Saturday, September 15, 2012

VOXXI: The Peace talks between the Colombian Government and the FARC

The Peace talks between the Colombian Government and the FARC
W. Alejandro Sanchez
September 13, 2012
Originally published:

SOP AP SPANI SPAN CO Balt 1 The peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC
In this photo President Juan Manuel Santos, center, announcing the signing of a preliminary agreement to launch peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, during a nationally televised speech from the presidential palace in Bogota, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2011. Santos said the talks would begin in early October in Oslo, Norway, and would continue in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Javier Casella, Colombia’s Presidential Office)
President Juan Manuel Santos’ decision to begin negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has understandably stirred a great deal of controversy as Colombia’s volatile past has made it difficult for many in the country to trust that the FARC will honor a peace agreement and ceasefire.
Historical precedent indicates that the upcoming peace talks in Norway will have a low likelihood of success. When it comes to ending a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and affected generations, the question of integrating ex-combatants into Colombian civil society presents a particular challenge.

Shaping the negotiations

Santos was elected to the Colombian presidency riding the wave of his predecessor and one-time close ally, Alvaro Uribe. As Uribe’s minister of defense, Santos directed the administration’s pro-military stance on dealings with the country’s guerrilla groups, namely the FARC and National Liberation Army (ELN). Santos was Uribe’s chosen successor for the Colombian presidency and was expected to remain consistent on security policies.
Cuba Colombia Rebels Balt The peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC
Marco Leon Calarca, spokesman and member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) speaks during an interview in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Sept 7, 2012. The spokesman for Colombia’s main leftist guerrilla army says President Juan Manuel Santos’ rejection of a cease-fire will not derail peace talks next month. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Despite Uribe and Santos’ strong military response to the FARC over the past decade, the guerrilla army remains a weakened but persistent threat. Current media reports put the group’s strength currently at around 9,000 troops, down from the FARC’s 16,000 troops mobilized in the 1990s. Additionally, the FARC has also lost several leaders, including Manuel Marulanda (AKA Tirofijo), Raul Reyes, and Jorge Briceno (AKA Mono Jojoy), the last of which was eliminated under the Santos Administration in 2010.
Earlier this year, the FARC took a major step toward peace when it declared that it would not carry out anymore kidnappings, previously one of its trademark operations for decades. However, the insurgents broke their own promise after the kidnapping of a French journalist. A FARC representative, Marcos Calarca, recently claimed that the movement has already freed all its hostages, and accused other criminal organizations and the government’s security services of kidnapping and then blaming the FARC.
After months of secret deliberation, President Santos recently announced that the government and the FARC will meet for a first round of negotiations this coming October in Norway, followed by a second round in Cuba. Santos’ decision to sit down and negotiate with the FARC has brought him a great deal of criticism, most notably from his former ally, Uribe. Members of Colombia’s reserve armed forces have also expressed their concern regarding the negotiations in an open letter to Santos. On the other hand, a recent poll showed that 77 percent of Colombians were in favor of negotiations with the guerrillas. Meanwhile, to demonstrate his focus on the safety of his country while he negotiates with the FARC, Santos pledged to refuse the insurgents’ demand for a ceasefire while the negotiations take place.
The last major peace initiative has given observers reason for skepticism. Under President Andres Pastrana (1998-2002), the Colombian government brokered a ceasefire with the FARC in exchange for granting the FARC control over a significant piece of territory. The ceasefire failed to bring lasting peace to the country, but instead allowed the FARC to regroup and strengthen themselves for new attacks against the Colombian government.
SOP AP SPANI SPAN CU Balt The peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC
Mauricio Jaramillo, left, Andres Paris, center, and Marco León Calarca, members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during their participation in a press conference in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Sept 4, 2012. (AP Photo/ Ramon Espinosa)

Colombia’s history with demobilization

One particularly thorny issue bound to garner a lot of attention in the negotiations and media attention within Colombia is the potential disbandment and re-integration of the FARC members. It is highly unlikely that the Colombian government would agree to pardon all FARC members. Many, specifically the families of the groups’ victims, will likely demand the imprisonment of at least some of the 9,000 FARC troops.
Colombia has a relatively successful history with the peaceful disbandment and reintegration of insurgent movements. This can be seen starting in the late 1980s with guerrilla groups like the 19th of April Movement (M19). More recently, the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) demobilized as well. Unfortunately, several former AUC members, instead of rejoining civil society, created their own criminal movements tied to drug trafficking. These groups are commonly referred to as bandas criminales (BACRIM), and include groups like the Aguilas Negras. Experts on the Colombian internal conflict are looking to understand how past successes in the reintegration of ex-guerrilla organizations could guide the demobilization of the FARC.
To put demobilization attempts in a historical perspective, from 2006-2007 the Colombian police arrested 1,765 BACRIM members, 258 of which were demobilized individuals. At the time, a 2007 report by Semana stated that a government commission believed that around 2 percent of demobilized individuals joined the BACRIM.
On the other hand, Alejandro Eder, a member of the National Agency for Reintegration, more recently declared that the government already has had a decade of experience in reintegration initiatives, making the administration quite capable of dealing with demobilized FARC troops. He also stated that in the last 12 months, 14,400 demobilized insurgents have successfully integrated themselves into the legal workforce. Furthermore, the Colombian government recently passed a law that addresses the issue of demobilization of insurgents known as the Marco Juridico para la Paz.
The positive numbers provided by Eder show that reintegration initiatives have generally been successful. However, it is evident that some demobilized insurgents from the FARC, ELN or the paramilitaries, returned to a life of crime after disbanding.

Peace and FARC demobilization

There is a long way to go before a demobilization of the FARC is seriously put into consideration, as peace talks have yet to even start. As previously stated, there is a certain degree of skepticism regarding whether the current negotiations between Bogota and the guerrillas will be successful; the Colombian government itself has declared that it is “moderately optimistic” regarding their success.
Nevertheless, if the negotiations do progress, the reintegration of the FARC’s combatants will undoubtedly emerge as a central discussion topic. The aforementioned open letter by Colombia’s reserve officers states that, from their point of view, the peace process, at a minimum, must end with the full demobilization of the insurgents. Thus, the real challenge for the Colombian government will be to balance the public cry for justice against the FARC troops with the real need of peace in a country weary of war.

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