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Inside the Colombia Peace Deal

Interview with “Alexandra”, a Dutch-born member of the FARC guerrilla organization who joined the guerrillas over a decade ago because she was appalled by the conditions she saw in Colombia when she went to do graduate studies there and saw no other way to remedy the situation.  After ten years in the jungle, she was chosen as one of the press representatives for the FARC at the Peace Talks which have been going on in Havana for the last two years.

How are the peace talks going? Did you achieve the most important points of the Agenda?

Alexandra: At this moment, three partial agreements have been made, on comprehensive rural development, political participation and the illicit use of drugs. The fifth point, victims, and the third point, End of Conflict, are being discussed at the moment. Within these discussions, several –smaller, but not less important – agreements have been made:

Agreement on a de-mining pilot project in El Orejón, where FARC-EP and the Army are working together to de-activate explosive ordnance. The project is still going on and it was summarized last week: 33 landmines have been de-activated, but a negative aspect is that paramilitaries are occupying the cleared areas and threatening and even extorting the civilian population.

Agreement on Disappeared Persons: Within the context of the conflict, there are 45,000 missing persons. An agreement has been made for the immediate search, location and delivery of the remains of missing persons to their families. Another agreement has been made for after the signing of a final agreement to create a special Search Unit for missing persons.

Agreement on a Special Jurisdiction for Peace, with the creation of a Special Peace Tribunal after the signing of a final agreement, where anyone, combatants and non combatants who have in some way participated in the conflict, can be called. The principle is “more truth should lead to more restorative justice, while less truth leads to more retributive justice”. If the person doesn’t want to offer the truth, a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison can be applied. So the special jurisdiction is restorative, not punitive and aims at truth and reparation for the victims; at the same time it fights against impunity, which historically has been very strong in Colombia.

The most important issue that is still to be discussed is the clarification and eradication of paramilitarism in Colombia.

What are the risks of integrating into political life? How and when would that happen?

Alexandra: We proposed “Special Territories for Peace”, in those regions where the guerrilla historically has been present. In these territories, ex-combatants would live with their relatives and with the population of the area, engaging in productive projects and doing politics.

The biggest risk of integrating in political life is the state’s doctrine (or idea) of treating the political opposition as an internal enemy that has to be crushed. This has led to the creation of paramilitary structures (death squads), with disastrous consequences for Colombian people. We already have the negative experience of the Patriotic Union in the eighties, when approximately 5000 militants were killed, and there is no clear indication that anything has changed. We are very clear about the fact that we need serious commitments by the State to dismantle and fight against these groups; until now their reaction has been half-hearted.  According to them, there exist BACRIM, criminal bands, who don’t have any links to the State.

 If the government says they don’t have anything to do with paramilitarism, how are they going to prevent/eradicate it?

Alexandra: We proposed the creation of a Special Commission to that end that should present a report within 4 months about the specific location of paramilitaries in the regions. The Commission should also clarify the causes and the roots of this problem and offer solutions for its eradication. The government calls the commission “Security Commission”, which implies quite a different focus.

 What are the latest developments of the Gender Subcommission?

Alexandra: The Gender Commission of the FARC, after a meeting with Mrs. Bangura, UN special representative for sexual violence in conflict, decided to invite ten representatives of Observatories and Organizations who have carried out serious investigations on the issue of sexual violence in Colombia. This, because there are (especially in Colombian media) a lot of rumours and negative stories about sexual violence within our ranks and by guerrilla fighters against the civil population. These are persistent stories, in spite of the fact that it is quite difficult to believe that in an organization with almost 40% women in its ranks (armed women!) would present these kind of situations. The main conclusion of the meeting was that there are no reliable statistics on sexual violence, but from the few numbers that do exist, it becomes clear that the FARC-EP never has used sexual violence as a weapon of war, and more so, that those crimes are severely punished within our organization.

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Karen Lee Wald is a journalist and writer who divides her time between Cuba and California. She has been meeting, talking with and interviewing members of the Colombian Peace Talks in Havana for the past year and a half.

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