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I 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 our country for more than 50 years. I want to make very clear that I am not speaking on behalf of the government or as a spokesman for the president. This is important to establish, because things I’ve said in the recent past have been interpreted as the 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 last year, that led to the signing of the FRAMEWORK AGREEEMENT. Immediately after, considering that 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 the Colombian armed conflict. Issue with which I have been involved in one way or another since the early 80s, when I took part in the first Committee for Dialogue and Negotiation with the M19 and the 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. 2. Why did Santos government decide to engage the Farc in negotiations What are the main challenges and outlook of these talks
It 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 these contacts 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, the need to establish a different approach to social issues, domestic politics and specifically international 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 political credibility 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 armed conflict 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 Farc was very evident and who was also much in favor of negotiation. Both Cubans and Venezuelans have played a key role in these talks. · Now, what kind of political regime will come out of Chavez´ death is of course very relevant to 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 in Caracas and he was very emphatic in his commitment to the idea that Farc transform itself into a legal political movement with Bolivarian objectives. · Another factor in JMS decision was the electoral success of the left in Latin-American: in Venezuela, 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 simply confirmed 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 unique opportunity 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 last weeks things are looking much better. There is a new air of optimism. Progress although slow, has been made on the agrarian issue; the tone has changed, Farc chief spokesman in LH, Ivan Marquez, now sounds more like politician than a warrior. The Presidents attitude is also more conciliatory. Both government and Farc seem to understand they need each other in this delicate moment, when public skepticism has reached a high point. Personally, I have the gut feeling this can succeed and that important points will be decided 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 very popular 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 to terrorism and a leap backwards in national security. One aspect of his campaign is his intense use of social media networks. One graphic example: a month 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 freed days later, but what must be kept in mind was what Farc said when they announced they would no longer kidnap for money, but that members of the armed forces captured in combat zones would be considered “prisoners of war”. Armed confrontation will continue, but what could be deescalated are the verbal aggressions and the microphone wars, in order to defuse tensions and better safeguard the Havana table from the loud media noise that surrounds it. Talks must remain confidential. This doesn’t mean the government can´t have a more coherent communication strategy. The Farc has filled the information void, to the extent that they have become victims of their own excessive media protagonism. It hasn’t helped them 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 three major factors of Colombian reality. Demobilization of 8 to 10,000 guerillas will not in itself transform this reality, but it would certainly 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 been significant progress on the agrarian point, but it has to move quicker.
Doesn’t mean drastic dates for final agreements. 50 years’ war will not be settled in 50 weeks. Both sides seem closer in this regard. Santos now has said no precise date is essential, but that more progress and results are necessary. Farc has recently shown it better understands this is essential to win more open support for this talks. In my view, and I have said it many times, if the agrarian issue isn’t cleared by April, it will be a bad message to Colombian society. Pessimism will remain (Caguan all over again? Endless talks and no progress?) · Time Factor. Also delicate in both legal in political terms. After December, with Parliamentary elections in next March, it will be much more difficult for Congress to approve the statutory law that will define the political participation of guerrillas. President of Congress Roy Barrera said last week that time is becoming the worst enemy of the peace process and that the final agreement should be signed while the government has a solid majority. All these electoral dynamics are not necessarily coherent with the complexities of the agenda, but should be a stimulus to move on at a faster pace. It seems that Farc is still counting on a Constitutional Assembly that would resolve everything and make all these procedures irrelevant. But this is simply not viable today. Which bring us to another difficulty: Farc’s insistence on maximalistic, unrealistic demands. Constitutional Assembly, bilateral ceasefire before agreement, radical upheaval of the present electoral system, freezing the passage of new laws, reversal of macroeconomic policies… Then there is the matter of Political Continuity. One of Farcs understandable concerns is: what guarantees are there that this process will become a state policy, not merely of a passing governments desires?. I posed this question last month in the Wilson Center in Washington, saying that the issue of Santos re-election is very relevant to the continuity of the process. This was superficially interpreted in the Colombian media as if I were launching my brother’s reelection campaign. The president of the Senate, after returning from LH 10 days ago, said that it’s not so much Santos who needs the peace process to be reelected, as the process needs reelection to assure its continuity. I frankly don´t know if JMS will or, even wants to be reelected, nor if his eventual successor will be a friend or foe of these talks. What I do believe is that he has a personal, political and even moral obligation of doing everything possible to consolidate this crucial process to which he has committed himself and his country.
· Transitional justice and the military. This is a specially delicate point. The participation of Farc in open politics and solid guarantees for their security are fundamental. But what about the military? There is, I can assure you, a widespread institutional concern in the Armed Forces about their imprisoned members, condemned to long jail sentences. They are expecting a more equivalent treatment. In the matter of transitional justice, there has to be a certain symmetry, if peace is to be built on solid ground. This may outrage many NGO’s but it is an illusion to think that only the guerillas can receive benefits, but not the military. I know that the Armed Forces of Colombia do not care if Farc leaders don’t pay jail, even if they all ready a have long sentences; and don’t even mind if they go to Congress. Their concern is about their officers and soldiers. Are they to rot in jail while the guerrillas go free? Large segments of Colombian society would not accept that. The Controller General (Procurador) has repeatedly stated that he will not permit “the military to be sacrificed in the Havana table”. The Farc, as a military organization, understands that their adversaries in the battlefield need to receive an acceptable treatment. It would be very positive if they said it more explicitly. An interesting idea is if guerilla leaders and generals could, at a certain point, sit together alone, to visualize among themselves the post-conflict in Colombia. “Pardon is a necessary evil” said father Francisco de Roux, head of the Jesuits in Colombia two weeks ago
Is there a Plan B?
Some analysts have said there is no plan B for the President nor for Timochenko, Farc’s top leader, suggesting that these talks may be doomed if they both don’t get more actively involved in better explaining their importance and publicly rebutting the ever louder enemies of the process. I tend to agree. Both government and Farc have to be more clear, insistent and persuasive in explaining why this process is so crucial to Colombia’s future. Just imagine the implications --social, economic, human- if decades of armed conflict with guerrillas could come to an end. The violence generated by the criminal bands is another story, as Claudia Lopez will surely explain here today. In general, the President has to be less reactive or defensive to all Uribe says or does, and more forward looking and pedagogical in regards to all the bright perspectives of a successful negotiation. A recent positive sign is that both the government and the Marcha Patriotica, a
movement close to the Farc, have called for a peace march on the same day, the 9th of April. So, there it goes. Slowly but surely. Talking and fighting. Between public confrontation and private dialogue. And as the Havana talks enter their 7th cycle which began last Monday, hopefully government and guerrilla avoid playing into the hands of the enemies of this peace process, which are not few. In the measure in which it advances, so will the temptations to sabotage it. In Colombia we have too many historic examples of how monstrous these provocations can be. That’s why leadership on both sides of the table have to do the outmost to clear the present agenda, to sign the final agreement, so we can reach the third and final stage. The really complex, decisive and long one, that can take years. The reality of how all that has been agreed will be applied and verified. The State coming through on its engagements. The demobilization and incorporation into civil and political life of the guerrillas. That’s the real challenge and where the present talks have to lead to, better sooner than later. The Framework Agreement states that: “nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed” and that “implementation of the agreements will be simultaneous and verifiable”. An enormous and complex task. But such is the challenge we have before us. Specially the Colombians that believe this is a historic and golden opportunity. Those of us that do not think a purely military solution is possible or even desirable. Those that feel this hope beyond mere electoral or tactical calculations. Beyond cautious optimism, or moderate pessimism, or intelligent skepticism, --all understandable attitudes in the present circumstances-- what the Colombian peace talks need is a lot of patience, a lot of realism, a lot of perseverance and -–why not?—a little bit of faith. Thank you
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