Colombians Cautiously Optimistic About Peace Talks with FARC

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

Demonstration against FARC (2008)

Demonstration against FARC (2008) by xmascarol on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Despite President Juan Manuel Santos’ wish [es] for discretion, news broke [es] in late August that the Colombian government was to begin negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This was finally confirmed by Santos on September 4 during a televised speech that outlined that the government’s negotiations [es] with FARC would seek an end to the armed conflict and drug trafficking. Both sides will also discuss victims’ rights, rural development and the participation of FARC in Colombia’s democratic process. Fearing a repeat of the last round of failed negotiations in 1999-2002, Santos also said that no amnesty would be granted for FARC leaders and that military operations would continue. Minutes later, FARC’s leader, Timoleón Jiménez (‘Timochenko’) appeared in a broadcast from Havana, Cuba and declared that FARC is truly committed to a “civilized dialogue” that would end the decades-old conflict.

Violence will persist

On Distintas Latitudes, Lucas Peña analyzes the differences and similarities with past processes, not only with FARC but also with other armed groups. In conclusion, he asks for more realism, since even a successful process with FARC would not bring an end to violence in Colombia:

Lo cierto es que la dejación de las armas de las FARC es una condición para la paz pero no la única, pues existen actores asociados a la criminalidad organizada que siguen ejerciendo la violencia, que pueden incluso surgir luego de la eventual desmovilización de las FARC, como se demostró tras la desmovilización de los paramilitares. En Colombia solemos llamar a estos nuevos actores ‘bacrim’ “bandas criminales al servicio del narcotráfico, los ejércitos de los carteles mafiosos.

The truth is that FARC's abandonment of arms is one, but not the only condition for peace, because there are other actors associated with organised crime who will still engage in violence, some who may even emerge after the eventual FARC demobilisation, as it was shown after the demobilisation of the paramilitaries. In Colombia we call these new actors ‘bacrim’, criminal bands servicing drug trafficking, the armies of mafia cartels.

Government in the lead?

On Revista Posición, Alberto Bernal is very critical of the ongoing process, but praises the choice of government negotiators:

Una buena noticia es que el equipo de negociación que nombró el gobierno es un equipo de negociación de lujo. Nada diferente se puede decir de Villegas, Pearl, o de Mora, para nombrar solo tres de las personas que estarán permanentemente en la mesa. También me parece importante recalcar el hecho de que la decisión de no decretar un cese al fuego le conviene al gobierno, pues el gobierno lleva la delantera en la guerra, así las FARC hayan incrementado sus ataques contra la población civil últimamente.

On piece of good news is that the negotiation team appointed by the government is first class. Nothing different could be said about [Luis Carlos] Villegas, [Frank] Pearl, or [retired Army general Jorge Enrique] Mora, three of the people who will be permanently seated at the table. I also find it important to highlight the fact that the decision not to declare a ceasefire is convenient for the government, because it is leading in the war, regardless that FARC lately have increased their attacks against civilians.

On the blog Tras la Cola de la Rata, Juana Galeano says [es] the inclusion of the military in the process is brilliant:

Hay que admitirlo, la inclusión de miembros del Ejército como negociadores es una jugada maestra. Incluir a los militares, darles voz, los coacciona e impide que torpedeen el proceso más adelante.

I have to admit it: including members of the Army as negotiators is a masterstroke. Including them, giving them voice, co-opts them and prevents them from sabotaging the process later on.

Most Colombians seem to support the peace process with caution. According to polls 77% favour the talks, but 72% oppose an eventual participation of FARC in politics, and 78% do not approve an amnesty with no jail terms for guerrilla commanders.

Graffiti of FARC leaders

FARC leaders Raul Reyes, Manuel Marulanda and Ivan Rios in Bogota, Colombia by bixentro on Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

Though former President Álvaro Uribe has become a staunch opponent [es] of almost everything related to President Santos (his former defence minister), some non-governmental organizations have voiced concerns about a legal framework [es] for FARC passed by the Congress last June.

Santos imposed a June 2013 deadline to reach landmark advances, but it seems that this will be a long process, especially since FARC increased their attacks before the announcement.

Learning from past mistakes [es], improving security all over the country and strengthening trust [es] between the negotiating parties should be important steps towards the success of the talks.

ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.


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