Monday marks the start of the 20th round of ongoing peace talks between the FARC, Colombia’s oldest rebel group, and the Colombian government.
Headed by former Vice-President Humberto de la Calle, the government’s negotiating team arrived in Havana, Cuba yesterday, the site of the talks since November 2012, according to the El Espectador newspaper.
Like the round before it, which ended on January 23rd, the 20th round will focus on the cultivation of illicit narcotics, the third in a six-point topic agenda.
The FARC released a proposal earlier in January outlining various reforms to national drug policy. The plan would end aggressive government eradication of coca, poppy and marijuana fields, and instead offer farmers economic incentives and viable crop alternatives to transition away from illicit narcotics. Some drugs would be allowed to be cultivated going forward, under the supervision and regulation of the government.
Still, no agreement has been forthcoming on the drug issue and if previous experience can be extrapolated, a deal might not present itself for some time. It’s been 14 months since the start of the Havana peace talks, and so far only two partial agreements have been reached, on the topics of agrarian reform and political participation for the FARC, respectively. The second deal was not announced until just before the one-year anniversary of the peace process.
Up until this point, each successive round of talks has started on time. Neither side has walked out of discussions once.
That in and of itself represents progress from 2001’s talks, during which the FARC delegation made several dramatic shows of walking out of or suspending talks and demanding various concessions from the government.
While Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has made the peace process one of the centerpieces of his presidential reelection campaign, there are signs that the president, and the country, is getting impatient. Santos recently called for an accelerated timeline to the talks, with polls showing Colombians becoming increasingly pessimistic about the outcome as time wears on.
As internal pressure mounts, however, international support behind the peace process remains strong. President Santos neglected an opportunity to meet with the FARC negotiating team in Havana last week, during the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit, but the summit closed with an unconditional statement of support from the regional community.