Peace talks in Colombia – Nine reasons to be optimistic

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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday confirmed preliminary talks are underway with the FARC to secure peace in Colombia. Official negotiations are scheduled for October.

Details are yet to be confirmed by the presidential palace and so we must wait for news on the location (expected to be both Cuba and Oslo), who will be present (the Chilean and Venezuelan governments appear set to act as guarantors), and the agenda (to include drug trafficking, land reform, and political representation).

While international and Colombian media alike have welcomed the news, at home in Colombia, there is some understandable scepticism. And in certain sectors there is even hostility to the idea of sitting down with criminals and murderers.

The talks represent the clearest opportunity in the history of the 50 year war to find a exit to this meaningless struggle in which the lives of thousands of Colombians have been sacrificed to a unrealistic and immoral communist revolutionary dream.

The time has come for optimism and this website has ninereasons to dream of peace.

  1. An ending. When the last talks began their outcome was unclear. It was unknown what was being negotiated-was it a cease-fire, or territory, or peace? The end game had not been established before the talks began, and both parties entered with different results in mind. This time, President Santos has been clear, the unique purpose of the talks is a termination of the conflict. Peace, full stop is the outcome he wants, and the FARC by entering into the talks accept this premise.
  2. Mutual trust. Talks have been underway for months, yet only now that an agreement has been reached have we learnt of their existence. Sure, there has been speculation, but the FARC have not broken ranks to manipulate the media, the president has (for the most part) maintained control over the flow of information.
  3. The fight is lost. The guerrillas know the game is up. The last time the sides sat down the FARC had over 15,000 fighters and were present in around 50% of the nation. They entered the talks with the upper hand, and the dream of the taking Bogota by force was within reach. After the US Plan Colombia funded just shy of a decade of military action against the FARC during the Uribe (and now Santos) governments, the rebels have been reduced to a rump of around half the number of their 2002 troops, and have been pushed back into remote mountain hideouts.
  4. Favorable legislation. The Santos government has already established the legal code for transitional justice. As a result, FARC leaders have security that agreements negotiated in Oslo can be delivered by the government – that there is little potential for the legislature to pull the plug. In addition, the ‘framework for peace’ law allows for the integration (of demobilised) combatants into civil society, also making provision for involvement in the political ambit (both key FARC demands). Finally, the Santos administration has passed the ‘land restitution’ act, which neutralises one of the FARC’s long-term political struggles.
  5. Balance. All peace talks need balance. Parity of representation is an essential component in successful negotiations. So, whilst it is difficult to find a person in Colombia content with the news that Chavez will be present, history tells us that guarantors (for both sides) are basic requirements. Chavez will facilitate conversations with the FARC while the Chilean government will be Santos’ interlocutor. It is worth remembering that at the last talks, Piedad Cordoba acted as a go-between for the government but her evident proximity to the FARC (for which she was eventually banned from office) meant she was seen as Janus-faced, ultimately useful to neither side.
  6. Cease-fire? The Pastrana talks failed in part because they concentrated almost exclusively on seeking an agreement to establish a (form of) cease-fire, (which ultimately the FARC contravened). This time the Government has revealed that a cease-fire is not a prerequisite for the talks to take place. Santos will not permit the FARC to catch the government out and has committed his military to defend every ‘centimetre’ of the national territory – the war continues even while peace is being sought. Against this background Piedad Cordoba entered the debate this week, providing hope that – despite it not being a deal breaker – the FARC are willing adopt a cessation of violence. Were this to happen it would help to strike out a central argument of those opposed to the talks – namely that the FARC have not shown ‘willing’.
  7. Clear agenda. If the rumours are true about the detail of the agenda for discussion in Oslo, it will be impossible for either party to argue any of the key themes were ‘off the table’. Often peace talks collapse because one party uses the excuse that an issue central to their community has been ignored. This time we will have a complete agenda that both parties have signed off during the pre-talks phase.
  8. Left-wing role models. The FARC grew up out of the frustration of the Liberal Conservative two-party state. There was no voice for the (far) left and the philosophical leaders of the movement saw the only route to power through arms. Following the constitution of 1991 other political actors have been permitted and the left now has a voice in parliament (principally through the Progresistas and Polo). Alongside this, Latin America has seen the emergence of left-wing leaders, legitimately elected to lead their respective countries. These left-wingers offer a blue-print for achieving – through peaceful means – socialist ends. Such politicians include Brazil’s Lula, Peru’s Ollanta Humala, and of course Bogota’s Gustavo Petro. The ballot box not the bullet is the model for 21st Century leftism.
  9. Political supportPresident Santos has been provided with strong political backing from the 94% of Congress within his coalition government. While the U party has ‘nuances’, there is virtual unanimity elsewhere, with even the opposition party the Polo Democrats in favour. Ex-presidents Samper and Pastrana have lent their support, while Cesar Gaviria is tipped to form part of Santos’ delegation. Ex-president Uribe finds his position of opposition a lonely place. Santos can enter with talks without having to have one eye on what the parliament will stomach – it will vote through just about any agreement.The outcome of the talks cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty. The conditions, however, are more favorable than ever before. Nothing can be taken for granted and the question of the FARC’s willingness to play ball remains open. Skepticism is understandable, defeatism is not.

Everyone has an image of Colombia.

In 99% of cases this idea will be wrong.

Posted by Kevin Howlett from Colombia-Politics
Twitter:@ColPolitics
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