Delegates representing Colombia’s government and largest rebel group FARC sit down for historic peace talks in Cuba that aim to end nearly 50 years of violence between the guerrillas and the state.
The formal talks begin at 8:30AM EST (1:30PM GMT) in one of the rooms of Havana’s Convention Palace, located in the southeast of the Cuban capital and only blocks from El Laguito, a state-owned residential area where the delegates and representatives of other governments will be staying while talks are ongoing.
According to newspaper El Espectador, the two delegations will hold five-hour session each day with two coffee breaks per session.
The delegations at the table will consist of five main negotiators per team, accompanied by supplement negotiators, guarantors appointed by the governments of Cuba and Norway, and delegates from Venezuela and Chile who accompany the process.
While only five negotiators may take place at the table, the government’s main negotiation team consists of six. The FARC’s initial fifth negotiator, “Simon Trinidad” is not present because he is serving a prison sentence in the United States, which has not allowed his repatriation. Dutch guerrilla Tanja Nijmeijer will replace Trinidad at the table.
During the negotiations, only the ten main negotiators may talk. All others present in the room are not allowed to intervene.
The two delegations have been holding informal and secret talks in Havana since February during which they agreed to formally discuss an agenda containing five points.
In the weeks ahead of the formal talks, both delegations have shunned media; While Colombia Reports has been able to establish contact with the government and FARC delegations, neither one agreed to make statements. The government delegation has sent out press releases regarding logistical matters, and the FARC has limited itself to interviews with ideologically aligned media and the granting of one interview with Nijmeijer to a left-leaning newspaper from her native Netherlands.
The talks are to be held behind closed doors and under strict protocol regarding contact between delegations and outsiders. Cuban security forces are preventing all contact between press and delegates, Colombian journalists in Cuba reported.
Before leaving for Cuba Sunday, De la Calle warned press there won’t be much contact with media while the warring parties are talking. “We are not looking for news headlines, but concrete results,” he said.
The FARC and government disagree on the possible length of the peace talks. According to President Juan Manuel Santos, the second phase is a “matter of months, not years.” Marquez committed himself to keeping the time needed for negotiations to a minimum, but added that “in no part [of the preliminary deal] specific time frames are mentioned.”
While talks are ongoing, state and rebel forces will continue to fight. The FARC has called for a cease fire, but the government has rejected that idea weary the guerrillas will use a military retreat to regroup.
May the Colombian government and the FARC come to an agreement, it would mark the official end of the country’s armed conflict between the FARC and the state, and a so-called third phase will begin during which the agreed concessions will be carried out. The agreement regarding the implementation of the pact contains a number of control mechanisms assuring both parties keep their end of the bargain.