Colombia-FARC Peace Talks are Focus of CHDS Hemispheric Forum
By Dialogo February 18, 2013
Long wracked by brutal drug violence, Colombia is finally enjoying a dramatic resurgence. The economy is on the upswing, poverty is diminishing and the middle class is expanding. Meanwhile, tourists are rediscovering Colombia’s lush rural beauty and sophisticated cities.
But a persistent problem remains: the government’s longstanding battle against the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
On Feb. 6, the National Defense University’s Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies explored the factors that recently led both sides to the negotiating table, as well as the chances for success of peace talks now underway in Havana, Cuba.
The CHDS symposium, entitled “Hemispheric Forum on the Colombia Peace Negotiations,” featured Colombian Army Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina Ovalle — now a professor at the center — as well as Carlos Urrutia, Colombia’s ambassador to the United States, and several Washington-based specialists on Latin America.
“As we’ve seen from peace processes across the Americas, without effective implementation, even the most ironclad agreement negotiated completely in good faith runs the risk of breakdown and failure,” said the event’s moderator, Eric Farnsworth, vice-president of the Council of the Americas. “It is here that the international community can and should be expected to play a meaningful role.
Farnsworth also said prospects for a binding peace agreement may be as good as they’ve ever been.
“This is the best moment in a generation — and some would say ever — to think about a final resolution of the conflict,” he said. “But we won’t even get to the implementation phase if the parties cannot conclude a peace agreement themselves.”
Urrutia: FARC’s prospects are ‘grim’
The FARC, which both Washington and Bogotá classify as a terrorist organization, claims to represent the rural poor against the economic depredation of Colombia’s elite. But Colombian government officials have long denounced FARC’s tactics, which include kidnapping, ransom demands, drug-running and violence. The conflict has been ongoing since the 1950s, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions of people.
This past August, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that his government was engaging in exploratory talks with FARC officials in hopes of ending the conflict. The Havana talks are tentative but ongoing — and no one knows where they will lead.
Urrutia told the standing-room only audience that Colombia’s military, enhanced by modern technology and intelligence capabilities, has FARC on the ropes and that it’s only a matter of time before the terrorists lay down their arms and agree to deep concessions.
“FARC’s prospects going forward are certainly grim,” Urrutia said. “Society no longer tolerates its vicious actions, and [Colombian government] concessions that would have been on the table 12 years ago are now unthinkable. FARC’s involvement in the international drug trade and the international labeling of FARC as a terrorist organization has greatly diminished its standing and it has no room for improvement.”
Different ideas on what peace looks like
But David Spencer, assistant professor of national security affairs at CHDS, had a less optimistic view of the talks currently underway.
“FARC does not think like western governments do,” Spencer said. “They have a very different approach …and the organization has a number of characteristics that make them an extremely frustrating opponent to deal with.”
Spencer also said the Colombian state and FARC also have very different ideas of what a successfully negotiated peace settlement would look like. “The state defines end of conflict as demobilization, disarmament and reintegration,” Spencer explained. “FARC claims the guns will stop firing when society is transformed into a socialist state.”
A general’s perspective
Ray Walser, senior Latin America policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said public opinion in Colombia clearly supports the concept of a negotiated peace.
“The current insurgency is a narcoterrorist organization that lacks political legitimacy and is outside the orbit of a democratic conversation. The tactics they employ are evolving, but seizure of power is still the objective.”
Indeed, Colombia’s Gen. Ospina, chief of the defense chair at CHDS, said it would be foolish to underestimate the FARC’s commitment to its goals. “The goal of the FARC will not change,” he said. “They will always try to seize power one way or another.”
But he also said acquiescing to outrageous demands is not an option.
“Negotiating with terrorists is not a healthy practice,” Ospina told his audience. “However, we have to admit that it has worked in other parts of the world, like Central America and Nepal. So maybe it’s not healthy, but it could be useful.”
Even so, said the retired general, “if the peace process means impunity for the FARC leaders and allows them to participate in politics, I will have to strongly oppose the peace process. Justice has to be served, and guilty terrorists have to pay for their crimes. Peace cannot be obtained at all costs.”
let's hope the government can reach an agreement with the FARC Well, the comments of these men have absolutely no actual substance and are based on fallacies and lies, real life is different. The useless campaign against the FARCs and the entire Colombian Progressive Movement has been for nothing, of them being "terrorists", "narc terrorists" all of that crap they know it isn't true, and is only intended to disgrace the revolutionary, patriotic and anti-empire insurgency. This is a military-politic struggle that is opposed to the political model of the current and past Colombian administration, and will fight it, if not them, others will wield their arms to defend its rights and not be killed by said criminal oligarchy, and this campaign will not prosper with all the warmongers (free birds) and military chiefs. In regards to this page, actually is an eye-opening page for many people who don't have any knowledge or idea of this situation in which we're sinking due to the ambition of the great oligarchies of the country, who sell the wealth of the nation in exchange for very little which they keep for themselves, and the poor person becomes even poorer and they don't seem to care about the suffering of anyone. In this country we definitely need a HUGO CHAVEZ, FRIAS was right to lend him his support, he actually deserved it, but the media belong to the oligarchy and through them they brainwash the ignorant and educated people of this country I offer to the PEACE dialogues all the inventory of 56% of the municipal area of Cali, usurped by the most distinguished original families of Cali, I am a rebel with a cause because I know the almond tree on the inside, the COMMON LANDS are public property intended by the Political Regime of the Municipal's Code exclusively to develop and execute dwelling plans, to learn to share the urban background formula for the social coexistence, which is the road to peace. If you wish to publish the memoirs that I've prepared for thirty years and given the negligence of Cali's City Hall and the submissive Councilmen of Cali, I will submit under my responsibility the social work of my doing in my capacity as a 72 year-old civil engineer. ALL THE DOCUMENTS ARE AUTHENTICATED FROM LONG TIME AGO AND RATIFIED BY NOTARIES OF THAT TIME, you may designate whom you consider appropriate to verify the documentation. Claudio Borrero Quijano - C.C. 17.044.580 Bogota - T.P. 7260 Civil Engineer of the Postal Code of Cundinamarca - Former Councilmen of Cali during four terms. I'm sending a BLOG of my writings in the weekly posting at Caliescribe.con CALEÃ‘A DIGITAL MAGAZINE