By Sandra López
With the talks appearing to have stalled, the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) resumed their meetings in Havana this past May 4. These peace talks that began in November 2012 seek to put an end to a war that has lasted 50 years.
On Sept. 23, 2015, President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño (also known as Timoleón Jiménez or Timoshenko) announced that the long-awaited agreement that would bring the armed conflict to an end would be signed in six months from that date. However, Mar. 23 came and went without the peace agreement being reached.
In the Joint Communiqué Nº. 68, issued on Apr. 29, the parties admitted that: “We continue working on building agreements regarding item 3, ‘End of the Conflict’, and we have started discussions on item 6, ‘Implementation, Verification and Ratification’.”
In early May, President Santos ruled out setting a new date for the signing of the peace agreement, while the FARC have ensured in Havana that the dialog has not stalled.
“Apparently this considered the last stretch is the one that is presenting the most difficulties. Each side [government and guerrilla] has reached a line that neither wants to yield,” tells political scientist Ángela Molina to Latinamerica Press, referring to the differences that both parties maintain in issues of decommissioning of weapons, concentration zones and the security of the guerrilla members reintegrating into civilian life.
It was precisely these points that prevented Santos and Londoño from fulfilling their promise to sign the peace agreement on the indicated date. For the government, the FARC must hand over their weapons before the final signing, while the guerrillas insist on keeping them stored as a guarantee that the government will honor the agreements.
The areas where the guerrillas are to be concentrated is another point of contention: while the government considers that these places should add to a maximum of 10 and be away from populated areas and borders, the FARC demands about 30 and for them to be close to the civilian population.
The security of those reintegrated into society is a demand of the FARC, as stated at a press conference by FARC spokesman Jorge Torres (also known as Pablo Catatumbo) on Mar. 23 in Havana.
“The challenges we are facing are difficult, we have not yet succeeded in reaching agreement on issues that are vital to the end of the conflict,” he said. “Still pending resolution are serious issues such as the intensification of paramilitarism. There have been more than 28 assassinations of popular leaders, human rights defenders, farmers, in the last month that have gone unpunished. This is something very worrying.”
For Molina, “everything seems to indicate that the proposals that Diego Mora [director of the governmental National Protection Unit] brought to Havana with him did not convince the FARC,” referring to the explanation made by Mora of the security measures to be adopted to guarantee the life of the guerrillas once they lay down their arms.
And as the popular saying goes “if it rains there, it pours here”; in Colombia those who oppose the peace process also do not want to budge in their position. Between Mar. 31 and Apr. 1, and in a clear demonstration that paramilitarism is still alive, the criminal band called Clan Úsuga, made up of former paramilitaries and shrouded under the name Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC-Gaitanist Self-Defense Groups of Colombia) — which takes the name of Liberal candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán whose assassination in 1948 triggered the period of clashes between liberals and conservatives known as The Violence — decreed an armed strike that paralyzed the country’s 36 municipalities located in eight departments, including among them Antioquia, Chocó, Córdoba, and Sucre. Two days later, convened by the right-wing Centro Democrático (CD-Democratic Center Party) and headed with former president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), thousands of people marched in major cities of the country against the peace process and callin
g for the resignation of President Santos.
“We want peace, but not a peace that is handing the country over to the guerrillas,” Federico Hoyos, a CD congressman, told Latinamerica Press.
Nevertheless, both the government and the FARC continue taking steps that indicate their willingness to end the conflict. The arrival of the guerrilla commander Hernán Darío Velásquez, also known as El Paisa, to Havana on Apr. 24, showed that the FARC is a monolithic and cohesive organization. Also, he cleared the rumors that existed about a division in the command structure of the FARC.
“With El Paisa, the top leadership of the FARC in Havana, with Timoshenko at the head, is completed. This happens at a crucial time when the conditions for the end of the conflict, the conditions for the ceasefire, the concentration of the guerrilla troops and an effective disarmament, need to be tightened,” Molina added.
Meanwhile President Santos changed seven of his ministers on Apr. 25 and formed what he called “the cabinet of peace, of post-conflict”, integrated, as he announced, “by Colombians who believe that our country should not suffer 50 more years of conflict.” The new cabinet is made up of representatives from the regions where, according to experts, the real challenges will be present once the war ends.
The appointment among the new ministers of Clara López as Minister of Labor, was highlighted. López is leader of the left-wing Polo Democrático Alternativo (PDA-Alternative Democratic Pole and challenger of Santos in the presidential elections of 2014. After her designation she submitted her resignation to the PDA saying that she accepted the post on a personal level and for “the challenge that President Santos has presented me with in the final stretch of the peace process with the FARC and the opening of talks with the ELN [Ejército de Liberación Nacional or National Liberation Army, announced on Mar. 30), because he has told me that one of the responsibilities will be to take an active role in the coordination of all civil society.”
Both the FARC and the government must be feeling the pressure of running out of time. A survey by the firm Datexco after Mar. 23 revealed that Colombians are losing faith that the peace agreement will be reached. While in January, 49 percent of respondents were confident that the signing would be achieved, and only 45 percent believed that no agreement would be reached with the FARC; in April, 60 percent did not believe that a peace agreement would be signed and only 35 percent were still confident that an end to the conflict would be reached; a conflict which according to official figures, has caused the deaths of some 300,000 people, has displaced 6 million people and has caused at least 45,000 disappearances.