Peace at Last?
By Dialogo December 14, 2012
It all started a little over a year ago. On November 4, 2011, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) suffered a serious blow: the death of their leader Alfonso Cano as the result of the military operation “Odiseo,” when the Colombian Air Force bombarded a FARC campsite.
Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia, made a statement a few hours after the announcement of Cano’s death: “This is the time to leave weapons behind, repeating what we said before, the alternative is to either go to prison or to the grave.”
The former Colombian president, Andrés Pastrana, also spoke up: “This is a crucial moment for the FARC. Those who are leaders seriously consider peace negotiations to put an end to this war, for the benefit of all Colombians.”
Analysts considered Cano’s death the beginning of the end for this terrorist organization.
On December 6, 2011, several NGOs called for a protest through the social networks urging the FARC to free the hostages and to end the violent acts, seeking a more dignified life for the Colombian people. Former hostages, family members of murdered victims and hostages overcame their fear and pleaded for peace. Even Colombians who were not direct victims of the terrorist group joined the protest. Many people shouted: “No more hostages! No more FARC! No more!”
The march was supported by the government and all the media. The repercussion was such that 10 other countries, including Argentina, Ireland, México, Spain, and the United States, organized similar protests, according to members of the NGOs involved.
President Santos stated: “Set them all free now, without any terms. Show there really is a desire for peace.”
Actually, both the Colombian government and the FARC realized that the continuation of the conflict made no sense, because it was not through war that rebels would succeed. Instead, they need to become a legal political force, and the government knew that the end of the conflict was essential for Colombia’s complete integration into the world of major democracies.
The president said that all mistakes made during previous attempts of peace agreements must be avoided, such as the one conducted under former President Andrés Pastrana, which failed after almost four years of negotiations, between October 1998 and February 2002. The government concluded that a large demilitarized zone that had been created for meetings was being used by the terrorists for their reorganization. It is important to note that the FARC’s current force has between 8,000 – 9,000 members, less than half of the 20,000 guerillas they had in 1998, according to Colombian government data.
On February of 2012, the FARC abandoned the practice of kidnapping for ransom and, in April the group released the last 10 police officers and soldiers who were still held as hostages, but they believed that the guerrillas still kept dozens of civilians captive. In June, Colombian legislators approved a measure to reform the constitution granting amnesty for demobilized guerrillas.
Finally, on August 27, 2012, President Santos confirmed that his government had started the “exploratory talks” with rebels from the FARC to prepare the groundwork for a peace process. He said that, this time, the Colombian forces will not suspend their operations, nor reduce the military presence in the country during the contact with the guerrillas. Initially, the dialogues were scheduled for October 8, in Oslo, Norway, but were later postposed to the 17th, and the talks would continue in Havana, Cuba.
The news generated a positive reaction from world leaders, renewing hope for an end to the armed conflict which has lasted for almost half a century, since the beginning of the FARC in 1964, leaving 600,000 people dead, 15,000 missing, and four million displaced.
On October 17 and 18 the delegates from the Colombian government, led by Humberto de La Calle, and the FARC, led by Iván Márquez, met in Oslo, Norway, for the first round of talks.
Five topics were selected: the restitution and land development; the war on drug trafficking, which has been the main source of income for the FARC in recent years, as well as programs to replace the crops and initiatives to prevent the consumption of drugs; the possibility of former guerrillas participating in the political process; the disarmament, including ceasefire; and lastly, the most important matter for the Colombian people, the victims of 48 years of armed conflicts, repairing the damages and creating an official record documenting crimes committed by the rebels.
The Colombian government and the guerrilla group started the second phase of peace dialogues on November 19, in Havana, which lasted through the 29.
Members of the government negotiating team include retired General Jorge Mora; Peace Counselor Sergio Jaramillo; former Peace Counselor Frank Pearl; President of the Colombian National Association of Businessmen, Luis Carlos Villegas; and former Director of the National Police Óscar Naranjo. Members of the FARC delegation are Iván Márquez, number two in the terrorist group, and Rodrigo Granda (alias Ricardo Téllez), Jesús Emilio Carvajalino (alias Andrés París), and Luis Alberto Albán (alias Marcos Calarcá).
In the beginning of this second phase, the FARC announced a unilateral ceasefire, which started on November 20 and will last for two months. The guerrilla units received the order and everybody in the national territory had to cease all offensive military operations against the public force, and the acts of sabotage against the public or private infrastructure.
“This will be a quick and efficient process. A process that will last months, not years”, said Humberto de la Calle. However, he stressed that for the duration of the negotiations, the government will not make military concessions, ceasefire, nor create demilitarized zones. A timeframe has been determined of November 2013 to reach a negotiated peace.
The dialogue resumed on December 5, “with the focus still on the agricultural reform, the first item on the agenda,” the parties said in a joint statement. The best indicator that the process is moving forward was the agreement to create a public forum in Bogota, in January 2013, regarding the agricultural development, since the uneven distribution of lands has been a major source of conflict for a long time.
The conversations remain and the entire world expects that, this time, Colombia will reach their desired objective: peace.