Colombia’s largest rebel group, FARC, on Monday set agrarian reform and a decrease in inequality as their minimum demands for reaching a peace agreement with the government.
“The minimums? Comprehensive rural reform and the reversal of the Gini coefficient,” said Marquez. The Gini coefficient is the main statistical measure of a country’s inequality. According to the World Bank, Colombia currently has the seventh worst in the world, comparable with Haiti and Angola.
“There’s a common diagnosis on the situation of misery that, like a weed, invaded the Colombian countryside. The Gini coefficient of 0.89 is a mirror that reflects the terrible inequality that is prevalent in this sector. The government doesn’t even have the strength or the arguments to challenge those sad figures of injustice,” explained Marquez.
Though the Colombia government has claimed that its economic model is not up for debate in the peace talks, Marquez insists that omitting it from the talks is “not consistent with the spirit of the General Agreement of Havana.”
“It is impossible for the deepening of neoliberal policy, promoted by [President Juan Manuel] Santos, and the delivery of territory to the multinational extractive industry to escape the discussion about land access and use, and food sovereignty,” said the rebel negotiator.
“Dignified life in the cities depends on rural stability, and vice versa. It should strengthen the symbiotic relationship so that Colombia moves forward. We must democratize national life, beginning with the democratization of land ownership,” Marquez claimed.
Just prior to the restart of negotiations on Monday, the Colombian government and FARC studied more than 500 proposals from citizens, gathered during a forum hosted by the U.N., along with input from university professors, experts, and peace commissions regarding the contentious matter of land reform.
Marquez said that all input from the committees would be given serious consideration by the FARC delegation, declaring that “they contain the hope of solving the problem that many rural people have longed for…this is the key to peace.”
In the interview, the rebel leader showed a willingness to reach a peace agreement before November, the deadline imposed by President Santos, but said he refused to prematurely sign a deal.
“Although we’re in no electoral hurry, we hope to be able to have an integrated agrarian reform before November,” Marquez said.
Both the government and rebels have labeled land reform as crucial for the signing of any treaty that would put an official end to almost 50 years of fighting — the longest-running civil conflict on the continent.
During his Christmas address, Santos spoke of the importance of reaching social justice, signaling a willingness to confront the same issues Marquez speaks of in future rounds of talks. In a speech towards the end of December, the Colombian president spoke of “a true peace; a peace that is not just the end of violence but also progress towards a greater social justice.” The FARC, ever since peace talks began, have stressed the necessity for peace “with social justice.”
Nevertheless, according to Marquez peace is not yet within reach.
“We are taking the first steps [that] we all know are complex. We need navigation equipment. To reach our destiny of peace we need GPS and compass, statistics, figures and land registries. But in Colombia this support does not exist or is insufficient. We need to know what is going to be redistributed, returned and formalized. It can’t just be wastelands.”