Syndicate content Link to our RSS feed / Link to our podcast feed

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Talking Peace in Colombia

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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Prospects for renewed peace talks in Colombia

Yesterday in Colombia, news leaked – and then President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed – that the Colombian government has been quietly holding talks with the country’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), about how to end nearly 50 years of fighting. This would be the first significant attempt at government-guerrilla dialogue in ten years.

What appears to be happening

In statements corroborated by other news reports, journalist Jorge Enrique Botero revealed that since May, Colombian government and FARC representatives have held exploratory talks in Havana, facilitated by Cuba, Venezuela and Norway. The two sides reportedly agreed Monday to begin a more formal negotiation process, which could begin in Oslo, Norway, in October.

No DMZ: With this agreement to hold talks outside of Colombia, the FARC may have dropped a longtime pre-condition that any dialogues take place in Colombian territory, in an area cleared of military and police presence. This demand for a demilitarized zone, which the Colombian government agreed to during a failed 1998–2002 peace process, made that process unpopular inside Colombia and has been a big obstacle to any initiation of new talks.

Negotiating team: According to news reports, the Colombian government has been represented in these talks by President Santos’s national security advisor, Sergio Jaramillo, a former vice-minister of defense; the environment minister, Frank Pearl, a former director of the government’s program for demobilizing ex-combatants; and the President’s brother, Enrique Santos, a former editor-in-chief of Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper. According to the same news reports, the FARC’s representatives in the talks are Jaime Alberto Parra, alias Mauricio Jaramillo or “El Médico,” a member of the guerrillas’ seven-person Secretariat; Rodrigo Granda, often referred to as the FARC’s “foreign minister,” Luis Alberto Albán, alias “Marcos Calarcá,” who ran the FARC’s international office in Mexico until its 2002 closure; and Jesús Emilio Carvajalino, alias “Andres París,” the guerrillas’ chief spokesman during the 1998–2002 peace talks. It is encouraging to see both sides represented at such a high level. The ultimate success of more “formal” negotiations, however, would require a more diverse negotiating team. Particularly important are a better gender balance and the participation of a retired military officer.

In the public eye: Yesterday’s news, much of which awaits confirmation and clarification, is encouraging for all who wish to see Colombia’s long conflict come to an end. It may not be positive, though, that the talks’ existence has been made public now. In secret, negotiators can cover a lot of ground and complete badly needed preparatory work before the larger national debate begins. If preparations for more formal dialogues are not yet complete, though, the process is now in greater danger. Would-be spoilers will have much more time to sharpen their knives and derail an immature process. Public expectations, in particular for quick results, will begin to mount. And sensitive, unresolved issues about the talks simply cannot be dealt with on camera and before microphones.

Why now?

Until this week, it was widely rumored that the Santos government had been maintaining quiet contacts with the FARC. A common opinion in Colombia, however, held that President Santos would move slowly while applying military pressure on the guerrillas, with talks unlikely before 2013. There are several reasons, though, why talks could be possible now:

  • Both sides are approaching a “hurting stalemate,” in which neither feels victory is imminent and the cost of continued fighting may be greater than the cost of negotiating. Since the last peace process ended in 2002, the FARC has lost territory, membership and strategic initiative, and lost several top leaders. However, an increase in guerrilla activity since about 2008 has fed perceptions in Colombia that security is deteriorating, and undone optimism about the conflict entering a “home stretch.”

  • In part because of security perceptions, President Santos’s approval ratings have declined recently, making his 2014 re-election less certain and perhaps pushing up his timetable for starting talks.

  • The rise in prices of commodities like oil and minerals has led President Santos to refer to extractive industries as a “locomotive of the economy.” However, many potential natural resource reserves are in remote, historically neglected areas under guerrilla control. The Santos government may be calculating that a negotiation to demobilize the FARC offers the quickest path to access these suddenly valuable areas.

Cease of hostilities?

Early in his term, President Santos made clear his primary pre-condition for any negotiations with armed groups: before formal talks can start, any group must first declare a cessation of hostilities. No more attacks on military, civilian or economic targets; no more kidnappings or extortions; no more sowing of landmines or recruitment of minors.

It is not clear from President Santos’s statement (“Over the next few days the results of discussions with the FARC will be made known”) whether the guerrillas will agree to cease hostilities before talks begin. If they do so – even partially – President Santos will be in a strong position. Colombian public opinion, which has been only tepidly supportive of renewed talks, will be quite favorable if the start of dialogues means a pause in FARC offensive activity.

If “formal” dialogues start with no cessation of hostilities, however, public support will be far weaker. Critics of negotiations, among them ex-President Álvaro Uribe, will relentlessly criticize the idea of negotiating amid fighting, and will send pointed messages to the active-duty officer corps about the effect this has on “military morale.”

If fighting and other hostilities continue during talks, as they did during the 1998–2002 process, success will be far harder to attain. Actions on a hot battlefield, especially attacks on civilians, can do enormous damage at the negotiating table. In addition, the desire to show strength at the table gives both sides a big incentive to escalate on the battlefield.

Whether with or without a cessation of hostilities, though, talks are worth pursuing and we wish for the swiftest possible success. Congratulations are due to the Santos government for seizing this opportunity to end one of the world’s oldest internal conflicts.