Report: Fifth Conversatorio on the Colombian Peace Talks, London 16 December 2013

Fifth Conversatorio on the Colombian Peace Talks

London, 16 December, 2013

PDF report available here.

After reaching a historic agreement on political participation, the negotiating teams began the discussion of drug trafficking, the fourth item on the agenda, at the seventeenth round of negotiations. 23 people participated in the last conversatorio on the Colombian Peace Talks on December 16 2013. It was moderated by Andrei Gomez-Suarez (Universities of Sussex and Oxford) with the remarks by special guest Samuel Gomez (Retired Professor, University of Nariño and former member of the Unión Patriótica). The discussion touched upon issues related to political participation, drug trafficking and the current political environment.

On the issue of drug trafficking, several points were analysed:

1. The need of alternative crops for coca farmers and planning to recover the land affected by coca planting.

2. It was highlighted that throughout the discussion on drug trafficking FARC have favoured alternative solutions, such as combating those who benefit from the drug-trade rather than the growers, or the legalization of consumption, setting parameters that do not violate Colombian and international law.

3. The role of the United States and the international community is key for reaching a sustainable agreement on drug trafficking issues. Latin American leaders have opened the discussion on the failure of the war on drugs. The overwhelming American support for the peace process, shown during Santos’s visit to the United States, suggest that Obama is considering a change of strategy against drug trafficking that could complement what is agreed in Havana. For its part, the FARC have proposed the involvement of multilateral organizations like the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to design strategies against money laundering.

4. It was noted that in several regions coca cultivation and processing is strongly linked to paramilitary groups. Several national and international organizations have consistently registered collusion between paramilitary groups and the Colombian armed forces, who at times even pressure civilian population to grow coca. Therefore, it is important to address the involvement of military forces in the regions where this problem persists.

With respect to security two important issues were discussed:

1. The relationship between the military and paramilitaries is a transversal issue in several points on the agenda of the peace process, but it does not receive much international attention. To reach a conclusive agreement, FARC has demanded the government’s commitment to dismount paramilitary groups. Participants agreed that the participation of retired members of the Armed Forces for the first time in the history of peace processes in Colombia can help unmounts such linkages and welcomed the express statement to offer guarantees for the opposition in the political participation agreement.

2. The creation of a comprehensive security system (SIS ) that have several components (including risk assessment, prevention of aggression and personal protection of persons at risk) was considered as a breakthrough in the agreement on political participation. Assurances of political participation will depend on this system. However, the problems that have arisen in the implementation of the National Protection Unit for Human Rights Defenders reveal the challenges ahead and the need to learn from past lessons for the SIS to be effective.

Finally three topics were discussed regarding the current political environment:

1. A marked difference between the communication of government and the FARC is perceived. FARC constantly report on what they propose in Havana, while the government maintains more discretion. This could be related to the fact that the rounds of negotiation are the only space for FARC to act as political actors and communicate their proposals to Colombians and the world , while the government uses several spaces, such as diplomatic meetings or political events, to explain what is being negotiated.

2. Forgiveness has acquired a central symbolic role in the Colombian political process. The act of forgiveness by President Santos to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó for the slanders made by former President Alvaro Uribe in 2005 and the request made a few days previously by Aida Avella, presidential candidate of the Unión Patriótica, that the state apologises for the genocide of the UP, are two examples.

3. The future of the negotiations will depend to some extent on the outcome of the electoral process in 2014, whose outlook is unclear. This is particularly evident in the wake of the dismissal of Mayor Gustavo Petro by the Investigator General Alejandro Ordoñez.

The foregoing has generated some scepticism about the negotiations amongst some sectors of Colombian society. Scepticism and indifference are important aspects that Colombians will have to overcome. If there is not a general effort to believe that peace can be achieved, then it will indeed be difficult to achieve. Therefore, it is important to find common ground in the context of discussions of drug trafficking, the implementation of the SIS and the political situation so as not to polarise differences amongst Colombians and to imagine a Colombia in peace.


Report on The Colombian Peace Process: A Roundtable. Centre for Latin American Studies University of Cambridge, 11 November 2013

The Colombian Peace Process: A Roundtable

 Centre for Latin American Studies

University of Cambridge

11 November 2013

After a year of negotiations the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have reached an agreement on two of a six point agenda to end the armed conflict in Colombia. The scepticism of many Colombians contrasts with unprecedented achievements in more than 30 years of dialogue between FARC and different Colombian administrations. The optimism of some political analysts about reaching a point of no return in the peace process can be jeopardised by the lack of national and particularly, regional ownership of the process. This mixed picture contains challenges not only for Colombian policy makers but also for the role that the international community should play in order to contribute to build long-lasting and legitimate peace in Colombia. 

Bearing this context in mind, a group of scholars were invited to discuss the prospects for peace in Colombia. Panelists included: the former British Ambassador in Colombia, John Dew; Andrei Gómez (University of Oxford); Clara Sandoval (University of Essex); Par Engstrom (Institute of the Americas, University College London); Roddy Brett (University of St Andrews), Nick Morgan (Newcastle University), and Grace Livingstone (University of Cambridge), who chaired the roundtable. These notes contain the main ideas expressed during the event.

  1. After five decades of armed conflict in Colombia and several failed attempts to find a political solution to the conflict, a peace agreement between the Government and the FARC guerrillas, experts agreed, might be feasible. It was also acknowledged that even if the peace process has been going on for over a year now, discussions to get there have been going on for several years.
  2. Although the importance of the peace process cannot be underestimated, it is necessary to remember that this is just a peace process with one of the armed actors in the Colombian conflict, an actor that is in a weak position, at least politically and militarily.
  3. Some speakers discussed that, although these negotiations are crucial for the future of the country, the conflict with the FARC is only one of Colombia’s manifold problems. There are a wide range of deep-rooted issues in Colombia that have to be faced, such as strengthening democratic politics and the rule of law, designing policies to reduce poverty and income inequality, planning a meaningful agrarian reform, improving security, promoting infrastructure and implementing further reforms to ensure Colombia’s economic growth.
  4. The majority of the experts also noted that both parties (the Government and the FARC) are under great pressure to conclude the talks before the 2014 presidential election, given that former President Uribe is one of the fiercest enemies of the peace process. Additionally, the pressure of reaching an agreement might have a negative impact in the way key points are discussed. In particular, all the experts showed their concern in relation to the fifth point of the agenda, related to victims.
  5. Some of the participants considered other reasons that confirm the importance of moving on with the peace talks. For instance, they indicated that there are very important trade related goals shaping the process (to facilitate foreign direct investment in the country). Other speakers pointed out that President Santos wants to change the image of Colombia outside the country.
  6. The outcome of the negotiations will have to take due account of international standards binding Colombia, particularly in the area of accountability, given the possibility that the International Criminal Court could exercise jurisdiction over the situation in Colombia while looking at cases such as those of the falsos positivos. In this regard, while it is clear that the event at Cambridge was about the peace process, various references were made by all the participants in relation to the obligations of Colombia to act with due diligence in the investigation of members of the military forces and others who could be implicated in conflict related violations of human rights as well as of humanitarian law.
  7. There was general consensus at the roundtable that if a peace agreement is signed, it would be mainly about ‘negative peace’. Santos has already stated that, for example, the agreement will not touch private property and the fact that the Victims and Land Restitution Law is about restitution and not about land reform, shows that both the peace process and the transitional justice process are not aiming at structural change in Colombia.
  8. Even if the ongoing peace talks in Havana only aspire to achieve ‘negative peace’, all the experts recognized that there is a window of opportunity to incorporate the root causes of the conflict in the peace talks in order to move towards a long-lasting peace.
  9. The experts who were discussing specific cases noted that the process in Havana is not perceived as important by the people living in the regions. They do not have a lot of information about the process and if they are concerned about it, it is for different reasons, such as how this process would affect current trading relations in the region or change labour markets.
  10. From a victims’ perspective, the process was criticized by several speakers as failing to allow the participation of victims. They made explicit reference to the complex procedure that needs to be completed in order to participate in the process. They also expressed concern about the lack of direct mechanisms to participate or to identify how the input from others than those negotiating in Havana is taken into consideration. Local ownership of the peace process was noted to be a crucial element for the successful implementation of transitional justice mechanisms in a post-conflict scenario.
  11. The support of Chile, Venezuela, Norway and Cuba was regarded as highly positive and helpful for the negotiations in order to move towards a legitimate peace.
  12. The role of the US in relation to the peace process was also noted and contrasted with  its previous role during the negotiations under the Pastrana administration. The US stand on the peace process would be central to guarantee the implementation of an eventual agreement, but also to deal effectively with drug trafficking.
  13. From a maximalist approach, the Santos-FARC peace talks could be seen as a means to solve the real problems of Colombia, whereas from a minimalist position they are seen as the way to end the armed conflict between the parties. So far, the negotiation teams are still trapped between these two approaches. Nevertheless, they have moved a long way since the negotiations started. Reaching an agreement may not bring structural transformations. However, it will constitute a window of opportunity for further change.
  14. The international community could play a fundamental role in helping Colombia to face the huge challenges that the implementation of a peace agreement will bring and to achieve a sustainable and long-lasting peace.

Report: Third Conversatorio on the Colombian Peace Process,

Third Conversatorio on the Colombian Peace Process
London October 24, 2013

PDF available here.

This discussion group was the third in a series of five roundtables that aim to analyze the development of each of the rounds of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC. Jenny Pearce, Professor of Latin American Politics and Director of the International Centre for Participation Studies, was the guest speaker and Andrei Gomez-Suarez, associate researcher at the University of Oxford, moderated the discussion. About 35 Colombians and foreigners participated in the roundtable.


The 15th round of negotiations began with FARC’s report, which threatened to ‘break confidentiality’ of the negotiations. Although the information provided was limited to what was already known, it confirmed the tensions between the parties. The 15th round ended in October and showed that the process was very fragile; public opinion was more skeptical than before and it was the first round which came to an end without a joint statement.

The Pause: a national discussion that never got to the table

After noting that the issue of a possible ‘pause’ in the negotiations arose outside Havana and that a sector of civil society, such as Colombians for Peace, reacted positively by suggesting that the pause should be accompanied with a unilateral ceasefire and the delivery by the FARC of maps showing the location of landmines, the audience discussed potential advantages and disadvantages.

Four advantages were identified: a pause could (1) give a second air to the process, (2) enable to make a balance on what has been achieved, (3) increase civil society involvement, and (4) separate the peace process from electoral politics.

However, three disadvantages came to the fore: (1) the enemies of the peace process will represent the pause as a failure, (2) the process may lose legitimacy in the public eye, and (3) there is a risk of losing the already limited pace that has been achieved in a year of talks.

The conclusion was that the pause in itself is not good or bad, what is important is to determine under what conditions it will take place.

The achievements of the peace process

According to Jenny Pearce, at first reaching an agreement on rural development seemed to be the largest difficulty; however, political participation has proved a major challenge because it has opened the question about the model of political system that Colombians want. This is a profound questioning of power in Colombia. Nonetheless, several achievements were highlighted:

  • The agreement on Comprehensive Agrarian Development policy. On the one hand, this point is fundamental to build a country with less social imbalances. On the other hand, it has made possible to disentangle social protest in rural areas from the actions of guerrilla groups. As a result, the government had to accept the existence of the agrarian problem and negotiate with the peasant leaders.
  • The FARC have had to modify their political vision and display a more inclusive politics. Evidence of this is in the launch of the website: in which women reclaim their political and revolutionary identity.

These achievements are accompanied by several challenges:

  • Unequal political conditions; the FARC does not have spaces in which to discuss their proposals.
  • The tension between wanting to open the debate to the public by the FARC and wanting to keep it in Havana by the government.
  • The difficulties of dialogue between the urban middle class and the FARC.
  • Different interpretations of paramilitary apparatus / Bacrim.
  • Criticism by the FARC that the government takes unilateral decisions and by the government that the FARC talks too much.
  • The support for the process and President Santos has declined even amongst sectors, such as entrepreneurs, who previously supported the negotiations.

Public Opinion

The government has not developed a strategy to build an informed public opinion. This has enabled enemies of the peace process to take advantage of the idea, common amongst the urban middle class, that most human rights violators are the FARC’s responsibility. As a result, an adverse environment for negotiations has been created.

A new foundation of national identity

Andrei Gomez-Suarez noted the importance of revisiting previous narrow national identity building processes. Participants noted that the current negotiations are an opportunity to create a new foundation of national identity that finally integrates and accepts difference.

The cost of peace

It was discussed that only if hostilities were to end Colombia’s GDP would grow by 1% (excluding the increase in foreign direct investment and new service markets within the country); however, elites must contribute financially to expand state presence and hence ensure general welfare in Colombia.

Finally, the importance of shielding the process showing the dynamics of social reconstruction that have emerged and the possibilities for economic development was emphasized.

New article: Safeguarding political guarantees in the Colombian peace process: Have Santos and FARC learnt the lessons from the past?

Safeguarding political guarantees in the Colombian peace process: Have Santos and FARC learnt the lessons from the past?



This article discusses the lessons of previous peace processes between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It has two policy implications. In regards to Colombia, it suggests that safeguarding the lives of FARC-demobilised members is necessary for the current peace process to succeed, hence it proposes a hybrid Specialised Protection Force (SPF). In terms of peace building, the article discusses the challenges for SPFs to avoid becoming tools of foreign policy diplomacy that perpetuate conflicts. The article aims to contribute to both the critique of liberal peace and the negotiation teams in the current Colombian peace process. 

Keywords: Colombia, FARC, Unión Patriótica, Peace Support Operations

Available here.