Observing Colombia’s Peace Negotiations

Peace negotiations are moving forward in Havana, Cuba, between the Colombian central government and the FARC, the Fuerzas Armada Revolucionarias de Colombia, aka, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Progress includes a joint agreement to clean up the thousands of landmines that litter the Colombian landscape and an end to the conscription of soldiers under the age of 17. Many issues remain on the table such as reparation; a Truth and Reconciliation Commission; lingering questions of whether or not to hold criminals accountable for crimes against humanity and genocide; an effective mechanism for the return of property to people who fled their property in fear, the disarmament – or not – of FARC; a constitutional amendment for the people to have the right to live free of violence; and effective mechanisms to compel the Colombian government to respect and obey both their own constitution and international law.

A two-state solution however is not on the table in the event of irreconcilable differences between the two sides.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed – mostly women and children – during the 50+ year civil war in Colombia. Hundreds of thousands of people have been raped, mostly women. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands have become permanently disabled and millions of people have lost their homes, making Colombia one of the most lawless and violent places on Earth.

Chuck Kaufman and James Jordan of the Tucson, Arizona-based Alliance for Global Justice organized a 33 member informal delegation of US citizens to observe the peace talks in Havana from April 11 to April 17, 2015, coupled with a “people to people” educational tour of Cuba. Members of the US peaceobservers delegation were warned before the second panel of FARC members to speak to us, and well before representatives of the Colombian government spoke briefly to us, that US citizens may be prosecuted if any provide “material support” – such as legal support – to FARC. With many lawyers present among the US peace observers, such as Natasha Bannon, the President of the National Lawyers Guild, the comment about “material support” made by Mark Burton, an American lawyer, seemed directed at some of his fellow lawyers in particular. The warning put a chill on the enthusiasm of some tospeak freely, to ask questions, to find facts and truth or even hope to propel the peace process forward to a final just and lasting peace agreement.

Mr. Burton represents Simon Trinidad, a FARC leader who was arrested in South America and extradited to the US. Which was followed by three hung juries in the US, which called into question his guilt, although one jury did find him guilty of conspiring to hold three US citizens hostages in Colombia. Mr. Trinidad, 64, is now electrically shackled in solitary confinement serving a 60 year sentence at the Florence SuperMax Federal prison. FARC declared Simon Trinidad to be an indispensable member of the FARC peace negotiating team and that a final peace agreement cannot be realized unless Simon Trinidad also says the final peace agreement is good and signs it. Short of a presidential pardon or miraculous intervention on his behalf, it appears that Mr. Trinidad’s opportunities to propel the peace process forward, to help out to make peace happen, are slim to none.

A recurrent theme from different members of FARC is their opinion that the US government has been playing a central role (e.g. Plan Colombia) in the internal affairs of Colombia on the side of the Colombian government against FARC, a socialist insurgency. A December 2013 Washington Post report titled “Covert Action in Colombia” supports the FARC claims of US government involvement. FARC has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US government since 1996.

The genesis of the Patriotic Union – a nonviolent political wing of FARC in the mid-1980s, that fielded candidates and won elections at a national and local level – came after some of the earliest peacenegotiations. This was followed by the systematic killing of thousands of members of the Patriotic Union. The results of previous peace negotiations and limited agreements – for example, the resulting killings of thousands of Patriotic Union candidates and politicians – leave many FARC peace negotiators in doubt whether or not the current Bogota-based government led by President Santos will honor agreements reached in Havana. The unannounced interruption to the unilateral FARC cease-fire with the killing of 11 soldiers in Cauca on April 15 brings into question FARC’s willingness to honor agreements. (FARC had previously declared a unilateral cease-fire).

A bilateral cease-fire would, without a doubt, propel the peace process forward.

Union rights and worker rights are recurring themes brought up by some members of FARC. Lucas Carbajal, for example, stated, “Workers in Colombia are flesh that is rented, used, then thrown in the gutter to rot and die. No health. No social security. No pensions. Workers have no rights in Colombianow. FARC is negotiating for workers.” Mr. Carbajal added, “The Colombian government has sought the surrendering of the insurgency in exchange for nothing.” Some commentary from some FARC members here in Havana for the peace negotiations call into question whether or not a final peace agreement will be – or can be – achieved.

Victoria Sandino of the FARC delegation lamented that the “Colombian government does not respect the Colombian Constitution, the Colombian government does not respect international law. We are calling for the government to honor and obey the Constitution and to honor and obey international law.” It is possible that any government may be resource strapped to enforce every law when so many have been broken by so many for so long.

Colombian Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre, speaking in New York on April 22, stated that his “Plan A” is to enforce the law first against the most major criminals, since there have been too many crimes committed by too many people for too long to enforce every instance of criminal activity. More specifically, he is seeking to build criminal cases against 50 to 500 leaders of FARC, to attain convictions and prison sentences. When asked if a final peace agreement is plausible if FARC is requested to disarm and if dozens or hundreds of FARC leaders are sentenced to prison terms, Mr. Montealegre did acknowledge that the Colombian Constitution does contain a provision for the right to bear arms similar to the US Constitution’s right to bear arms, and that a final peace in South Africa was achieved with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission whereby no one – not from the government and not from the insurgency – went to prison. “Plan B.”

Lebanon’s lengthy and bloody civil war also concluded without prison terms for the leaders of the different groups involved in that devastating conflict. Confederate leaders were not prosecuted at the end of the US Civil War despite considerable pressure by several conservative US Congressmen to prosecute. The Confederate generals, like all the Confederate soldiers, simply went home when peace was finally declared in 1865. Limited benefits were provided to all soldiers, both Northern and Southern, after the US Civil War, such as Soldier Homes, food and limited health care assistance.

Attorney General Montealegre seemed personally willing to go to Havana to meet with FARC peacenegotiators to discuss: how things are different now than in times past; how the new Colombian government is more devoted to honoring and obeying both the Constitution and international law; how a final peace agreement can be effectively enforced; if his presence at the peace table in Havana will indeed move the peace process forward to a final agreement with, of course, the blessings of President Santos for such a trip.

There are many “if’s” still remaining. Chief among them seem to be 1) Whether or not FARC retains their right to bear arms; 2) whether there will be a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission or prison terms; and 3) whether or not the Colombian government can effectively demonstrate that they are serious about peace and will indeed honor and obey a final peace agreement achieved. If these three issues are resolved to everyone’s satisfaction then a final peace agreement will be at hand.

Upgrading the representatives of the Colombian government to go to Havana to make peace with the FARC peace negotiating team – to Attorney General Montealegre, for example, and to President Santos himself – will also no doubt accelerate the peace process towards a final agreement for a just and lastingpeace.

Rubin Morro, a member of the FARC Sub-Commission on Gender Equality, summed up the current status of peace negotiations, with these still unresolved issues, by saying: “The Colombian government has been unjust, incoherent. We, the FARC, want peace and a just society and we hope to reach that destination.” Will the Colombian government agree to the right to bear arms, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and will both sides effectively demonstrate a seriousness to effectively honor and obey a final peace agreement?

Jesus Santrich, another member of the FARC peace negotiating team in Havana, warned the listeners inthe informal 33 member delegation of US peace observers to “Pick roses while you still can because tomorrow the flowers you like may be dead.” The FARC peace negotiators that the Colombian government has to make peace with are there today just as the Colombian government peace negotiators that the FARC has to make peace with are there today.

Jesus’ warning applies to all sides in this conflict.