Progress seen in Farc peace talks
Colombia’s government and rebel leaders of the Farc announced on Sunday they have agreed on the first point of the peace agenda, sparking hopes that one of the longest running armed conflicts might finally be drawing to a close.
“Today, we have a real opportunity to reach peace through dialogue,” Humberto de la Calle, the government’s chief negotiator, said in Havana where since November government and rebel emissaries have been seeking common ground on a pre-agreed five-point agenda.
During the past five months negotiations have been focused, in large part, on the contentious issue of rural development and agrarian reform. All past peace attempts with the Farc have failed, and this is the first time both parties have agreed to discuss the underlying cause of the insurgency.
“The agreement reached would allow for a radical transformation of Colombia’s rural reality. This goes beyond a traditional agrarian reform,” Mr de la Calle said, labelling the accord as “historic”.
In 1964, under the banner of social justice, Pedro Antonio Marín, popularly known as Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda, organised his peasant followers into the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc. Ever since, the leftwing fighters have engaged in running warfare against the state. Tens of thousands have been killed and millions displaced as the army, Farc rebels and rightwing paramilitary groups battled it out.
While peace talks are under way in Cuba, both sides keep fighting in Colombia’s interior. Last week, over a dozen military men were killed in clashes with the Farc and the ELN, the second-largest guerrilla group. Despite these casualties, in recent years, the government has landed some blows on the Farc and key commanders have been killed or died, including a week ago Ernesto Hurtado Peñaloza, also known as El Negro Eliécer.
Diminished, the estimated 8,000 guerrillas left are scattered around remote rural areas, lobbing mortar shells and sowing makeshift landmines. The ELN is smaller than the Farc with a force of between 3,000 and 1,500 insurgents. Although it is not at the table, it also appears to be seeking peace talks.
Experts and government officials claim the two rebel factions have survived this long by financing themselves over the years through illegal activities such as kidnapping for ransom, extortion, drug-trafficking, informal gold mining, and arms smuggling. Both groups deny this.
Last week, Farc rejected accusations they were to blame for the abduction of two Spanish tourists in the northeast, after kidnappers allegedly identified themselves as members of the rebel group.
While peace talks with Farc guerrillas are sometimes a halting process, these are the most concrete efforts in almost 50 years.
According to the government a final deal could be inked in months not years. The agenda includes drug trafficking; the rights of victims; the end of the armed conflict, and guarantees for political participation, which is the next point to be discussed. Negotiations, notwithstanding, are being held under the premise that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
Critics have accused Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, who recently hinted he would run for a second term next year, of negotiating behind the country’s back. Many argue that he is poised to make unilateral concessions to the rebels in order to seal an agreement. However, from Havana, Mr de la Calle stressed that any accord would go to a national referendum.
Colombia has held successful peace talks before but not with the Farc. The M-19 urban guerrilla group laid down its weapons in 1990, and more than 30,000 paramilitaries demobilised between 2004 and 2006, even though many consider it a flawed process.