Panel of Specialists Discuss the Peace Talks in Colombia at UM
By Dialogo July 29, 2013
The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) completed an 11th round of peace talks on the second week of July without reaching an accord. A group on specialists in the topic had an open discussion about the round tables being held in Havana, Cuba, with the consensus that an agreement between the government and the FARC will be hard to implement, regardless of the final results.
“In my opinion, the main concern is the post-conflict. What will happen to the thousands of men and women in uniform who’ve been part of this fight for the past 50 years, for instance?”, asked Professor Bruce Bagley, coordinator and mediator of the event at the University of Miami on July 23. “The problem is we don’t know much about the peace talks because nobody involved is speaking – which is really surprising, considering the large number of people present at the discussions, – but I think this is just one aspect of the negotiation that is preventing the government and the FARC from reaching an agreement.”
Victor Uribe, Associate Professor in the Department of History at Florida International University and also a panelist at the event, is concerned that the talks are being stalled because of a major disagreement between the head of the FARC, who is basically asking for a clean slate, and the government of Colombia, who already said that a blank pardon for all the crimes perpetrated by the rebel group members will not happen. “I can say I am cautiously optimistic and favorable to the peace talks, but I won’t deny it’s a tough cookie to crack,” he said.
For David Adams, a former reporter for the St. Petersburg Times and currently a Reuters correspondent in Miami, the “FARC is just trying to buy some time, since they’ve seen a great reduction in their force from over 20,000 members a few years ago to around 8,000 at present day, and because their leaders know they’ve been infiltrated by government agents and have lost many battles recently.”
Another panelist and The Wall Street Journal correspondent in Mexico, José de Córdoba, considers the re-distribution of land to be the peace talks’ Achilles tendon. “Who’s going to keep what? The FARC has a presence in acres and acres of land in Colombia for many years now, and I don’t think they will give that up so easily,” he said.
In May, 64 percent of respondents to a Gallup survey on 8.7 million Colombians said they believe the peace talks now underway in Cuba will conclude with a resolution to the conflict before the presidential elections set for May 2014. But Prof. Bagley feels nothing will be decided before the ballots are cast. “The results of the negotiations can be too damaging for President Juan Manuel Santos, so he might wait and see if he’ll be re-elected to have more of a bargaining power at the table,” he predicted.
Aware that there’s growing concern for the timeframe for a resolution, President Juan Manuel Santos was cautious to the press in late May. “When we have the whole package put together [of FARC concessions in the peace process], the Colombian people will strongly support it,” he assured.
In the meantime, the guerrilla group continues to perpetrate sporadic attacks and kidnappings throughout the country in order to stress the need for restructuring the Colombian State. On July 22, for instance, the FARC guerrillas offered combatants and weapons to the peasants that have been protesting for several weeks in the Catatumbo area, in the northeast region of the country. The Colombian president, who had already asked the FARC to adjust the negotiating agenda in Havana and had discarded the possibility of summoning a constitutional assembly, as requested by the insurgent group on several occasions, considered these threats “a buffoonery.”