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Three Decades of Peace Negotiations in Colombia: 1981-2010

(Draft for oral delivery)

In 1981 Jaime Bateman, head of the M-19 guerrilla, proposed an “amnesty and national dialogue” to find a way out of the armed conflict that faced Colombia since the early sixties, and which had become more violent and visible en the previous years, with the spectacular actions of M19, like the arms robbery of the military headquarters of Bogota or the kidnapping of several diplomats in the Dominican Embassy.

Peace dialogs and treaties had a long history in Colombia: a book by social scientists starts the narrative from the 1902 Treaty of Neerlandia, between the conservative government and the liberal rebels, which declared that they had clear that they could not defeat the army, but the army could not stop them from keeping their fight: an early version of the “negative stalemate”. One could go to earlier times, and remember the “Esponsion de Manizales” of 1860 or the nice treaty of 1879, when the poet and novelist Jorge Isaacs, defeated revolutionary chief, signed a peace agreement with the president of the state of Antioquia Pedro Restrepo Uribe. Besides receiving pardon from the legal authorities, Isaacs granted a full and comprehensive amnesty to the legitimate government and to its soldiers, for any acts made in the development of the war.

But it is clear that we live in a phase that started in 1982, in the government of Belisario Betancur. Before that date, the Colombian government tried to defeat the guerrilla mostly by military ends, helped by minor efforts in political or social matters. But even after the armed groups suffered heavy blows from the legal forces, they kept growing. By 1981, the government had lost international and internal support in many places because of the use of illegal means in the fight against guerrilla; the liberal party, in power, had split on the issue of human rights, and issue had become central to the politics of the country. Carlos Lleras Restrepo proposed in 1981 the creation of a commission to evaluate the possibilities of peace negotiations to end the struggle, and the government of Julio César Turbay created promptly the commission, although it did not heed its recommendations.

The elections of 1982 were made amid a political climate very hostile to the government and to the total war against the guerrilla. The elected president and the losing candidates supported a change of strategy, and Belisario Betancur, the new president, moved in a new direction: he supported a law conferring amnesty to all members of guerrilla groups willing to stop fighting and he assigned priority to negotiations as the basic way to find peace for the country.

In such way, a new phase was opened in the history of the Colombian internal war. From 1982 to 2002 the different governments tried strenuously to reach an agreement with the guerrilla groups, to find a “political solution to the internal conflict” as the cliché put it. Some of the efforts were successful, as those of 1989-91, although most of them failed amid different obstacles.

After 2002 the disillusion with negotiated peace led to a drastic change of policy: from then to 2010 the main objective of the government strategy was again to defeat the surviving guerrillas, ELN and FARC. Despites some clear results of the new line, by 2010 a new modification came about, and now we have had 3 years of new negotiations.

During these three decades, I have followed closely the evolution of war and peace, and I have written extensively on them, since 1979, when I criticized the repressive Julio Cesar Turbay’s policy. In several articles, I have argued against some of the commonplaces of discussion, like the idea that, as social and economic aspects in the fabric of Colombian society may be considered the causes of the armed struggle, it is valid to make them the core issue in discussions in the peace conversations. I have declared in many occasions that, as the guerrilla decided to declare war against Colombians, it is its moral and political responsibility to declare peace, and end unilaterally the conflict. Obviously, I do not believe that such opinion will be acceptable to the fighters, and I accept the peace dialogs as the least costly way out of war. I have, however, believed that no dialog should ever be made without a prior liberation of all the civilians held as hostages of kidnapped by the guerrillas, and in 2001 I wrote against the Caguán peace talks considering them to be “instruments of war” of the guerrilla. And I have been sceptical of the repeated claims of the near end of the guerrilla, “the end of the end” which were frequent made during all these years. Most of these texts can be read in my web page, and, as I cannot go in detail in many arguments, I have to invite you to bear and be bored by my repeated cant in those articles.

The elements and justifications of peace negotiation

Although, as I have said, I believe that negotiations are a necessary part of the solving of the Colombian conflict, I think that many of the argument around them have become routine commonplaces and accepted without further analysis.

The basic justification of the armed struggle by the guerrilla has been that the Colombian economic social and political system is deeply unjust, and the solution to such injustice is not likely to be reached by legal means. Simplifying the description, Colombia is a deeply unequal and repressive society, in which most of the wealth and welfare is concentrated in a small part of society, while most of the society has been excluded, by a despotic oligarchy, of all the benefits of progress. The political organization, although formally democratic, does not give real possibilities to the popular groups to change the society, and all efforts to do so are met by the violent repression of the government, as agent of the ruling groups. Therefore, the armed struggle is the valid answer against the “violence of the oligarchies” or the “violence of the system”, or the “military handling of social protest” or the “criminalization of social protest”.

Betancur’s government accepted at least in some degree these arguments, expressing that the conflict had “objective causes”, elements in the social and political structure, which led to rebellion.  I do not pretend to deny the validity of some of the descriptions of the injustices in the economic model, nor the limitations in the real practice of democracy. I simply say that they do not justify the guerrilla action. In a democracy, social or economic injustice is confronted by political means, not by armed means. And they do not explain the violence of the country –they are not a causal explanation- as it is obvious when comparing the country with others of similar level of development, or when comparing different moments of the recent history: the periods of greatest increase of guerrilla and violence were en many cases those in which poverty declined, the economy grew, or democracy gave new instruments to the citizens. Such conditions play a role, but other elements, among them the political ideology in favour of the armed struggle, are also part of the explanation.

The argument has bearing on peace negotiations, because it has led to include the discussion of the structural conditions of the country in peace negotiations: social injustice, land tenure, the models of economic development, on one part, and the elements that made democracy restrictive. Most of the negotiations have included the efforts to promote discussion of such problems and to find solutions to them, and have led to proposals to the widening of democracy (“ampliación de la democracia”), as the popular election of majors and many elements included in the constitutional reform of 1991. In the more drastic expression, the argument leads to the conclusion that to reach peace the society has first to be transformed. A real, lasting, deep peace must be supported by drastic economic, social and political changes. And if such changes are not made, the responsibility for violence does not fall on the guerrillas making war, but on the people or the social groups that do not accept such proposals. Some minimalist defenders of this argue that the people in power, the traditional political parties, the economic leaders, must implement such changes independently, within the normal political process, but many of the maximalist defenders of the objective causes argument think that such changes must be the result of the agreements with the guerrilla, and therefore they have to be part of all dialog: they are probably the most important part of any peace discussions agenda.

This opens a representation question. Why to give the guerrilla, in a democratic society, the representation of the nation and the citizenry, in such a way that they may discuss with the government (an elected government) the political and economic reforms that the country needs? This gives the reason to the guerrilla: it confers to them the legitimacy that at the same time is confiscated or denied to the political process, to the rights of the people to select its representatives and the policies for the country. 

Besides this central line of thinking, other minor myths may be left aside, as the idea that the negotiation is required as a way out because there is a kind of inevitable situation of mutual military impotence, a “negative stalemate”: the government, although can gain superiority on the guerrilla, cannot defeat it totally, because of contextual elements, like the existence of drug, geographical considerations or state limitations, expressed in the semi tautological argument of the “falta de presencia del Estado”: the state cannot impede violence because it does not have the capacity to do it in all parts of the country. The facts that some groups can operate without restriction in a violent way is a proof that the State does not have the strength to rule in a real form the country, and at the same time the State is said to be unable to rule because of the strength of the violent groups. However, a valid problem lays in another part: the negotiations, since 1982, show that the relative strength of the government forces (including not only military elements, but political and social aspects, opinion support, legitimacy, etc.) is crucial to define the possibilities of a successful negotiation. The guerrillas are willing to consider a peaceful settlement only when they have lost the confidence in their military or political ability to move closer to triumph, to “peace and revolutionary victory”. When the guerrillas considered themselves on the rise, like M-19 and FARC in 1982-87, or FARC in 1997-2002, they tended to use the negotiations mostly as a complement to the military strategy, as a form of war.

The comparison between the eventual costs of negotiation and war, and the respective advantages is a logical element in the analysis of the guerrilla, more important than the supposed “peace will” (voluntad de paz) or “mutual confidence”. Even if it plays a role, psychology is not a good reason to reach an agreement: real mutual advantages, which depend on the objective situation, are paramount.

In looking into the reason to enter a negotiation, it is evident that there is a multiplicity of objectives in both sides. Even if to reach peace is formally the main objective, it may be subordinated, tactically or in the short or medium run, to other goals. As I have stated before, I believe that up to now, only the process of 1988-1991 with M-19 and the other minor groups emerged from reasons which made the guerrillas to view the peace alternative as advantageous. In such particular period, the possibility of gaining popular support and playing a real role in the politics of the country seemed reasonable, and the concessions made by the government, like the possibility of participating in the Constitutional Assembly, gave a strong reason to demobilize. M-19, to say bluntly, was militarily very weakened, faced serious risks of confrontation with paramilitary organizations, while it had still the illusion and at the same times the attributes to become an attractive political alternative. The lack of ideological rigidity and other characteristics –the ability to make political theatre, the urban origins of most members, the independence of international communist states, the crisis of the communist parties in all the world- were attractive traits and helped also the decision of end the armed struggle.
The government went to peace in 1982 and the following years by a mixture of national and international reasons (its discredit because of human right issues, the opportunities of finding an international strategy independent of the US because of the central American evolution, the critical opposition of some influential sectors of the middle class and intellectual groups, with some power in the government, to the violation of human rights. The complexities of the relationship between the military and civilian sectors of the government should also be taken into account.

However, all of them, government and guerrilla, always looked at the same time for other goals. The guerrilla may look into the peace negotiations as an opportunity for military advantages. Military goals are most important when the guerrilla thinks that it has some advantages, that it has a relative strength. The peace negotiations of 1982-85, when M-19 deemed itself very strong, are marked by the continuous efforts to gain advantages: they went into talks mostly to use them as a way to promote their visibility and to win the support of other groups. In many occasions they were willing to risk the conversations, to accept failure, in order to move into new political adventures: they created urban militias, opened military camps, made the efforts of creating political spaces, waited for a military insurrection. Peace was not in the order of the day for M-19 before 1985.

The same can be said of FARC. They signed in 1984 the Uribe agreements: a unilateral truce to be followed by a similar declaration by the State, in order to create the conditions for political action of former guerrillas and their allies. This political branch was created during 1984 and early 1985, the Unión Patriótica, but the guerrilla never abandoned its plans to simultaneously create a popular army, believing that it had the possibility of gaining more and more military strength. They failed to realize the complexities of the relationship with the drug business, which gave them resources but was very costly in terms of independence and security, and they did not see the risk and burdens they were placing on the political militants, while the military wing maintained an insurrectional activity, including the kidnapping of rural landlords. Paramilitary groups developed rapidly, with the support of members of an army, which strongly opposed any conversations with “bandits”. The experience of 1984-1989, was read by FARC in a military way; instead of seeing the risks and costs, mostly for the civilians trying to create a legal arm of the guerrilla, of combinations of the different forms of struggle, they decided to increase the military weight, and made it so until 1998, when they entered into a new negotiations with Andrés Pastrana, the elected president. Again, FARC used the negotiations from 1998 to 2002 as a way to further their military and economic strength, by means of extortion, kidnapping and other activities, and tried to build a permanent military basis, with roads, refuges and other constructions, in the area. Again, like in 1984, the times from 1999 to 2003 were years of growth of the paramilitary.

Besides the direct military advantages, the guerrillas look for political advantages, that may be summarized briefly: building regional networks, helping their political allies, winning the support of opinion and, above all, getting some kind of legal or political recognition. Many of the previous negotiations were marked by the effort of FARC to win the recognition of political status (in march 1984 the Betancur government made a formal declaration in such direction, those decisions were in many occasions repeated by the following governments, in some cases by means of a law, until Pastrana). This declarations were related to the idea of the guerrilla that it was important to be defined as a party to the internal conflict in the sense of the Geneva Conventions, as FARC believes, mostly wrongly, that, besides being a step towards the recognitions of belligerence, it helps to justify some of their operations, like kidnappings and extortions, duly relabelled as tax collection and prisoner taking. The definition of geographical areas under guerrilla control (like Caguán), or those areas it fought to obtain during the discussions on the so called “humanitarian exchange”, were deemed basic elements of this recognition, as they confirmed that FARC had permanent control of some regions, one of the conditions for being able to apply the International Humanitarian Law.

I could show, besides, how the coordinating theory under the efforts of the guerrilla has been the “combination of all forms of struggle”, which was formulated by the Communist Party in the 60s and was extensively debated in 1984-1985. And I could go on largely, in a parallel way, into the government frequent use of conversations to further its political goals, mostly when the reasons to negotiate peace are weak, as during the Uribe government.

Taking into account the previous description, I believe that any peace talks should start by forgetting the idea that the other party is willing, because of generosity or compromise with higher moral convictions, of forgetting their goals in order to reach peace. That is not strange nor must be censored, although the clear manipulation of the peace processes and the lies around such efforts may be politically costly. Peace is to be reached not because guerrilla changes their moral attitude, but because peace gives them important benefits that outweigh the burdens of war: possibilities of political participation (which I thing are very important for the older generation of FARC), diminishing risks of ending their life killed in the jungle or in jail, and some real possibilities of a meaningful and acceptable return to civil life for the rank and file.

That is the reason why it is of paramount importance of reading closely the logic of the political and military actions of FARC and ELN, to avoid the traps of illusion and naiveté, and of having the more precise and complete information on the different groups within each guerrilla organization, their varied perspective on peace, the local conditions of every sector, their financial and military realities, their contrasting views and visions.

The phases of negotiations

A brief scheme of the history of negotiation could go as follows:

Betancur and negotiations with M19 and FARC.

After some efforts, the guerrilla declared a ceasefire, and the government followed it. This mutual ceasefire was of almost impossible verification, which led to continuous bickering, and the mutual accusations of bad faith. Meanwhile, FARC created UP to take the revolutionary fight to the political arena. An amnesty was granted without an exigency of laying down and delivering the arms, and without the compromise for the takers of not returning to the guerrilla. Instead, the penal punishment for arm carrying was made more drastic. This served the army to harass M-19, as despite the mutual truce the fact that they were still armed was a crime, which was judged in military courts. This led eventually to the exigency, in early 1985, by the Minister of Interior, Jaime Castro, of effective disarmament of guerrillas. M19 tried to force the government to choose between continuing support to the peace process and bowing to the military pressures, and to look for a clear-cut confrontation between the President and the military, a recurring guerrilla dream during peace negotiations. Finally, in April 1983, less than a year after the first conversations, M.19 decided to force the hand and declared “we do not abide by the amnesty”. Public opinion, who had supported clearly the peace talks and whose sympathy for M19 had grown rapidly, saw M-19 again as a bellicist group. They lost most of what had been obtained and were perceived as using peace for their own military aims. The groups opposed to negotiation started to organize systematically. Most of the heads of the army were against the peace process, which lead to several conflicts with the government.

The relations between the President and the army were severely deteriorated, and by 1984 one Minister of Defence had been sacked, although the M19 did not benefit of this result. And the more damaging development was that, on the basis of small pre-existing organizations, armed groups created by members of the civil society, mostly landowners, cattle raisers and drug dealers, with the support of members of the army, expanded rapidly: 1983-86 were the years of the first wave of paramilitary consolidation, and this was reflected in the rapid growth of the number of homicides in the country during such period.

FARC were moving within the frame of a long-term strategy, formulated for the last time in June 1982 and confirmed in 1983, which intended to transform the guerrilla in a “popular army”. Money from drugs, kidnappings and extortion was increasing, and the FARC created UP it made clear, in a explicit declaration, that they were not renouncing their military aims and methods. This helped to support the perception, in many sectors hostile to the guerrilla, that UP was also combining legal and illegal tactics and that it had rapports with armed struggle. By early 1985 the government still believed that a negotiation was possible before the 1986 elections, in which the participation of UP was expected: that was one of the reasons of the Castro insistence in disarmament, which was not accepted by FARC.

To sum up, the government negotiated with two guerrillas, M-19 and FARC, that felt on the rise, the former because of the media and opinion spectacular events, and the second because their financial and military growth. After the crisis with M19, at the end of 1984, the government put the brake to the process. While FARC, without denouncing formally the truce, was really at war, M-19 answered to the “treason” with the Justice Palace takeover. The Peace Process left as a legacy some political reforms, as the popular election of mayors, a way to widen democracy: it had been mentioned in many agreements as a perspective, not as a compromise. And left an experience; a peace negotiation without the support of the army leads to a harsher repression, and most of all, to a perverse alliance among many members of the Army and the sectors of civil society at war with guerrilla.

Barco y Gaviria, 1988-1992: a limited negotiation

At the Start of the Barco administration, the negotiation was paralysed. FARC maintained a nominal truce, which helped UP to participate in the elections with some encouraging results. But many of the FARC members that had moved to UP were victims of the paramilitary action. Paramilitary groups led the war at tow fronts: against the State, to try to force a softer policy on drugs, and against FARC and UP; the second front counted on the support or connivance of many members of the Army and the administration. Despite the growing violence against UP, FARC maintained the strategy of the combinations of all forms of struggle, making UP part of the general revolutionary project supported by the armed actions. En 1987, when Pardo Leal, the main figure of UP, was killed, the mourning supporters voiced again the “combination of all forms of struggle” consign.

The kidnapping by M-19 of Álvaro Gómez Hurtado led, in a meandering and confuse way, to the reopening of negotiations, after the government announced the “Iniciativa de Paz”. Led by Rafael Pardo y Jesús Antonio Bejarano, they had a limited but effect outcome. Proposals of political reform, and en lesser measure, of social and economic change, were discussed, but mostly outside of the negotiation desks, in different commissions and dialogue instances for “concertation”. But the total war of Barco against the drug cartels led to a situation of violence and instability, intimidations of judges and public officers, and the killing of three candidates during the 1989-1990 campaign: the candidate of the bipartisan coalition, and the UP and M-19 candidates. The acceptation by the government of a constitutional assembly, proposed by citizens without connection with the guerrilla groups, changed the conditions for negotiation and led to the signing of and agreement with M-19-
Under Gaviria peace was signed with other minor groups (EPL, ERP, Quintin Lame), but FARC y el ELN refused to sign.

The great political reforms, de “widening of democracy” that came out of the Constitutional Assambly, were parallel to the negotiations. The conversations focused on the definition of the conditions for political participation of demobilized guerrillas, what was known as “political favourability”. FARC did not accept, despite the offers of a large number of seats at the Assambly. As an answer to the refusal, the government made a show of military force, in a failed attack to the headquarters of FARC, the day the Assambly was inaugurated.

Open and limitless negotiations 1993-2002

The change in the framework of the negotiations came by 1992. The Tlaxcala Rounds were supposed to discuss the economic model of the country and the whole social and economic aspects of the country. But procedural obstacle and the difficulties of discussing peace with a guerrilla which was theoretically in truce but in fact kidnapped and made military attacks, led to the breakdown at the end of 1992, although in 1993 a peace agreement was made with a dissident group of the ELN.

From 1004 on, a curious pattern came about. FARC were increasing their military and financial capability, built mostly on a growing involvement with drug.   They were able to hit strongly to the army, and of capturing and keeping as prisoners some time hundreds of soldiers. Kidnapping of civilians grew, as well as the harassment of the population en several ways. For large part of the population, FARC was a criminal cartel, in war against society. But at the same time, the urge for negotiate took hold of larger and larger sectors of society. The government, looking desperately for negotiations, changed in many ways the rules heeded before:  the agenda became limitless, no incident should lead to abandoning the negotiation table, the conversations cannot be stopped because of the attacks of the guerrilla, because they are needed justly because a war exists.  However, under Samper no formal negotiations for peace took place with FARC, although the exchange of militaries for guerrillas was discussed. The government attempted to negotiate with ELN, without any success. The impression given was that the government was improvising, trying to win some good will from guerrilla but at the same time stressing the support to the military.

In the campaign of 1998, the main candidates offered peace negotiation: they were answering to a public opinion tired with war and sceptical on the military advances. Pastrana wan greatly because the voters adopted a message that peace with FARC was possible. Elected, Pastrana entered in the Caguán talks, which I discuss largely in the aforementioned text; they were seen by FARC as a war instrument, a way for gaining political and military strength. The government, full of illusion and lacking clarity, was manipulated in the negotiations, and in many cases gave the FARC absurd concessions. However, it is possible that the government was discounting the political loss because of the long terms advantages: since 1991 the Army was improving its military capacity, foreign aid was pouring, under the Plan Colombia, and paramilitaries were waging total war against guerrilla supporters in many places. Although it is unlikely that the Machiavellism of the government went to the point of making mistakes, looking impotent and letting the guerrilla to mistreat him in order to discredit FARC.  In fact, the reaction against FARC was still very focused, although powerful. While public opinion supported the peace talks to early 2002, the paramilitary groups grew rapidly, because of the irritation of their supporters with the apparent weakness of the government.

In fact, then, the reaction against FARC took place, and from 1989 to 2002 the number of killings and massacres in Colombia reached their highest number FARC and ELN faced am offensive without precedents: while the government fumbled in negotiations, and the army prepared for future action, the paramilitaries attacked. As in 1984, a negotiation in which the rural establishment and the army saw the government as a condescending puppet of the guerrilla, led to the strengthening of the paramilitary groups, to the illegal response to the guerrilla.

If that was a sought goal it is difficult to establish: the fact is that the Caguán conversation discredited the peace dialogues. From mid 2001 clear signs of a growing opposition to the weakness and concessions of the government were visible. In the elections fo2002 Alvaro Uribe was elected: the citizenship, the voters, gave him a clear mandate: to look for military triumph, instead of the pacifist road followed by Pastrana. The peace negotiation obsession of 20 years went to pieces.

Negotiation as a consequence of the guerrilla’s defeat: 2002-2010

The new president had a consistent policy. He gave full support to the army, asking for result in all ways. The increased capacity of the army, with a clearer political support of the government and media, led to a change in the military balance: the guerrillas move to defensive positions, and a large number of individual demobilizations took place. As his policy made apparently redundant the paramilitary activity, a negotiation with them took place: the war against guerrilla was largely won, the defeat of the armed group was close, and the state was going to abide by his obligations and protect rural citizens from the attacks of FARC and ELN.

Dialogue could come with the defeat of guerrillas, although some attempts were made with FARC and ELN. From 2005 to 2007 some conversations with ELN took Place, in Havana and Caracas. Despite the weakness of ELN, sometimes the generous offers of the government (a truce without demobilisation nor disarm, for instance, to start talks) show that the government did not have a clear strategy for conversations: it was something that would come in the future.

With FARC most of the conversation were around the “humanitarian exchange”. Such conversations, for both parts, were exercise in politics. For FARC, they were moves toward political recognition and eventual acceptation of belligerence. They believed that the support of the Venezuelan government and the interest of other governments in the liberation of kidnapped persons could bring some political support. They were also answering the change of theory in the government: Uribe redefined the nature of the guerrillas, defining them as pure an simple bandit groups, and denying that an internal conflict existed in Colombia, in the sense of the Genève Agreements, which were part of the internal legality of the country since 1994: the army had already learnt to use them as part of the arguments against the guerrilla actions, presented as violations of the International Humanitarian Law.

Anyway, president Uribe made in some cases very wide offers, undefined and ambiguous but very radical and, on surface, very generous. as the statement that a peace process could lead to a Constitutional Assambly.  But this proposal, twice made and twice retired after some minor incidents, led to nothing, as the authorization, en 2006 to Piedad Cordoba to mediate in the liberation of kidnapped people. My guess is that Uribe never wanted, except in brief moment of political indecision, to open the field to a political negotiation con FARC, except in case of a general demobilisation, without any serious political concessions. After all the real advances made in the military field, with a guerrilla weakened, it did not seemed very coherent to start a negotiation with a group, FARC, that in the government view, which of course needs to be qualified, was fully defeated and, in case a third period was won, would be forced to surrender.

Learning from experience: some concluding remarks

Has something important been learned after 30 years? I think the experience of these decades has shown many things to FARC.

One cannot forget that the Uribe Agreement, in 1984, was signed by the main five guerrilla leaders: all of them are now dead. And from the five signatories to the Verification Treaty of March 1986, the only survivor is Timoleón Jiménez, “Timochenko”. The time of war may be slow and protracted, but not eternal. The leaders of FARC know today, after three negotiation processes, in 1983-85, 1989-92 and 1998-2002, (and after several talks for specific goals, as the freedom of prisoners and hostages) that if the present negotiation fail they will not be at a negotiation table with any government, ever.

Their successors, a new generation of FARC chiefs, probably less formed politically, more interested in the material rewards of their action, closer to criminal profiles, will be, in 10 or more years, deciding what to do. The possible advantages of participating in elections and different types of commissions and boards, from 2014 to 2018, and even of running in the elections of 2018, will be lost forever if a peace agreement is not reached in one or two years at the most.  And FARC has to evaluate the advantages of going into a process of peace with the present government or with a successor.

Probably the eventual failure of peace will bring to power people with less willingness to support a peace process, and less willing to give the FARC and their political allies the required protection for political participation after and agreement. From 1987 on, the ambiguity of UP and FARC lead to the view, widely held, that UP was at the service of the FARC project. Although inaccurate, that vision lend arguments to the sectors of civil society that were willing to fight the FARC going after any person that seemed, falsely or rightly, to support the armed struggle. Those groups organized, obtained the perverse aid of important sectors of the army which were not supporting the State in their negotiation policies, and searched the killing of many members of UP. It is not clear that FARC has realized the risks of repeating the confuse strategy they followed in respect to UP now, but one hopes they will not repeat the same mistakes.

What is clear is that the present government, or at least those that designed the present strategy, were much aware of past mistakes: it is clear that the rules of the new negotiation avoid the worst mistakes of the former talks. I just enumerate some of the virtues of the new approach: limited international involvement, little “sociedad civil”, avoiding that civil society (economic leaders, members of minor social organization, members of the intellectual elite and so no) interfere with the conversations, great reserve. It seems that they have found the ways of dealing with serious disagreements without retiring from the tables, to abide by formal and procedural rules, to order seriously the discussions, give opportunities for answering and hearing the answers of the other party. The participation of retired members of the police and the army helps to handle the thorny problem of military resistances to peace processes and may give a more reasonable framework to the discussion of the responsibilities, and sanctions, of members of the armed forces, and of eventual changes in the status of the army.

But the main virtue is the restricted agenda: besides the central point of how to end the armed struggle and the eventual demobilizing of the guerrilla, which include the very difficult aspects of amnesty and pardon, the only substantive issues deal with two aspects closely related to guerrilla background, traditions and operations: the drug business and the land issues.

That means that the discussions do not pretend to find an agreement on the social and economic organization of the country, the economic policies, the social policies. It is obvious that such discussion must take place in the space of the institutions created to represent the totality of the population. The rules of democracy determine that the government and congresses elected by the people define the policies of the country. That representation cannot be granted to an armed group only because of its power or the pretention of representing, without any basis, the citizens of the country. And the argument that such problems must be solved as part of the peace agreements leads to insoluble aporias: economic advance, social progress, social equality and justice will not come soon, and the armed struggle is one of the main causes of the economic problems of the country. In the end, the weakness of strong political movements representing the peasantry or the urban workers, which has led to economic policies, which do not reduce the inequality, is due in great part to the effects on the political realm of the guerrilla, the substitution of popular mobilization by armed force, and the contamination of legitimate protest by armed supporters.

There is no way to foretell the results of the present round. Let us hope they can lead to an agreement, which will be the necessary starting point, although only a starting point, for reaching peace in Colombia.

Jorge Orlando Melo
St Antony’s College, Oxford, Nov, 19, 2013


The list of relevant articles and short text is at the end as an annex.



Derechos Reservados de Autor. Jorge Orlando Melo. Bogotá, Colombia.
Ultima actualización noviembre 2020
Diseño, concepción y gestión de contenido: Katherine Ríos