peace process and senior program officer for Latin America in the Center of Innovation at the U.S. Institute for Peace, Ginny Bouvier.
The International Crisis Group’s official report is an excellent, comprehensive analysis on the state of the armed conflict and peace negotiations.
The Washington Office on Latin America’s Adam Isacson, Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy, weighs in with reasons to be more optimistic with this peace process than with past attempts and some possible obstacles.
Aldo Civico, professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, has this insightful blog on “Engaged Anthropology, Peace Building, and Human Rights.” Civico has served as a conflict resolution facilitator to international institutions, government, corporations and non-governmental organizations in Italy, Haiti, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia.
This post is cross-posted with the Latin America Working Group Education Fund's LAWGBlog. It was written by LAWG intern Chelsey Crim.