Stage set for Colombia's peace process

All things seem to be in place for an amicable agreement between the government and FARC.


    Colombia's peace process is already underway.

    However, while rumours are rife in Bogota about a big announcement that will supposedly take place this week, the government has not yet officially announced how it will proceed.

    I have found out that the approach between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) started shortly after Juan Manuel Santos took office in 2010. Negotiations continued despite of government attacks against the leadership that killed figures like Alfonso Cano.

    Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro have played a crucial role in those first approaches between guerrillas and government officials.

    Some have even suggested that it was thanks to Chavez and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that FARC negotiators made it to Cuba to start discussing with government negotiators about what the fundamentals of the peace process would be.

    Chavez has apparently been pressuring the organisation to move towards peace. But, he is in an uncomfortable position. The rebels have been able to move across the borders between Venezuela and Colombia and this has been an issue between both countries.

    Tensions existed between Chavez and Colombia's former President Alvaro Uribe, but relations improved when Santos took office and, that is apparently the way that Chavez would like it to be.

    "Chavez knows that Santos is not Uribe and that he is seriously looking for a way out of the conflict. That's the message he has been sending the FARC," a source told me.

    Peace plan

    I have been able to take a look at a rough draft [of the peace agreement] and it considers many of what have been the FARC's fundamental claims throughout its history.

    It comprises rural development and some type of agrarian reform democracy development through the creation of new parties security and repair to the victims of the conflict among other things.

    Santos has also passed a series of laws to compensate the victims and to return land to those who have been displaced by conflict.

    There are problems in the handling of these government programmes but at least it is a move towards solving one of this conflict's most serious issues.

    The talks are to start in Oslo in October before moving on to Cuba with negotiations expected to last at least six months and then move on to Colombia for the last, and probably the most difficult stage of the process.

    The FARC have suggested that they would be willing to lay down their weapons and to demobilise.

    There are too many open fronts in the war in Colombia: New bands that have been formed by former paramilitaries, the National Liberation Army and the FARC, who officially laid down their weapons in 2006.

    Drug trafficking plays a crucial role to all of these groups. It also guarantees their subsistence.

    "If the government wants a serious peace plan they will have to take control of the coca leaf plantations that are currently owned by the FARC because if not another criminal group will take over it,” said Antonio Navarro Wolff, a guerrilla fighter of the M19 group which signed a peace treaty with the government in the 1990's and then became a politician.

    Ideal timing

    Many say that the timing for peace is ideal. The FARC is weaker after years of a government launched war against the rebels that has killed most of the historical leadership of the organisation. They are also craving political participation and will probably set up a party.

    The FARC apparently want the negotiations to be public to profit politically because they do not have a positive image at all in Colombia these days.

    "If the FARC go to elections and they get only one per cent of the votes it won't be positive. So they need to understand that they have to change bullets for votes and get more support," said Navarro Wolff.

    There have been several peace processes between the FARC and the government. The latest one was during the government of Andres Pastrami that ended ten years ago. The points discussed were similar to those on the agenda today.

    "What is different now is that the FARC are talking about the termination of the conflict. Before in the accords they said they would work towards the termination of the conflict and this is crucial," Camilo Gonzalez Posso from Indepaz said.

    Posso said also that in 1999 the FARC went to get more power to take over the Colombian government by force and that that is not the situation now.

    What is also different is that back then the FARC had an irregular army of almost 24,000 men and controlled an area of the size of Switzerland. But the FARC are still strong and a force to reckon with in many areas around the country.

    I'm heading now to Putumayo, along the border with Ecuador where I'll continue to tell you how this peace plan will affect those who have been living for decades in a constant war.



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