Renewed Negotiations: Will Santos Seize the Moment?

Source: Blog Direita Bem Informada

Signaling an unprecedented change in course and strategy, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia —FARCannounced this week that the guerrilla body would no longer use kidnapping as a tool to achieve its revolutionary objectives against Colombian authorities. Kidnappings have long served as an important financial source for the insurgent group that first took up arms against the government in 1964,  but the recent decision by the FARC leadership indicates the possibility of a return to negotiations with the government of Manuel Santos.

This article will briefly explore the previous attempts at negotiating a political settlement between the FARC and the Colombian government by tracing the peace processes initiated during various Colombian presidencies including: Belisario Betancur (1982-1986), Virgilio Barco (1986-1990), Cesar Gaviria (1990-1994), as well as Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002).  The source material regarding these early and later attempted political negotiations relies heavily on the research and lectures of Professor Carlo Nasi at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia.  After briefly examining the previous peace processes, the article will conclude by suggesting that President Santos has been presented with a tremendous opportunity and his subsequent actions may be critical in bringing an end to this devastating and protracted conflict.

In 1982, President Belisario Betancur came to power in Colombia with a promise to end the armed conflict.  In a region characterized by leftist revolutions and rightist attempts to prevent such revolutions, and in a world shaped by the retreating eddies of Cold War politics, Betancur courageously attempted to fight against those opposing systemic features to bring peace to Colombia. He successfully negotiated a cease-fire with the FARC, and by 1986 the guerrilla body had established the Unión Patriótica (Patriotic Union—UP) to politically integrate the in the nation’s political process and participate in the 1986 elections.  However, the FARC maintained its armed nature even while creating a new political party. Shortly after is creation of the UP, armed paramilitary groups were killing thousands of the UP’s political participants, and the Colombian military failed to support Betancur’s efforts.

Betancur’s lofty intentions to achieve a negotiated peace quickly collapsed, but his successor maintained the posture of negotiation.  In 1986, Virgilio Barco assumed the presidency in Colombia, and by 1988, he had inherited a very different world than the one of his predecessor.  The international system experienced considerable change with the end, or at least the reduction of Cold War politics.  He focused his attention on other leftist groups, like the M-19, and his successor continued his favorable policies. Barco and Gaviria defined the Colombian government’s role in the peace process as one of assuming political responsibility—a key failure of Betancur—by creating peace commissions, and peace envoys, and most importantly by means of the integration of the Colombian military into the negotiation process.  Their policies inevitably resulted in the dismantling and political reconciliation of a key leftist group, the M-19, and their successes can be seen today as evidenced by the rise of Gustavo Petro in Bogotá.

In 1998, Andrés Pastrana appeared to be the best prepared candidate to negotiate with the FARC, but once he assumed the presidency, he was met with considerable opposition to negotiation by the Colombian military.  He did reach some level of success initially with the FARC, through negotiating a complicated 47-point agreement. Even still, the Colombian military largely opposed any measures to grant revitalized demilitarization zones, a tenant of the FARC’s requests, which provided considerable limitation to the Pastrana regime.  Pastrana gave up on efforts of negotiating with the FARC after a series of violent clashes between the government and the insurgent group.

The next leader of the FARC had a pivotal decision to make: to continue a war against the state that would only continue to expose his supporters to dangers, or to reconcile and move forward on a true path that yields legitimacy to a vilified ‘advocate’.  At the time it seemed that the next leader of the FARC could decide to the Colombian political establishment by reaching out to President Santos and offering him the chance for political reconciliation.

Although it’s still too early to determine with total certainty, it looks like the FARC has done just that.  President Santos has long maintained that any negotiation will depend heavily on the renunciation of kidnapping by the FARC, and I doubt he expected that renunciation to come.  However, publicly, the FARC has disavowed such actions, and now Santos must uphold his part of the bargain.  He remains in a precarious position, and he must not gamble his government’s prestige completely on a negotiated agreement, like so many of his predecessors did. Nonetheless, he has an opportunity to achieve something that at best only his predecessors only envisioned.

The world today is much different than it was during the previous negotiations.  The Cold War has ended, the United States has passed through a period of dominance to one of recent decline, and the FARC, decimated by devastating casualties in its senior ranks, no longer has the capabilities to wage a successful war against the Colombian government.

President Santos has achieved a major concession from the FARC, and he knows that the real victory of achieving a peaceful, stable and more democratic Colombia remains gripped by an internal war that is incapable of achieving a true, lasting security by means of the status quo.

Santos needs to remember the successes and failures of his predecessors and to look to them as a guide to initiate a new round of negotiations with the FARC.  However, he must remain guarded and be careful not to confer too much legitimacy on a severely weakened and battered guerrilla insurgency.  But, the FARC made the first move, and Santos needs to be wise enough to respond.

It’s time that the FARC leadership and President Santos seize the present opportunity to make history and to achieve long-lasting peace.

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13 thoughts on “Renewed Negotiations: Will Santos Seize the Moment?

  • March 2, 2012 at 10:38 pm
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    Fortunately, Ingrid didn't assume the Presidency in 1982. Or anytime, for that matter.

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  • March 3, 2012 at 12:59 am
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    President Ingrid Betancur??

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  • March 3, 2012 at 5:08 am
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    Oops, a huge mistake! Ingrid was a candidate when kidnapped! She never took office!

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  • March 3, 2012 at 9:27 am
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    Yikes… please fix it: In 1982, President Belisario Betancur came to power…, not Ingrid Betancur (she was 21 at the time, and her last name is Betancourt)!!

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  • March 3, 2012 at 10:22 am
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    Just imagine 48 years of confilct and war, sounds like an epic horror movie and that is what Colombia has gone through, and than this new chapter and opportinity seems to be coming about, this conflict has taken proportions that are way beyond regional, it would be a triumph for the whole of humanity if peace were to come about

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  • March 3, 2012 at 10:28 am
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    Not just 48 years, almost its entire post-colonial history.

    Colombia's chronic problem has been warlordism on its periphery, of which FARC is a leftist manifestation. But they have isolated themselves politically and been unable to adjust militarily to the era of drone warfare.

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  • March 5, 2012 at 6:20 am
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    This article misses out an important aspect of any lasting peace process in Colombia – the participation of civil society in the construction of peace. Furthermore, it ignores that a key failure of previous peace processes was the continuation of fighting while talks took place. Colombian social organisations struggling for peace today note that the Santos government has continued the militarisation of the conflict, authorising violations of international humanitarian law by the military (such as the order to destroy civilian houses and basing military forces in civilian infrastructure). Furthermore, paramilitary forces that operate alongside state forces continue to commit abuses against members of civil society and the political opposition. Although the government has at least begun to talk about peace, the suspicion remains that the peace it is referring to is in fact the surrender of the guerrillas, which will simply not happen.

    The guerrillas will not lay down their arms for several reasons. They don’t think they’re beaten (the figures appear to back this up see below), they don’t see any structural changes having arisen from the demobilisation of the M-19, and the state has not dismantled the paramilitary structures set up in the 1980s which destroyed the Patriotic Union. Therefore there is no guarantee of their ability to openly participate in the political process. Given this situation the insistence on demobilisation prior to negotiations is tantamount to sinking the negotiation process before it can begin.

    The latest figures (From Arco Iris) on the conflict show that it has now reached the same intensity as before 2002 despite $10 billion of US aid for the war. Thousands of government troops and police are killed or maimed each year, and the guerrillas are expanding their presence into new regions of the country. The figures would seem to indicate that far from being a beaten force, the guerrillas have managed to retake the offensive in some areas – in other words the situation is of strategic stalemate.

    Without the participation of Colombian civil society, no peace process can succeed. It is only with the mass participation of Colombians that the causes of the conflict can be analysed and defused within a broad process of political and socio-economic changes. This is the inescapable truth regarding the conflict in Colombia – both sides will have to make serious concessions.

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  • March 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm
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    On Thursday March 8th 2012, COHA Director Larry Birns will be issuing an official response to the error that was made in our article. Below is a staff response:

    Thank you for your astuteness in noticing that egregious error on our part. We at COHA sincerely apologize to our esteemed readers. That was an error that occurred in editing and should never have made it unto our website. Due corrections have been made and put into the article. We would like to reaffirm our commitment toward quality in our analyses that we present for your reading pleasure. Once again, we profusely apologize for that error.

    Thank you

    Reply
  • March 8, 2012 at 10:27 am
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    Dear Discerning Reader,

    In our Friday, March 2nd article entitled “A Renewed Negotiation: Will Santos seize the moment?” we erroneously and pathetically referred to former Colombian president Belisario Betancur as Ingrid Betancourt. Needless to say, our embarrassment over this goof is total as our office phones rang off the hook. What happened was that during an intense patch of time when we were trying to pull together a number of articles during the production phase of one of the office’s lead editors decided President Betancur was lacking a first name for the initial citation of his name. At this point, our googling process went awry. So when it came to Belisario Betancur, our people firmly confused him with the esteemable but non-presidential Íngrid Betancourt who later was detained by the FARC guerillas and rescued in a military operation Colombian authorities.

    Of course we are full of shame, but when you are juggling the talents and habits of some 40 young college interns, graduate students, visiting researchers and academics on sabbatical at one time, you don’t always get things right. Needless to say, COHA’s relentless truth squad out there was good enough to thwack us for the goof and now we stand here naked and alone. But on the bright side, we demonstrably have improved – maybe even noticeably so – even though the harpies nailed us this time.

    Thank you for keeping us on our toes.
    My Very Best,
    Larry Birns,
    For the people of COHA

    Reply
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