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Colombia Peace Talks

Colombia Peace Talks

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Published by: lasillavacia on Mar 20, 2013
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Colombia Peace Talks
London; LSE - March 14thTrancript Enrique Santos CalderonI am honored to be here and thankful for the opportunity to speak on an issue so crucial to
Colombia’s present and future: the possibility
of ending a conflict that has bled and ravaged ourcountry for more than 50 years.I want to make very clear that I am not speaking on behalf of the government or as a spokesmanfor the president.This is
important to establish, because things I’ve said in the
recent past have been interpreted asthe indirect voice of the president, and led to misunderstandings on both sides of the table.I was his personal delegate in the exploratory talks in La Havana from February to August of lastyear, that led to the signing of the FRAMEWORK AGREEEMENT. Immediately after, consideringthat my role had been accomplished and not being a member of the government, I publicly
retired from the delegation. I don’t participate in the talks, but
remain in contact with members of the government delegation and have personal views on the negotiated political solution for theColombian armed conflict. Issue with which I have been involved in one way or another since theearly 80s, when I took part in the first Committee for Dialogue and Negotiation with the M19 andthe Popular Liberation Army (PLA) under the Betancourt government.Having said that, I will pass on to the specific points I have been asked to speak about here today:1. Why did Santos government decide to engage the Farc in negotiations2. What are the main challenges and outlook of these talksIt is relatively well known why and how this process started and I will talk very briefly about this,because the real question is how the talks are developing and where can they lead to.This process began indirectly in Uribe´s government, when he sent messages to Farc about ending
political violence. That didn’t work out
but when Santos was elected he decided to pursue thesecontacts is for possible peace talks. Why? For both subjective and objective reasons.On one hand, his own vision of the historical role his presidency could play in this regard. Also, theneed to establish a different approach to social issues, domestic politics and specificallyinternational relations:Primarly, the need to break the diplomatic isolation Colombia had with its neighbours.
 The objective reasons are many. A Farc that was weakened militarily and with zero politicalcredibility after the Caguan process, but very disposed to initiate talks with Uribe´s successor.· An international and regional climate, very favorable to a solution to the longest armedconflict in hemisphere. From USA to Cuba, everyone agreed this was desirable.· A crucial point was the improvement of relations with Hugo Chavez, whose influence on Farcwas very evident and who was also much in favor of negotiation. Both Cubans and Venezuelanshave played a key role in these talks.· Now, what kind of political regime will come out of Chavez´ death is of course very relevantto Colombia´s peace talks. In the
immediate future I don’t foresee significant changes. Maduro has
been Chavez´s man in this whole process. I spoke with him on this subject last November inCaracas and he was very emphatic in his commitment to the idea that Farc transform itself into alegal political movement with Bolivarian objectives.· Another factor in JMS decision was the electoral success of the left in Latin-American: inVenezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru,
Nicaragua, Salvador, Uruguay… The fact that many of 
the presidents of these countries were former guerillas that were elected in free elections simplyconfirmed that armed struggle has no political future in Latin-American. And all of them- Chavez,Evo, Mojica- have repeatedly said this to Farc. So have Fidel and Raul Castro.All this, and more, and the fact that Colombia itself is a very different country than 10 years ago --more prosperous, secure, self-confident-- lead the President to think that this was a uniqueopportunity for engaging the guerrillas in a successful peace process.Now to the present: tasks and challenges.Today, the fact is that in spite of recent polls and an evident hostile public attitude, in the lastweeks things are looking much better.There is a new air of optimism. Progress although slow, has been made on the agrarian issue; thetone has changed, Farc chief spokesman in LH, Ivan Marquez, now sounds more like politician thana warrior. The Presidents attitude is also more conciliatory. Both government and Farc seem tounderstand they need each other in this delicate moment, when public skepticism has reached ahigh point. Personally, I have the gut feeling this can succeed and that important points will bedecided before the year is over.
But one can’t minimize all the political risks, legal problems and
powerful enemies that lie ahead.Beginning with a deep mistrust
Colombians have of Farc: close to 70% don’t think they deserve
political benefits.The growing opposition of expresidente Uribe is both serious and harmful. He remains verypopular and NO to the Havana talks is a cornerstone of his political speech.Another difficulty: the risks and confusions of negotiating in the midst of war. Talking and fighting.Dialogue in LH, combat in Colombia. But these are the rules of the game set by the government:no ceasefire until a final agreement is reached. Public opinion
doesn’t easily understand this
situation and the mounting attacks by Farc and ELN feed doubts and fears
. Wasn’t peace around
the corner? It
also feeds Uribe’s visceral speech: the talks are an unacceptable
concession toterrorism and a leap backwards in national security.One aspect of his campaign is his intense use of social media networks. One graphic example: amonth ago, just minutes after I gave a radio interview explaining that the capture of members of police intelligence in a conflict zone could not be interpreted as kidnappings, Uribe was furiously
tweeting that the President’s brother
was justifying the kidnapping of policemen. They were freeddays later, but what must be kept in mind was what Farc said when they announced they wouldno longer kidnap for money, but that members of the armed forces captured in combat zoneswould be considered
“prisoners of war”.
 Armed confrontation will continue, but what could be deescalated are the verbal aggressions andthe microphone wars, in order to defuse tensions and better safeguard the Havana table from theloud media noise that surrounds it.Talks must
remain confidential. This doesn’t mean the government
can´t have a more coherentcommunication strategy. The Farc has filled the information void, to the extent that they havebecome victims of 
their own excessive media protagonism. It hasn’t helped t
hem at all: 60% of 
Colombian public don’t believe these talks will lead to peace.
 Anyway, there are so many complicated issues in the agenda apart from the present agrarian one:political participation, disarmament,
victims, illegal crops…
 Outside of structural problems- corruption, inequality, narco-trafficking- that are sadly threemajor factors of Colombian reality.Demobilization of 8 to 10,000 guerillas will not in itself transform this reality, but it wouldcertainly help very much.Running out
of time, so I’ll throw out some thoughts to be discussed later:
 · Rhythm is of the essence. The agenda has to move forward at a better pace. There has beensignificant progress on the agrarian point, but it has to move quicker.

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