The Colombian government and representatives of the FARC rebel group may not meet their November target date for completing peace negotiations, but talks are proceeding at a steady clip, and both sides expressed satisfaction following the close of the 12th round of talks in Havana on Aug. 10. They plan to resume discussions on August 19.
Photo: United States Government Work

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stopped in Bogota on his first tour of South America since taking office earlier this year. He said the U.S. supported the peace talks and pledged its backing for the resulting agreement.  The U.S. has provided $8.7 billion, mostly in military equipment and training,  since 1999 under Plan Colombia; this aid (about $350 million this year) will start to be redirected to the peace process and to development projects, he said.

The government and rebel delegations had extended their 12th round of talks by several days. In a joint statement afterwards, they said they had begun to craft agreements related to political participation, the second of six major issues on the agenda. The two sides previously had reached a potentially monumental agreement on the first item, land issues, in May.

The latest meeting of the minds on how to bring the rebels into Colombia’s legitimate political life relates to the rights and guarantees for exercising political opposition and, more specifically, for the new movements that are likely to emerge with the signing of a final peace agreement.  According to the joint communiqué, negotiators presented and discussed “proposals on the diverse democratic mechanisms for citizen participation and access to the media within a framework of political participation.”  

While news media have emphasized how long the peace process, now in its seventh month, seems to be taking, the issues on the agenda are highly charged and it’s natural that a resolution would take time. In addition to land issues, also referred to as agrarian reform, and political participation, the daunting agenda includes disarmament, illicit drugs, the rights of victims, and ratification and implementation of the peace plan.

It is significant that both sides have expressed satisfaction at the progress made.  The government’s lead negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, declared that the peace process “has never come so far.” He underscored that the purpose of the talks is to end the conflict, that an agenda has been designed toward that end, and that the parties are sticking to the agenda.

“The essence of the end of the conflict is none other than the rupture of the link between politics and arms, in order to transition to a scenario where everyone is playing by the same rules, which are those of democracy,” De la Calle said. “This means that, on the one hand, those who are transitioning to democracy must lay down their arms … And on the other hand, those who participate in democracy must have guarantees by the state that they are not going to be the object of violence and that they can exercise opposition and legal political activities. These are two-way guarantees.”

De la Calle also reiterated that the accords reached thus far offer the prospect of reversing poverty in the countryside, and that they recognize the rights of displaced victims and should reinvigorate Colombian democracy, particularly in the regions.

He underscored that the Colombian population will ultimately decide,  through a mechanism to be agreed upon by the parties (the final item on the peace agenda), whether to accept the agreements being reached. The FARC has called for a National Constituent Assembly and the government favors a referendum, but the subject hasn’t been specifically discussed at the negotiating table.

The FARC delegation gave a press conference on Aug. 10 in which the members agreed that “significant advances” have been made on the issue of political participation. Their press release detailed some of the activities during the 12th round of talks, including testimony from academics such as Víctor Manuel Moncayo, Marco Romero, Carlos Medina Gallego, Sergio de Zubiría, Alberto Rojas Puyo and Fabio Velásquez.

While specific government proposals on political participation have not been made public, the FARC has released dozens of its own, some quite detailed. These proposals, available on the FARC peace website, are far-reaching and many deal with highly charged issues relating to power-sharing. They include questions as diverse as stimulating political participation in the regions, communications and cultural strategies for a national reconciliation process, restructuring the state, redesigning the legal-economic order, political and electoral reform, democratizing ownership of the media, and convening a national constituent assembly.

One of the most controversial matter relates to who will be allowed to hold office under what conditions. The parties seem to have found a way to discuss these contentious issues with a spirit of respect and trust.

The parties in Havana may come to agreement that the FARC will need to be granted representation within elected bodies, and they may reach an  accord as to what the formula might be -- whether temporary or for a limited period, whether all FARC members will be able to elect and be elected, whether human rights crimes will limit electoral opportunities and so on.

The public has yet to be brought along, however, and strong leadership will be required to persuade the populace that the FARC has a positive role to play after five decades of conflict. Because the Colombian electorate will have the final say, this step of education will be particularly important to the future of peace in Colombia.

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

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