Challenges ahead for a sustainable peace

by Rebekah Sears

In August 2012, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced formal peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the largest guerrilla group, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). After several failed attempts in previous decades, these talks represent renewed efforts for peace.

When talks opened in Oslo, Norway, in October 2012, the FARC opened negotiations with a tough standpoint that many feared to be unmovable. However, talks have continued fairly steadily since November 2012 in Havana, Cuba.

More recently, possibilities have reopened for peace talks with the second largest guerrilla group, the ELN (National Liberation Army), following the release of a vice president of a Canadian mining company who was captured in early 2013.


Victories at the negotiating table

Perhaps one of the biggest victories so far from the negotiations in Havana is a joint statement released in May after 10 rounds of negotiations–an agreement on agrarian reform, the first of five points in the original agenda. This is arguably one of the most controversial points, a constant and complex issue at the heart of the 50 years of conflict.

The details of this agreement have yet to be released, but the press statement about the agreement echoed the words of the original proposal when peace talks were announced in 2012. Such plans include access to land and the formalization of property titles, agricultural development, and more government support and investment in social programs, as well as agriculture and food security plans.

In addition, for the first time the FARC publicly took responsibility for their part in the conflict and the fact that their actions have brought about much suffering throughout 50 years of fighting.


The hard reality: the work has only begun

But the work is far from over. Round 13 of negotiations opened in August to address the four remaining agenda items: political participation for all Colombians, a negotiated peace settlement to the armed conflict, illicit drug trafficking, and the rights and needs of victims of the conflict.

Already it is clear that it will take a lot of work to put the agro-reform agreement into practice. In August agricultural workers from coffee, food and flower farms and workers from other sectors all over the country went on strike. They demanded that the government fulfill promises to subsidize the rising costs of fuel, fertilizer and other necessary expenses. They were also protesting that it is now illegal for farmers to store and reuse their own seeds, as a result of free trade agreements with North American countries. Negotiations to resolve the strike were shaky at best.

The government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, is under no illusion that this process will end with the signing of peace accords. He predicts that it will take another 10 years to reach a sustainable peace. Given the immensity of the tasks ahead–including reparations, reconciliation, justice, impunity, political participation–even this may be an optimistic estimate, but let us continue the work with hope and determination.


Rebekah Sears is policy educator and advocacy worker with MCC in Colombia.

Next: Communities march for land rights

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