What to expect from Colombia peace talks

Encouraging interim results from the Colombian Peace Talks in Cuba were announced. Should we be hopeful? Photo: Negotiators met in Norway to begin Colombia's peace talks before moving to Cuba. (AP Photo)

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., November 10, 2013 – The Colombian government and the FARC rebels have announced advances in peace talks over the last several days. The two sides have agreed in principal to issues concerning land reform, political participation by FARC members after the sides reach an agreement and ending cocaine trafficking by the FARC. These agreements are based on the concession by the FARC that they will no longer pursue political goals with violence.

Negotiations have been taking place in Cuba for the last year, with little progress until now. That lack of success has cost President Juan Manuel Santos political capital, as he approaches a bid for re-election next year. The campaign is likely to be difficult, with Santos facing a challenge from an extreme right- wing candidate from the party of Alvaro Uribe, Santos’ predecessor. Uribe is still very popular in Colombia, as is his policy of military victory – rather than peace talks – over the FARC rebels. The relationship between Santos and Uribe, formerly political allies, has deteriorated since Santos started talks with the FARC.

Santos believes that the announcement of tentative agreement between the government and the FARC will increase his political popularity. However, this is not necessarily accurate. Many in Colombia continue to see the FARC as a terrorist group at best or a drug financed movement at worst. The military and the paramilitary movement are also not very popular in the country. Abuses in the past have disillusioned many.

When the FARC tried to begin a political party during the last round of talks in 1999, the paramilitary massacred all those that were foolish enough to declare themselves candidates for office under the Patriotic Union (the political party of the FARC). Additionally, the military intentionally killed thousands of innocent people who they dubbed members of the FARC to raise the supposed success of the movement.

The armed conflict of the government with the FARC and the smaller ELN, the Army of National Liberation, has caused an estimated 200,000 fatalities and displaced millions.

In an informal survey of about 25 upper middle class Colombians reveals expectations surrounding the talks:

  • The great majority is happy that the talks may result in the stoppage of violence;
  • The majority believe the FARC command should be found culpable and should spend some time in jail;
  • Neither the FARC nor the military are seen as holding the upper ground ethically;
  • About half don’t agree that the FARC should have their political rights restored or affirmed;&
  • Most believe that the greatest risk in any agreement will be faced by the FARC. The 1953 and 1999 experiences looms big in this prediction;
  • The “devil is in the details” of the agreement.

Some believe FARC commanders could be accused of crimes against humanity, which would disqualify them from holding office. However, so far, there has been no such designation.

Many Colombians are keeping their fingers crossed that something substantial will result from the talks and end the violence. Others are ready to reject any agreement short of an unconditional surrender by the FARC and jail terms for all their active members. The candidate for the presidency for Uribe’s party, Oscar Zuluaga, has publicly stated that the FARC participants in the talks should be in jail instead. Some have said that privately he has said that if elected he would drive the negotiators out of Cuba with lead.

The situation, regardless of new advances in talks, is far from certain.

 

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MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., November 10, 2013 – In my last article you read about the background of the peace negotiations in Colombia. In the last few days there have been several announcements related to the progress of the talks in Cuba. Mainly that land reform  (“Agrarian Reform”), political participation by the FARC and cooperation in the elimination of the cocaine drug trade have been agreed upon in principle. These agreements are based on the concession by the FARC that they will no longer pursue political goals with violence.

The negotiations have been going on in Cuba for about a year, and there has been some political capital spent by the president, Juan Manuel Santos, due to the absence of progress until now. The president is facing a very tough reelection campaign next year. His main opponent appear to be an extreme right wing candidate from the party of Alvaro Uribe, Santos’ predecessor. Uribe is still very popular in Colombia as well as his policy of military victory over the FARC. The relationship between Santos and Uribe (former political allies) deteriorated after the former started talks with the FARC.

Santos believes that the announcement of tentative agreement between the government and the FARC will increase his political popularity. This is rather iffy since the FARC is still been seen as either a terrorist group at best or a drug financed movement at worst.

The government military and (some say their proxies) the paramilitary movement are also not very popular in the country. Abuses in the past have disillusioned many.

When the FARC tried to begin a political party during the last round of talks in 1999, the paramilitary proceeded to massacre all those that were foolish enough to declare themselves candidates for office under the Patriotic Union (the political party of the FARC). There is also the case of the “false positives” in which an estimated 1,000 innocent persons died in the hands of the military.

The armed conflict of the government with the FARC and the smaller ELN (for the acronym of the Army of National Liberation in Spanish) has caused an estimated 200,000 fatalities and millions that have been disposed and had to seek refuge in urban centers.

In an informal survey done by the author of about 25 upper middle class Colombians, there are some expected results:

  • The great majority is happy that the talks may result in the stoppage of violence;

  • The majority believe the FARC command should be found culpable and should spend some time in jail;

  • Neither the FARC nor the military are seen as holding the upper ground ethically;

  • About half don’t agree that the FARC should have their political rights restored or affirmed;&

  • Most believe that the greatest risk in any agreement will be faced by the FARC. The 1953 and 1999 experiences looms big in this prediction;

  • The “devil is in the details” of the agreement.

 

& there is some disagreement that FARC commanders can be accused of “Crimes against humanity” which would be a reason to disqualify them from holding public office. So far there hasn’t been such labeling.

Many Colombians are keeping their fingers crossed that something substantial results from the talks. Others are ready to reject any agreement short of an unconditional surrender by the FARC and jail terms for all their active members. The candidate for the presidency for Uribe’s party, Oscar Zuluaga, has publicly stated that the FARC participants in the talks should be in jail instead. Some have said that privately he has said that if elected he would drive the negotiators out of Cuba with lead.


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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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