Colombia Peace Talks Produce 'Historic' Step Toward Final Accord

Thursday, November 7, 2013
By: 
Virginia M. Bouvier

The Colombian government and the FARC-EP insurgents made a historic announcement yesterday during their ongoing peace negotiations in Havana: they have agreed on terms for how the insurgents could participate politically in the aftermath of a full peace accord.

Casa de Nariño. Photo credit: Miguel Olaya

The mood in Bogota is as close to euphoric as I have seen. I get the sense that people finally believe a peace deal could be reached. President Santos spoke from the Casa de Nariño last night, and his message was clear: “Today I am more convinced than ever that peace is possible and that we do not have to resign ourselves to another half century of war,” he said.

This was the second item on their agenda and expected to be one of the most controversial. With the agreement on land reform reached last May, the accords thus far have now addressed the two primary issues at the root of the internal armed conflict -- land and political exclusion.  

Four items remain to be negotiated:

  • victims’ rights and reparations;
  • illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking;
  • the terms of the end of the conflict (including disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration); and
  • the mechanisms of ratification and implementation.

These remaining issues deal more with the symptoms and consequences of the conflict and the particulars of how the peace deal will unfold rather than the causes of the fighting. The next item that will be addressed when the parties reconvene on November 18 will be the issue of illicit crops and drug trafficking.

Those of us following the peace process had been expecting an agreement imminently on the issue of political participation.  It is exciting to hear that an accord on this question has come to fruition. I was just finishing a meeting in Bogota yesterday and walked past a television set where I caught a glimpse of the Norwegian guarantor at the peace table in Havana, Dag Nylander, conducting a press conference live from Havana. He was saying something about the participation of women, an issue that I have tried to follow closely, though with some difficulty because of the lack of information. I raced back to my hotel to learn more.

A cursory review of the press makes no mention of women’s participation, but the agreement itself has decent language on this topic, noting that everything that was agreed to with regard to political participation, including its implementation, would be carried out with a gender focus and guarantees for the participation of women. For the Spanish-language version of the communique, click here. An English version isn’t available yet.

Many details have yet to be worked out on how the terms on political participation would be implemented. And of course, the agreement will only go into effect once a final peace accord is signed.

One of the most interesting provisions calls for creating additional seats in the House of Representatives to represent the regions that have most been affected by the conflict; the particular regions have not been defined. This seems to be a creative and appropriate form of reparation for sectors of the population that have been neglected by the state and have suffered from the violence of the conflict. Interestingly, the accord does not set out seats for immediate FARC participation. The new provisions also contain measures for reconciliation processes.

The agreement guarantees that media would be available for new political parties and social movements that might emerge, though the specifics of whether this will be within traditional media or new media have not been released. The accord anticipates the establishment of a Law for Electoral Guarantees and a Statute for Political Opposition, both to be designed with input from new political movements and social organizations.

The accord is just what President Juan Manuel Santos needs to show progress and defend continued pursuit of a peace accord. Most here in Colombia think this will bolster his bid for re-election and ensure that the peace issue will be a major theme of the upcoming electoral season.

With the exception of former President Alvaro Uribe’s party, which has called the announcement a “farce,” all of the other political parties (Conservative, Liberal, Polo Democratico, Partido de la “U”, Cambio Radical) have expressed support for the accord. There is widespread satisfaction that the peace process appears to be delivering concrete proposals that could indeed address some of the country's ills.

In a speech last night, Santos announced the agreement and put an end to any talk that the peace process might be suspended during the electoral season that is just getting under way in Colombia.

Members of the Peace Commission in the Colombian Congress told me yesterday that they believe the recent agreements in the talks represent a great institutional opening for deepening Colombia’s democracy. The reforms envisioned in the agreement, including a Law of Electoral Guarantees, a new Statute for Political Opposition, and recognition for the existence and rights of social movements are long overdue and badly needed.

Virginia “Ginny” Bouvier is senior program officer for Latin America at USIP. Follow her personal blog, “Colombia Calls,” at vbouvier.wordpress.com.

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