Peace negotiations in tatters: key elements to understanding the talks between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP 

 

For the outsider, most days can look the same in Bogotá. It will rain at some point in the day, and inevitably a trancón (as the horrible traffic jams are known in local vernacular) will stop the city before and after the workday. Despite the fact that common criminality is rife in the city, commerce is booming, and during the weekends, citizens of Bogotá can be found wandering down the streets, eating in restaurants that have nothing to envy to those that can be found in Manhattan, or shopping in one of the many malls that populate the city. Just by visiting Bogotá, one would hardly ascertain that the country has been immersed in an armed conflict for more than fifty years. But the capital’s detachment from the rest of the country belies a conflict that is very much alive and a peace process that will likely have limited impact.

The Colombian government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) have been engaged in peace negotiations since 2012. In what seems to be the most promising peace process to date, the parties have steadily reached agreements in more than half of the points in the agenda that was set three years ago.  However, many challenges lie ahead.

Both parts in the negotiating table have continued armed attacks against each other. Recent ominous actions by the FARC have raised the alarm on the guerrilla’s commitment to achieving peace, but it must be noted that the decision to conduct negotiations without a ceasefire was a deliberate one, especially on the part of the government. In late 2014, the FARC decided on a unilateral ceasefire, which also unilaterally decided to end. These events, regardless of how despicable, respond to the normal logic of peace negotiations being carried out during an armed conflict. However, former president Uribe and his allies have jumped at the opportunity to discredit the negotiations. His ongoing efforts to delegitimize the peace talks are ceaseless, and given the support that he still musters, the upcoming local elections could complicate the government’s efforts to continue the negotiations. Pressures to reach a peace agreement have intensified, and the debate on the ceasefire is now at the forefront of the discussions. Once again, the FARC has decided on a unilateral ceasefire, and the government has responded with “de-escalation.” At no other state in the ongoing negotiations have the talks been closer to failure, this issue will be key in the continuation or complete cessation of the talks.

In June 4th, 2015, the FARC and the government announced that they had reached an agreement to create a Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition, which will be established once an agreement is reached. This agreement is certainly a welcome development in a country where the conflict has affected about 6.8 million citizens. However, the text of the announcement already raises some concerns on the future of the commission. The statement is not specific on how the truth commission will work, but most disconcerting is the repetition of the assignment of establishing “the origins and multiple causes of the conflict, the principle factors that have facilitated or contributed to the persistence of the conflict, and the effects and most notable impacts of the conflict on the population.” This was already the goal of the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (also created in la Habana) that failed miserably at producing agreement among the twelve experts and two rapporteurs that were in charge of examining these issues. In June 22, in an event with members of the European left, the FARC insisted again on the need of establishing “the root causes of the war.” While historical revision is of utmost importance, focusing on these elements in the Truth Commission rather than on the victimizing events and reparation will likely stall the implementation of the peace process in detriment of the victims. Hopefully, the Truth Commission will not mimic the inner workings of the Historical Commission and will truly focus on the victims who seek their truth and reparation.

Finally, emerging from one of the longest conflicts in the world will likely present Colombians with innumerable opportunities, but the government has to be very cautious in managing expectations. Even if a peace agreement is reached in the following months, criminality and poverty are likely to remain high in Colombia. Colombians need to be aware that the agreement will not solve the country’s problems. With a gini coefficient well above the alarm boundary set by the world bank, regional disparity and poverty takes its toll on a big segment of the population that live under scarcity and insecurity. The presence of the state remains residual in some regions, with provision of public services ranging from little to non-existent in some areas. The peace agreement is not going to change any of that.

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