Colombia’s Peace Process Set to Begin in Oslo

By Rachel Glickhouse

Will the first round of peace talks in a decade between the Colombian government and the FARC lead to concrete results to end the long-running conflict?

On October 14 in Oslo, Norway, the Colombian government is due to begin a historic peace talk process with the guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. The talks represent the first attempt in 10 years to bring an end to the decades-long conflict that has plagued the country. While failed talks in the past have left many skeptical about the outcome of these negotiations, the Colombian government still enjoys support from over half of the population and other South American countries. Brazil and Chile back the talks. Venezuela—which has sometimes had tense diplomatic relations with Colombia—will provide support during the negotiations, which FARC leadership believes will help. This time, some analysts say, the process could see results.

The government is in full gear to prepare for the process. The talks follow a late August framework agreement outlining topics to be discussed, and a joint press conference will be held on October 17 to officially launch the peace talks. Government representatives plan to meet with FARC negotiators on October 14 to discuss final details for the dialogue. The main points at the negotiating table include rural and agricultural development, political participation, ending the armed conflict, drug trafficking, and victims’ rights. The first point for discussion focuses on land reform, including land use and access, technical support for agricultural production, formalizing property titles for long-term occupied land, and access to education, housing, and health services. It also includes creating jobs—a critical point for demobilizing thousands of rebels in rural areas. As for bringing an end to the war, discussion points include negotiating a “bilateral and definitive ceasefire,” giving up weapons, and reintegrating former guerrillas into society. The fourth point—drug trafficking—will also be key, as the FARC earn an estimated annual $1.1 billion from drug trafficking. Talking points focus on programs for crop substitution and drug abuse prevention.

Unlike past peace talks, a ceasefire during the talks is not on the table, meaning government forces continue military operations against the FARC. Following discussions in Oslo, negotiators will travel to Havana, Cuba—the headquarters for the talks—on October 24. This week, the government suspended 30 arrest warrants for FARC members traveling to Oslo. Interpol reportedly suspended arrest orders for FARC negotiators as well. The government plans to send commissions throughout Colombia to explain the peace process on the local level. It will set up working groups to involve citizens directly in the peace process and to discuss the same points as those on the negotiators’ agenda in Oslo.

Many Colombians are pro peace process; a September 28 Datexco survey found that 67 percent support it. However, over 45 percent believe it will be unsuccessful. Others criticize the talks. Former President Álvaro Uribe, who is not part of the government and has been critical of Santos’ security policies, will not support the process since he says he refuses to “negotiate with terrorists.” El Tiempo columnist Saul Hernández explains this view, calling the talks an “impunity process” that would allow FARC members to not be held responsible for crimes. Political participation is among the more controversial parts of the process, which some believe could be one of the FARC’s goals. General Alejandro Navas Ramos, commander-in-chief of the Colombian Armed Forces, said on October 1: “The FARC looks to the national elections in 2014 as a test, and then the subsequent elections in 2018 as a possible legitimate political victory.”

Other Latin American countries want to lend support during the peace talks. Chile and Venezuela plan to “accompany” the talks by sending representatives; FARC leaders celebrated the reelection of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who they say will be important to the process to “equalize the respective positions.” This week, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called President Juan Manuel Santos to offer her country’s support in the peace process, explaining that it was important for the region as a whole. In addition, a $1.5 million fund of donations from the international community will help pay for reintegrating former guerrillas and victims of violence back into society, the government announced Monday.

Analysts say that while Colombians feel skeptical due to failed negotiations in the past, there’s reason for optimism. “The commitment to learn from past lessons is important...and the decision not to have a demilitarized zone and to hold talks outside of Colombia seem wise. Political will and commitment to the same endgame of ending the conflict seems to exist on both sides. Finally, the national and international contexts seem more propitious for peace,” says Virginia Bouvier of the United States Institute for Peace. Colombian security expert Román D. Ortiz writes: “The most likely result of the conversations will be the division of the organization. On one side will be the pragmatic ones willing to give up their weapons in exchange for amnesty and agricultural concessions. In the other extreme there will be the radicals and those involved in narcotrafficking, who will opt to continue the violence.“ FARC leaders, too, feel optimistic, reports Reuters. One of the FARC representatives at the talks, Andrés París, said: “If we compare the expectations of support currently at the negotiating table, it’s around 75, 80 percent…it’s about 75 percent possible we arrive at an agreement.” Others say it’s now or never. “I believe that giving ourselves the opportunity to live in peace is an obligation we have in Colombia…If this one doesn’t work, I don’t think we will be able to witness another one,”Antioquia state Governor Sergio Fajardo told AQ Online.

In other regional security news:

  • The International Relations and Security Network examines what Colombia’s peace talks mean for the energy industry, questioning whether the FARC could increase attacks on oil infrastructure “to play hardball at the negotiating table."
  • While Panama already has one of the highest drug seizure rates in the Americas, the government has worked to “armor” the country from drug trafficking by purchasing 19 radars and constructing 18 air and sea bases, eight of which are already functional.
  • On October 10, the Dominican Republic and Honduras signed an anti-drug trafficking cooperation accord, agreeing to information-sharing, technical and investigative assistance, and tracking illicit money flows.
  • Brazil sent 7,500 troops to its border with Bolivia and Peru on Tuesday “equipped with fighter jets, combat helicopters, patrol boats and armored vehicles” in a mission to combat drug trafficking and other illicit activities. The government plans three similar missions this year to increase security along Brazil’s border.