When negotiations between the Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC guerilla (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) began on Oct. 8th, 2012, both parties to the negotiations and the general public displayed a healthy amount of distrust and skepticism. Government representatives weren’t quite sure if the revolutionaries were sincere in their wish and will to conduct an honest dialogue and not to use the talks as an insincere tactical motive to rally once more against the government. On the other side of the table, the revolutionaries couldn’t possibly count on the government willingness to provide sustainable solutions and to work toward compromise. And there is a rich history of failures: FARC used the negotiations with the government of Patranas (1998-2002) to reorganize its combat units (Frentes). During the days of the Gaviria government (1990-1991), both sides used to overextend their demands to the point where any suggestion or demand was deemed unacceptable by the other side. The dialogue between the rebels and the Betancur government (1984-1986) failed as the military didn’t cease hostilities.
The killing of thousands of members of the Union Patriotica party, whereby many FARc rebels organized themselves into one party during the negotiations with the Betancur government is not forgotten by the FARC. And this lack of trust and confidence in the motives of the other side is mirrored in the attitudes and negotiation behaviors of the current Havanna Talks: no official cease fire has been brokered or announced and the agreement on negotiated items is only valid when and if there is a complete and comprehensive agreement – called single undertaking in peace agreement terms.
However, the negotiations are quite time consuming and lengthy. Hence, the most icky points have not been talked about yet and President Juan Manuel Santos has invested its entire political capital into the dialogue process, yet he is becoming increasingly impatient and unnerved by the slow progress of the talks. Though both sides had announced a truce which didn’t hold, and the upcoming municipal elections are perceived as a braking pad since FARC isn’t confident that the safety and livelihoods of its disarmed and demobilized fighters can be secured. In many of the rural areas, the government and military lacks presence and therefore it cannot make guarantees as to the security of demobilized fighters since local and regional elites do not feel tied by any of the ceasefire provisions between the government and the FARC. And rightly so: the perception and general question is that this is a peace process for the sake of the government yet the general population in both urban and rural areas and in the region at large needs to support the peace process. Beyond the population, important stakeholders such as the military, economic and political elites need to be tackled as well so as to not become spoilers to the national dialogue process.
Beyond the actors mentioned above, the question still remains as to the role of a smaller rebel group, the ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional), and its current exclusion from the talks. It can be argued that it would be a stretch to assume that it would automatically and without preconditions accept any agreement brokered between the two major parties in the Havanna Talks.
in the next post, I will give an appreciation of the current negotiation results
The peace process in Colombia between the Government and the rebel forces of the FARC are entering a critical phase. After 2 years, parties have largely agreed on at least 3 of the 5 most contentious issues and they still show signs of good will in concluding the peace talks. At the same time, here is mounting concern that some of the most difficult issues are proving to be a barrier to the peace agreement. Whilst the peace talks have been supported by the international community, especially with Norway and Switzerland providing mediation support to the parties, the situation in the country is becoming more polarized to the extent that the elite and pact-based talks are losing the support of civil society and the population at large. Even if the peace talks were to be concluded successfully, it should not be forgotten that Colombia is coming out of a civil war spanning more than 50 years and that it will take an inclusive and equitable national dialogue in order to reconcile the present with the past and to offer societal change for the future.
Since I will be working on a research project titled “Legitimacy and Resiliency in National Dialogue Processes” and working in situ on the peace process, Colombia will be a feature report in the weeks and months to come.
Please make sure to check back in on a regular basis.