Colombia: Highlights of the 39th Cycle of Peace Talks in Havana

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A blog from Virginia Bouvier, US Institute of Peace (abridged)

As the Colombian government and the FARC prepare to return to the peace table in Havana tomorrow, August 20th, for the 40th cycle of talks, I offer here a brief recap and analysis of the flurry of activities since my last post on the peace process in mid-July.

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The Interlude between Sessions

When the 38th cycle closed on July 12, following the most violent period seen since the beginning of peace talks in 2012, the Colombian government and the FARC peace delegations issued a joint statement committing themselves to a new dual strategy that would hasten a final peace accord in Havana on the one hand,  and de-escalate the conflict in Colombia on the other.  (See joint statement here.)

The first part of the strategy includes “technical, continuous and simultaneous work on the key points of the Agenda while the accords are being crafted at the table.”  In particular, the parties agreed to move forward on establishing the terms for a bilateral ceasefire and the setting aside of arms.  To this effect, they invited the UN Secretary General and the UNASUR president (currently Uruguay) to delegate representatives to serve on the Technical Subcommission on Ending the Conflict in Havana in order to help them design relevant systems for monitoring and verification.

Complementing this intensification of technical work, In relation to the second part of the strategy, the FARC extended the unilateral ceasefire it had announced on July 8 from one month to four months, and the government said it would undertake de-escalation and confidence-building measures, as yet to be defined, in tandem with the FARC’s ability to maintain the unilateral suspension of “all offensive actions.”  (See Santos’s statement here.) . . .

Mood Shifts for 39th Cycle of Talks 

During the 39th round of talks that began on July 23 and ended on August 2, there seemed to be a renewal of confidence in the peace process, spawned by the parties’  expressed willingness to accelerate the pace in Havana and to de-escalate the violence in Colombia.  The unilateral ceasefire and the suspension of the bombings, FARC lead negotiator Iván Márquez noted, “unleashed this new ambience of confidence that has allowed the talks to speed up and to advance new consensuses.” (See Márquez’s statement here.)

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Question(s) related to this article:

What is happening in Colombia, Is peace possible?

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There were a number of additional advances during the 39th round:

▪ The parties produced a report on the joint de-mining project underway in Antioquia with the Colombian Army and the FARC (View the report here.);

▪ Peace delegation members in Havana were reinforced with new team members and advisors;

▪ Discussions moved forward on preliminary agreements for an integrated approach to truth, justice, reparations and non-repetition; and

▪ Work of the technical subcommission for ending the conflict continued to refine strategies for a final bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities. . .

Victims and Transitional Justice

During the 39th cycle, the parties continued to work on the issue of victims, including the related issues of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  According to lead negotiator Iván Márquez, the parties are designing an “unprecedented and innovative” integrated system to put these different aspects of victims’ rights at the center of the process.  (See more here.)

Civil Society Demands Inclusion 

While Havana negotiators have debated the details of the agenda in relative isolation, civil society has continued to make known its desire to be more regularly engaged in the process, including at the peace tables themselves.  On August 12, Todd Howland, Colombia representative of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, called on the parties to invite authorities of the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities to the peace table in order to guarantee the vision and collective rights of these communities. (See more here.)

Inputs in the form of letters, conferences, publications, recommendations continue to be generated and express the particular interests and concerns of different sectors and regions of Colombia.  Victims’ groups, obviously, are particularly interested in ensuring that their rights are not slighted at the table.  On July 30, family members of victims of disappearance and kidnapping that form part of the NGO Fundación País Libre sent a letter to the government and FARC negotiators with some new inputs and a caution that if their needs are not met, they will not hesitate to seek remedies in international arenas.  (Read their letter here.) The victims called for a transitional justice process that guarantees victims’ rights and called on the parties to strengthen the institutional structures that provide human rights protections. . . .

 Church Goes to Havana, Explores Potential Role at the Peace Table

In early August, Msr. Luis Augusto Castro, the head of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference, announced that members of the church leadership would travel to Havana to assess the support that the Pope and the Vatican might provide to the peace process.  The upcoming visit of Pope Francisco to Cuba on September 19-22 on his way to the United States offers a potential opportunity for direct engagement with the parties at the peace table.  Pope Francis will be the third pope to visit Cuba and his trip is a primarily seen as a way to  recognize the improved U.S. – Cuba relationship–and the role that the Vatican and the pope played in the 18 months of secret negotiations that contributed to that improvement.  (See the phenomenal story by Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande here.)  Nonetheless, many Colombians are hoping that the Pope’s visit to Cuba will also offer an opportunity for the Pope to give support to the peace process.  In this regard, members of the Colombian church, lead by the head of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference  Msr. Augusto Castro, traveled to Havana in mid-August to meet with the parties and discuss whether it would be advantageous for the Pope to meet with the parties or to send a delegate to participate in the peace talks. (Read more here.) . . .

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