Lessons learned 10 years after failed FARC peace talks

Colombian and American universities, together with several non-governmental organizations released ten lessons they think should be learned from the 1999 – 2002 peace talks that ended unsuccessfully exactly ten years ago on Monday.

The Washington-based Center for Latin American Studies of Georgetown University, Bogota’s Los Andes University, the United States Institute of Peace and Colombian Jesuit Research Institute CINEP published the lessons in “10 Years After Caguán: Some lessons to Help Attain Peace.”

Because the publication has only been released in Spanish, Colombia Reports took the liberty to attempt to translate the lessons learned by the study group.


It is possible to reject the Caguan negotiation model with the FARC-EP without plainly ruling out the option of a negotiated solution.

Ten years after Caguan, Colombia continues at war. The FARC and ELN are weakened but have united forces and have adapted their tactics to new realities in Colombia. Their capacity to attack continues to be considerable as well as their capacity to recruit new fighters. At the same time, the Colombian Armed Forces have consolidated a notable offensive capacity. However, after six decades, neither side has been able to achieve victory. What is missing is a political solution that can lead to a peace deal and the reconciliation of Colombians.


A strategy for peace must be built on lessons learned from former processes, especially the mistakes.

Colombia has failed in not constructing negotiation strategies based on peace processes the country has undergone in the last thirty years. This has resulted in the repeating of errors committed in previous processes. For example, for not having learned of the mistakes in the dynamics of the verification of ceasefire pacts signed during the administration of President Belisario Betancur, during the administration of President Andres Pastrana the area of Caguan was demilitarized without clearly establishing the way to verify this demilitarization. And this was one element that strongly influenced the failure of the negotiation.


A successful negotiation is not viable during an escalation of the armed confrontation and the increase of violations of International Human Law (IHL).

During the Caguan process, the level of the armed conflict as well as violations of IHL reached the highest point in contemporary Colombian history. In the pacts signed in Caguan (especially the San Francisco Treaty), it was agreed that it was necessary to reduce the violence as a condition of the sustainability of the peace process. It was therefore required that the parties set a truce as a target to ensure the conditions of a successful negotiation, defining the suitable timing and the means for an eventual negotiation of a ceasefire.


What is required is an integrated peace policy that cannot be limited to only the subject of negotiation with the insurgency.

First, what is needed is a peace and security policy that takes into account the ways to address all the factors of violence. In addition to the guerrillas, other factors of violence such as paramilitary groups and those that have emerged from the demobilization of these must be taken into account. What also must be considered is how to confront the problem of drug trafficking, whose resources fuel the conflict and encourage crime. Also, there must be consideration of the role of the armed forces and the police in a post-conflict context where the needs of the country would be focused more on issues of public security.

Secondly, a peace strategy with society in general is required. While the goal of a negotiation is to dismantle all illegal structures of violence and to restore the monopoly of the legal use of force of the state, there are structural issues that will impact the eventual restoration of peace in the country. This must be agreed upon not only by the guerrillas but by the different sectors of society itself, particularly in the regions affected, and include topics such as property and use of land, the environment, social and political inclusion and participation. In short, one of the lessons that can be learned from Caguan is the necessity for a policy that articulates the peace negotiations between the armed actors and between society itself (peacemaking + peacebuilding). Since the conflict manifests itself in a different way in the regions, mechanisms of national and regional dialogue about the conflict and peace are required, which could shape a democratic process of inclusion that recognizes the impact of the violence in the regions, seeks an articulation between the regions and the center, and sows the basis for inclusion within the future mechanisms of peace.


Government and guerrillas must recognize what is possible and viable in the current circumstances of the conflict.

There have been changes in the military and political map since 1998 when the Caguan process began. A more restricted schedule may be required today than the one agreed to as a target of such negotiation. But just as there can be no maximalist agenda, there can also be no simple demobilization or surrender of arms by the guerrillas.

The challenge will be to realistically find what is the scope of the peace that is possible today to stop the conflict without having to continue paying the costs of a degenerated conflict the increasingly affects society. At a minimum, what must be considered are issues that already have been recognized as priorities by the government of President Santos, which makes it possible to advance an agenda of reforms as a basis of a political solution to the conflict. These include issues regarding human rights, IHL and the humanitarian crisis that is affecting certain regions; the agrarian situation; the problem of rural ownership and development; ways to increase social and political participation; and matters of truth, justice and reparation of victims. A realistic agenda should also mention specific issues about when and how to arrange a ceasefire and the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, also called DDR in literature.


A proactive civil society is required that does not leave the peace process only in the hands of government and insurgency, and that participates as an independent and autonomous actor of the parties.

The great peace mobilization that took place in Colombia in the nineties, and culminated with the ten million votes for the Citizen Mandate for Peace, legitimized the beginning of the peace process with the FARC in Caguan. However, this mobilization waned during the time the process lasted and the organizations of civil society left the negotiation in the hands of the government and the guerrillas. In a future dialogue, civil society should maintain an active critical and vigilant role. The media have a particular responsibility to inform the public in a professional and independent way, acknowledging the complexity of the process and inform of both acts of peace and acts of war.


All possible forces must be called upon to construct peace in Colombia, the input of women being essential.

In Caguan, the participation of women and their role of peacemakers was not being used fully. In the past decade, the United Nations has recognized the importance of including women as well in peace processes as in the implementation of agreements. A series of resolutions of the U.N. Security Council (1,325 in 2000, 1,820 in 2008, 1,888 in 2009, 1,889 in 2009 and 1,960 in 2010) already have ratified the issue of violence against women as an international security issue, and established the importance of the participation of women in all stages of prevention and resolution of conflicts, and peace and reconciliation processes. These resolutions reinforce the commitment established in both Colombian and inter-American law.


Peace in Colombia is a matter for Colombians, but also a legitimate matter for the international community, which can play an important role in a peace process.

Many of the issues that were part of the dialogue in Caguan, which could be discussed in future dialogues have global dimensions. The issue of illicit crops and the political and economic contexts worldwide impact the path towards peace in Colombia. Trying to solve these issues without the participation of the international community makes no sense.

The internal armed conflict still maintains its increasing impact in the international context. Beyond the humanitarian crisis the internal forced displacement of millions of Colombians represents, the conflict has generated a refugee and violence crisis in neighboring countries. The solution to these problems that affect the international arena are relevant for achieving peace in Colombia. That peace today in fact is a necessity of the region and the entire world.

The international community can play an important role in an eventual peace process, but can not and should not go beyond the will of the parties. Without this willingness of the parties, peace is not sustainable. The international community could assist in the building of this will, help with the setting of a process, and offer its services as a third party, always supported by a clear mandate given by the parties.


The way for peace must be paved to legitimize the process of negotiation and make it sustainable.

After nearly a decade of denying the existence of an armed conflict and forgetting the deep roots of the conflict, it is important that the president, opinion makers, academics, researchers, businessmen, and community leaders begin to talk about the possibilities and the limits of the dialogue and the possibility of a political and negotiated solution to the conflict. A successful peace process requires a broad consensus and firm support of society. Before starting a new process, the groundwork must be prepared for a lasting and definitive political solution that can end more than six decades of violence.


The past is prologue. Each peace process is built on the foundations laid by previous experiences.

Building a historic memory of the peace process in Caguan can help to avoid repeating past errors and can create new perspectives.Taking lessons requires dialogue, study, analytical and critical skills, and the freedom of discussion. Only when the country accepts and talks about the — hard but enlightening — Caguan experience, it will be taking what can be the first step towards national reconciliation.

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