Second Conversatorio on the Colombian Peace Talks
London, 5th October 2013.
The report is available as a PDF here.
This conversatorio (discussion) took place on the 25th September at Canning House, with the participation of fourteen Colombian and British citizens interested in learning more about, discussing and contributing as part of civil society to the question of the Colombian peace talks. Miguel Puerto, a lawyer and human rights defender, was the guest speaker and Andrei Gómez-Suárez, researcher at the University of Sussex, acted as the facilitator.
The conversatorio took place after the farmers’ strike and also Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’s speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations. The discussion focused on the 14th round of negotiations between the government and the FARC, which dealt specifically with the second point on the negotiators’ agenda: political participation.
The first matter at hand – and of the greatest concern for participants – centred on the sensation that the talks had become ‘stagnated’. For this reason it is important to suggest alternatives and to support the process. The following questions were discussed:
- Political participation outside the FARC. Recent social protest in Colombia appears demonstrative of the call from different social sectors to secure real participation in the administration and the taking of government decisions.
- The approval mechanism continues to be an obstacle to reaching agreement. Despite clarification that the approval mechanism is a point on the negotiators’ agenda in its own right, the actions taken by the government to approve the referendum and other ideas on the matter amongst the parties, held sway over the course of the 14th round of negotiations. The government is in the process of legislating for a way of validation by Referendum, while the FARC are still proposing a National Constituent Assembly. Such critically-timed debate on the subject and the space it has occupied amongst public opinion, as well recent days of protest in Colombia, suggest that the negotiations in Havana do not have the same relevance for all Colombians.
- The Legal Framework for Peace (Marco Jurídico para la Paz, or MJP) is an obstacle in its own right. Like many human rights defenders, Miguel Puerto argued that the MJP creates a space for impunity and should be revised or even rejected outright. In parallel, another option put forward has been that of a transitional justice tribunal. The FARC also oppose the MJP as they consider it to have been imposed by the government. President Santos, meanwhile, appealed to the international community at the General Assembly of the United Nations to respect the sovereignty of Colombia and support a transitional justice model that would enable the conflict to be brought to an end. The discussion on the MJP is important because international institutions such as the International Criminal Court and Human Rights Watch are closely following developments, to strike a balance between justice and peace.
- Secrecy of the talks and contradictions between the discourses within the government. A debate took place around the need to maintain the confidentiality which has characterised the process thus far. People noted the difficulty society has in understanding the position of the government when the conciliatory and optimistic discourse of the negotiating team (under Humberto de la Calle) is contradicted by the more belligerent discourse of the Defence Minister. This impression has been compounded by certain ambiguous statements from the President. According to some of those present, the pressure which the government has been under lately suggests that it will not be possible to sustain this secrecy for much longer and that civil society should be included. For others, this pressure is a reason to maintain and strengthen the level of secrecy.
- The discussion about the points on the agenda should be focused on ending the armed conflict. There is external pressure, coming from different parties not at the negotiating table, to include complex social problems. For this reason it was suggested that the five points on the agenda be very limited. However, the conclusion was that future rounds of negotiations should be focused on putting an end to the conflict and on offering guarantees so that the debate and the search for solutions to other problems might continue in the post-conflict phase.
- A politically, but not militarily, polarised Colombia? Those present recognise the likelihood that the armed conflict will come to an end, but it is to be expected that social conflicts will continue. The important thing is that the peace process succeeds in laying the groundwork for the country’s problems to be played out in political and not armed struggle.
- Lessons from the paramilitary demobilisation process for the negotiations with the FARC. The role of the State was discussed in terms of protecting ex-combatants so that events such as the wiping out of the Patriotic Union (UP) and the proliferation of criminal bands are not repeated.
The most important conclusion from the conversatorio was that the dialogues should remain focused on the points on the agenda and continue to be supported by all Colombians.