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War in Colombia lasting for over 50 years has killed 300, 000 people, displaced six million more, and created thousands of political prisoners. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government have been at war for two reasons: on the one hand, marginalization and destitution of Colombia’s people, mainly in rural areas, and on the other, success of a favored few and their international business friends in controlling land and natural resources. Peace may now be at hand.
The two sides have been talking in Havana, Cuba for over three years. On December 15, 2015 the negotiators announced agreement on their “Victims” agenda item. Discussion on that point alone had lasted 18 months. A FARC negotiator declared that negotiations are “all but certain” to end in peace, and soon.
They’ve reached agreement on three other agenda items: agrarian rights, illegal drugs, and political participation. Observers expect quick agreement soon on one more, the “End of Conflict.” The final agenda topic to be taken up will be “Implementation, Verification, and Endorsement.” According to guidelines set prior to the talks, no individual agreement is complete until there is agreement on the whole package.
But “Victims” was the big hurdle. At the conference in Havana, former Colombian vice president Humberto de La Calle and FARC Secretariat member Ivan Márquez, heads of the two negotiating teams, discussed the accord. Spokespersons for guarantor countries Norway and Cuba presented reports as did Yineth Bedoya, speaking on behalf of victims’ groups. Representatives of the Catholic Church, the United Nations, Colombia’s National University, and “accompanying countries” Chile and Venezuela were present. Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriquez attended.
Joint Communique 64, released that day, provided an overview. A “comprehensive system” providing “truth, justice, reparations, and non-repetition” will “make amends to victims and honor their human rights.” Unlike previous Colombian attempts at a peace settlement, this one offers no general amnesty.
The “Comprehensive System” contains a “commission for elucidation of truth” and a unit for finding disappeared persons. It also includes – and crucially so – a “Special Jurisdiction for Peace.” This will be an autonomous court with a “Chamber of Amnesty and Pardon” and a “Tribunal for Peace.” The latter will “investigate, clarify, prosecute, and punish serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”
The joint statement described participation by ordinary people: “More than 3000 victims spoke at four forums in Colombia organized by the United Nations and National University and 60 victims traveled to Havana to testify.”
The event on December 15 was a repeat of something similar on September 23. On that occasion, with Cuban President Raul Castro looking on, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC top leader Timochenko signed an earlier agreement on the Comprehensive System. Prospects were favorable then for a final agreement no later than March 23, 2016. Within days, however, the government side raised new questions about the Special Jurisdiction and about impunity. Resolution of those uncertainties allowed for the December 15 announcement.
In his remarks, Humberto de La Calle rejected any “scheme of persecution and vengeance.” There is “no space for impunity,” he proclaimed. Both sides would provide reparations for victims with the Special Jurisdiction monitoring reparations from the FARC.
The lawyer indicated that FARC leaders whom the Special Jurisdiction certified as “recognizing the truth and [their] responsibility” would be “deprived of liberty” for five years via “monitoring and supervision.” Late comers to recognition would spend five years in prison. Non-recognition would mean 15-20 years of incarceration. For de La Calle and the others, crimes like genocide, torture, and executions don’t qualify for amnesty.
And, “the state will develop a special regimen for judging state agents – its soldiers and police – which will be simultaneous, balanced, and fair.” Any FARC objections to that idea went unreported.
FARC delegation head Iván Márquez liked the agreement because it placed the “origin of the conflict as prior to the FARC’s creation.” The FARC was responding to “the violence … of the dominant power.” He claimed the “right of rebellion” and called for restoration of land to “all the small farmers who suffered plunder of land and inhuman violence.” For Márquez, peace “requires reconciliation and reconciliation requires normalization of political and social life” and “creation of a strong, durable social fabric.” He wants amnesty for political prisoners, especially those wrongly imprisoned for the crime of rebellion and for “exercising the legitimate right of social protest.”
The various statements said little about the paramilitary menace plaguing both the FARC and Colombian society for decades. Paramilitaries began their massacre of Patriotic Union activists in 1986 following an earlier peace agreement. Many were recently demobilized FARC guerrillas.
Lawyer Diego Martínez praised the agreement on Victims for having inserted restorative justice into the peace process. He thinks it’s “an exemplary model for the world” because of its grounding in truth. “It’s an attempt to put an end to factors giving rise to social violence, the economic ones that fostered the war and the political ones that kept it going. The restorative system … will be able to clarify the various factors so there will be no repetition.”
Martínez was one of three lawyers chosen by the FARC’s peace delegation to collaborate with three government – selected lawyers in shaping the agreement presented on September 23.
The present agreement provides for amnesty for “political crimes.” Martínez classified the Santos government’s release of 30 jailed FARC combatants in November as an “important gesture of confidence.” It signaled recognition of the right of rebellion. Amnesty will help solve Colombia’s “very complex and dramatic prison crisis that must be attended to.”
Together, the saga of intense effort toward peace and the December 15 announcement anticipating an end to a horrific war should have been big news in the United States. Instead, the New York Times and the Washington Post each posted the same brief Associated Press report. It was short on background information other than reminders of alleged FARC misdeeds.
There might have been the alternative story, for example, of U. S. involvement in Colombia’s civil war. The United States has provided troops, advisors, bases, monies, equipment, and intelligence off and on for half a century. The real background is of confrontation between Colombia’s marginalized majority population and a military, police, and diplomatic apparatus serving the Colombian and U. S. business classes.
Reporting along those lines, however, might have provoked the interest of readers in working class struggles elsewhere. For minders of the media, that would have been a slippery slope, for sure.