FARC Political Participation up for Debate during Colombia Peace Talks

By Rachel Glickhouse

As negotiators near an agreement on land reform, government officials and FARC leaders could discuss integrating guerrillas into the country’s political process. 

Colombia’s peace talks continue in Cuba, with Colombia’s government envoys saying they are close to reaching an agreement on land reform—one of the top priorities for negotiations. Political participation for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is also under consideration, and was a likely topic discussed during talks with a congressional delegation in Havana this week. Though November marks the deadline for the end of the talks, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos received a nomination Monday for the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in forging the peace process. On Wednesday, Santos confirmed that several agreements with the FARC have already been reached, though he did not specify the exact accords.  Despite optimism among those close to the negotiators, a February survey shows Colombians losing confidence in the talks.

Land reform represents a top priority for both parties, and is the first item listed on the accord establishing the talks. On March 2, government negotiators said they were close to a deal on land reform, including land restitution and distribution. Last month, the FARC proposed creating a new land registry, while Santos spoke about the possibility of creating a land bank—a public authority to manage illegally occupied land. Still, El Tiempo notes, the land reform issue has created “more questions than answers” during the talks. 

Political participation for FARC militants presents another item for discussion, with visiting legislators likely to have considered the issue. Led by Senate President Roy Barreras, six members of Congress arrived in Havana on March 3 to meet with negotiators. According to the Santos administration, the representatives intended to discuss issues related to land reform and victims’ rights, but the Colombian press reported the delegation could also have talked about integrating the FARC into the country’s political process. Barreras, from the conservative U Party, told El Colombiano that the expected outcome of the peace process would entail allowing the FARC to join politics and to exchange “bullets for words.” Notes AS/COA’s Jason Marczak for the Inter-American Dialogue: “If government talks with the FARC do result in peace, one priority should be a continued strengthening of programs such as the Colombian Agency for Reintegration so that demobilized guerrillas can truly reintegrate into society,” he says.

Addressing victims’ rights is another key element of the dialogue, especially because FARC kidnapping continued since the start of the talks. In a letter to Santos in February, FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (known as “Timochenko”) said the guerrillas would be willing to face victims. Rodrigo Granada, one of the FARC negotiators, echoed this notion last month by saying that the group would be willing to sit down with those “the FARC may have harmed.” María Jimena Duzán, a Colombian journalist who covered previous peace talks, expressed optimism about the talks after speaking to negotiators from both parties last week. She reported that during the talks, FARC negotiator Iván Márquez proposed recognizing war atrocities and creating a commission to investigate kidnapping victims who died in captivity. “If one thing is certain…it’s that in Havana they’re not defining whether or not the FARC will put down its weapons, but rather how and when,” she wrote for Semana. Others close to the talks seem optimistic, too. Barreras, one of the congressmen who traveled to Havana, said the process is going “better than Colombians think.” “We observed a clear will to achieve the impossible, to achieve reconciliation,” he said Wednesday.

However, opinion polls show declining confidence in the talks. A February 25 Gallup poll indicated that only 38 percent of Colombians believe the talks will end in a deal, compared to 57 percent in September. Writing for Portafolio on March 4, former Interior Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said that “it must be made clear to the FARC that without real and lasting actions of peace, we don’t believe them.”