The new peace process that was launched between the Colombian government and the FARC insurgency is under good conditions to finally end the long term struggle, as concrete issues will be discussed on neutral soil in Cuba. So far, both sides have been signaling willingness to find a way to resolve the conflict. However, previous attempts to find peace have failed and to this point the conflict is so complex that any resolutions will be hard to put into practice.
Colombia has been in the state of armed conflict for 48 years. So far, several attempts to end this conflict through talks or military means have failed. But now, after long time of preparation and a preliminary meeting in August this year, a promising new peace process finally began on November 19th. The delegations from the government, as well as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the insurgency who violently fought the government, met in La Habana, Cuba to start the talks. They were accompanied by representatives from Norway and Cuba as guarantors and hosts as well as from Venezuela and Chile as accompanying delegations. The first phase of the negotiations concerned land reform, the issue for which the FARC was initially founded in 1964. In the second phase, which started on December 5th, questions of social and political inclusion are discussed. So far, the talks have been described as cordial, but also cold.
This new peace process sparks hope that the conflict will finally come to an end, as it has been initiated during a stalemate. On one hand, the FARC was severely hit in recent years and its numbers have been decimated, but the group could not be defeated and continues to launch deadly attacks. The Colombian military, on the other hand, had to realize that military attacks and even the death of the FARC’s leader didn’t lead to the desired results and the insurgency continues to have some support from the Colombian (rural) population.
Thus, there are some indicators that the time seems ripe to reach an agreement. First, the conditions of this peace process are different than they were before, apart from the military situation of the conflict. This time the talks have been systematically prepared, both delegations sent important negotiators and they take place on neutral soil. Second, the ‘end of the conflict’ is the explicit goal of the talks. Before, only demobilization or partial conclusions of the conflict had been discussed.
Furthermore, this time there are five concrete points on the negotiation agenda, meaning that issues such as land distribution, which initially led to the conflict, are discussed in detail. However, the procedure of the peace process requires agreement on all matters, before a peace deal will be signed.
Yet, third, under current President Santos the armed forces have been closer to the civilian leadership and were included into the peace talks, reducing the “risk of the coordination failures between political and military agendas that have marred previous peace attempts”. Fourth, the FARC has declared an unilateral ceasefire during the first phase to talks, leading some to believe in their good intentions and willingness to reach an agreement.
However, the reactions in Colombia to the ceasefire show how little trust there is between the government and the guerillas. Some, mainly from the camp of the Colombian armed forces, have denounced the declaration as a “public-relations exercise” or a strategic move in order to gain time to regroup and lower the pressure from the military’s attacks.
The general distrust between the two factions is deeply rooted in the armed conflict, as on one hand the FARC used the provision of a demilitarized zone in 1998 to enlarge and strengthen their group. On the other hand, when the FARC tried to enter the legal political process through the Unión Patriótica in 1985, almost all party members were subsequently killed by state-sponsored paramilitary groups. Thus, in order to reach a peace agreement, this distrust needs to be overcome.
Moreover, the Colombian conflict has become so intricate that finding a solution of all the issues connected to the conflict seems more unlikely each year. The negotiating parties need to find a way to demobilize the guerillas and offer them a way to enter the legal political process and an alternative future, without at the same time offending the victims of the insurgents, who are expecting justice and compensation. Furthermore, the FARC leadership needs to prove that it can successfully order its members to demobilize. For those fronts that have descended to participating in the drug trade a lucrative source of income needs to be given up. However, due to the creation of the International Criminal Court a simple ‘demobilization for amnesty’ agreement, common in many Latin American conflicts, can’t be reached any more as the court could intervene.
Additionally, the question in any peace deal will remain if the ELN, the other still active insurgent group, and the former paramilitaries will be awarded the same conditions of (possible) exoneration as the FARC, further complicating finding a practical solution.
Therefore, ending such an intricate conflict and reaching an agreement between parties that have been at war for 48 years will be very difficult and many obstacles need to be overcome. Furthermore, reassurances are needed that agreed measures will also be implemented. Yet, there is hope that momentum has been reached and this well laid out process can finally bring peace to Colombia. And even though the country will be dealing with its consequences for some time to come in one way or the other, a formal peace deal between the government and the insurgency would constitute a critical juncture towards a post-conflict Colombia.
Photo Credit: EquinoXio