Peace talks taking place between Colombia’s government and the FARC, the country’s largest rebel group, reached the two-year mark on Wednesday, just days after President Santos suspended the dialogues over the capture of a general by the guerrillas.
The first negotiations took place in the Cuban capital Havana on November 19, 2012, two months after the formal launch in Oslo where the two warring parties formally expressed their intention of ending Latin American’s longest running armed conflict between state and rebels, which is now in its 50th year.
While President Juan Manuel Santos originally hoped a deal would be reached with the FARC, Colombia’s largest guerrilla force, within a year, it has taken more than double that to find agreement on half of the agenda.
With a temporary suspension of the talks over the FARC’s capture of an unarmed general in civilian attire – the highest ranked member of the military ever detained by the group – a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the negotiations as they enter their third year.
The agreement to talk
The agenda for the peace talks, signed in August before the beginning of the negotiations, included six points: Political participation, an extensive rural land reform, the problem of the FARC;s entanglement in the international drug trade, the millions of victims left by both parties, and the formal end of the armed conflict. The sixth point is the process if implementing agrees policies and reintegrating demobilizing rebels.
Preliminary deals have been reached on the first three points, the texts of which were only released in September of this year.
Before then, the parties had refused to release the agreements claiming none of the pacts would come into force until after the signing of an all-encompassing peace treaty.
Colombia’s peace deals in depth
The preliminary deals
Rural reform was the first preliminary deal to be signed by the two negotiating parties. Though contained more than 20 pages consensus, the government and the FARC have not yet agreed on the specifics of land redistribution or how to finance agricultural investments in the event of a peace deal.
The document outlines the government’s commitment to promote democratic, sustainable, and equitable rural development. In Colombia, 1% of the population owns around 50% of the land in the country.
The text of the deal on political participation outlined a plan to temporarily create reserved seats for conflict areas in Congress in order to amplify these abandoned regions’ voice in national politics.
It also covers the security measures to be taken to protect the FARC’s eventual political party. In the 1980s, the FARC created a political party – the Patriotic Union – only to see it physical destroyed through thousands of assassinations in what many have called a “political genocide.”
The fight against illicit drugs – the third preliminary deal – is to be solved with a two-year voluntary program of crop substitution.
Both sides have agreed to create a national programs to implement illicit crop substitution and to address drug consumption with a public health approach, while law enforcement’s institutional capacities are to be amplified to combat criminal groups involved in narco-trafficking.
According to pollster Datexco, the Colombian people are mostly skeptical about attempts to negotiate peace with the FARC.
According to an August poll, 53% of Colombians oppose the talks. Only 42% approve. This opposition to the talks is fed by a pessimism over the outcome of the talks; 49% of Colombians said to not believe the talks will result in a peace agreement.
Support for peace talks
To combat this skepticism, Colombian corporations, mass media, and the Catholic Church joined forces in September to support peace with the “Soy Capaz” (I am able) campaign.
Supported by almost all outlets, famous participants appeared on national and social media claiming they “are able” to promote peace and reconciliation.
Part of the rationale for released the full texts of the preliminary agreements was to increase transparency in the peace talks, something that had added to Colombians’ skepticism.
Profiles of the mains players
Santos has been very conscious of the fact that public support for the negotiations has decreased since their start in 2012.
To shore up support, the president recently made a whirlwind tour of Europe seeking political and economic support, receiving much more of the former than the latter.
Opposition to the talks
Many of Uribe’s remarks – often posted via his Twitter account – accuse President Santos of handing over the country to “narco-terrorists” and “Castro-Chavismo,” referencing Uribe’s political opposites in Cuba and Venezuela.
Last month, Uribe and the Democratic Center held a press conference to announce their 52 (later 68) objections to the preliminary deals which had been recently released by the government.
But many have questioned the sincerity of Uribe’s opposition to the talks after numerous leaks reveraled his own administration’s many attempts to initiate negotiations with the FARC. Many believe Uribe actually offered more to the rebels than Santos’ current negotiating team.
Despite what many see as blatant hypocrisy, some concerns raised by the former president have been echoed in other sectors.
Perhaps the most prominent of those is the issue of how these peace plans, which include new public institutions for their planning and executions, will be financed. As Uribe pointed out, there is currently already a budget gap of more than $6.5 billion for 2015, while oil revenue – key to the government’s finances – is expected to drop in 2015.
Meanwhile, the conflict continues
While negotiations have been carrying on in Havana, the conflict in the Colombian countryside has continued.
According to the United nations, some 15,000 Colombians have been internally displaced each month since peace talks began. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated in an August report that more than 300,000 people have been displaced since November 2012, which is the month peace negotiations began in Havana, Cuba.
While 30% of the displacements are caused by unknown actors, armed confrontations between the Colombian armed forces and the FARC are the most common known cause at 27%.
The FARC have repeatedly asked for a bilateral ceasefire and periodically implemented unilateral ceasefires, while Santos has been clear since the start of the negotiations that military operations would continue until a final deal is reached. Many have attributed the current crisis over the detained Colombian general to the fact that negotiations are continuing under war conditions.
The lack of a ceasefire has created “humanitarian void,” according to one conflict-monitoring NGO leader.
Camilo Gonzalez, president of the Institute for the Study of Development and Peace (Indepaz), told Colombia Reports in a previous interview that the problem with the talks is that the “agenda did not include the following of human rights norms and protection of the civilian population until the end of the peace process.”
“Instead, what was agreed on the agenda was to keep the war going and keep killing each other until a peace agreement is signed, which seriously hurts the credibility of the peace process.”