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Peace Remains to be Seen in Colombia

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Oct 24, 2013, 3:12 pm

EspañolOctober 18 marked one year since the beginning of negotiations between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the government of Juan Manuel Santos — to end the oldest armed conflict in that country and in Latin America. Peace negotiations began in Oslo, Norway, and then continued in Havana, Cuba, where they are still taking place.

At first, the risky decision to resume peace negotiations with the FARC turned out to be favorable for President Santos. Surveys immediately revealed that, although there were skeptical sectors regarding a possible settlement of the conflict due to the many failed attempts in the past, most Colombians supported the negotiations. The mere announcement of the negotiations improved the weak image of the president, and international observers welcomed the initiative.

And why wouldn’t this development generate a positive response? After 40 years of war, Colombia deserves peace, and any efforts to bring about peace merit welcome.

One must also acknowledge that the president handled the situation very well. He preempted logical criticism and doubts by ensuring that his government would continue carrying out military operations within the territory, even during the negotiations. So, when Santos received the first ceasefire request, he rejected it immediately. In addition, the six-point agenda agreed to for the peace talks was generally positive, though vague in certain points — and the negotiating team designated by the government and led by the veteran ex president Humberto de la Calle was top of the line.

Nevertheless, one year into the process, the parties have only partial agreements to show for their efforts, and only on the first topic of the agenda. The progress of the talks is too slow, and, surprise, the parties blame each other for this. Although not officially presented at the negotiating table, murmurings within his governing coalition are arising that President Santos has suggested suspending the talks. That would be during the two election campaigns in the country in 2014 — legislative in March and presidential in May.

The most resisted discussion points by the FARC have been those related to the rights of the victims, transitional justice, and political participation of guerrillas. They are also discontent with the bill — already passed in the Colombian House of Representatives — which would allow for a referendum on the same day of the elections, to support the possible agreements made by the government and the guerrillas.

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Marcha Mundial, “a million voices against the FARC,” 2008. Source: El Correo Blog

The guerrillas are in no rush to come to an agreement any time soon. They are deeply weakened and discredited, and the peace process gives them both a break and an international presence. Maybe that is why their proposals are increasingly wayward and unrealistic, such as summoning a National Constituent Assembly to turn the commitments made in Havana into a new Constitution, as well as significant reforms in the state and the country’s economic model.

De La Calle, the government negotiator, has repeatedly complained about the slowness and the unwillingness of the FARC’s negotiating delegation, and he has reminded them that the talks are not for negotiating the guerrilla’s political agenda, but for ending the conflict. However, the guerrillas refuse to set deadlines, claiming that the peace process “is something that deserves all the time that is necessary.”

It is thus evident that the Santos government is the only party really interested in ending negotiations swiftly — with an eye on the two key elections ahead — in order to fulfill one of the greatest yearnings of Colombian society. But it is most likely that these elections will pass, and the long overdue peace agreement won’t have been resolved yet. That would definitely affect Santos’s reelection, in case he finally decides to run, as it seems will happen.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.