FARC talks focus on guerrilla members’ future in politics

New negotiating round kicks off in Havana as Colombian government celebrates latest victory against insurgency

A photograph taken on August 19 showing military equipment seized after an army operation against the FARC in Cauca.
A photograph taken on August 19 showing military equipment seized after an army operation against the FARC in Cauca.Christian Escobar Mora (EFE)

The Colombian government and the FARC began a new round of peace talks in Havana, Cuba on Monday. The Colombian executive, which is negotiating the end of the conflict with the armed guerrilla group, made no public statements at the start of the 13th round of talks that have already lasted nine months, so far resulting in agreement on only one out of six points on the agenda, the one dealing with agrarian issues. Negotiating teams will continue to discuss the potential participation in politics of demobilized guerrilla members.

As for the FARC’s own negotiators, who usually take the microphones readily to publicize their proposals, they had nothing much to say this time. Iván Márquez, FARC’s number two man and the guerrilla group’s chief negotiator, focused his speech on the strike by the agricultural sector that began on Monday to protest the economic policies of the Colombian government. Márquez asked President Juan Manuel Santos “not to criminalize the right to protest” after several government officials suggested that the strike might be infiltrated by FARC elements.

The guerrilla chief also told Santos to revise the free-trade treaties he has signed with countries like the United States, because they have “no consideration for our national economic reality.”

Humberto de la Calle, the government’s chief negotiator, said that never before had talks with the FARC advanced so much, and later added that if a peace treaty is finally signed, it will change Colombian politics. “Peace implies that the combination of arms and ballot boxes disappears; in my opinion, politics will be sharper, more controversial, more ideological, and we have to be ready for that,” he told a gathering of businesspeople a few days ago.

There is going to be no ceasefire; we will not let our guard down" President Santos

The High Commissioner for Peace, Sergio Jaramillo, also took advantage of the weeklong recess from negotiations before returning to Havana and asking Colombia’s governors to campaign for peace. “We need to imagine a real citizen mobilization campaign. Just as we ran a pro-war campaign, now we have to run a pro-peace campaign,” he said.

On the guerrilla side, this new round of talks begins with news of the death of two leaders of the Sixth Front, Ciro Antonio Patiño Orozco, known as “el Burro,” and Arley Medina Prado, “Jaimito,” following a joint police and air force operation in Cauca, southern Colombia.

According to law enforcement reports, these guerrilla members were responsible for attacks against the indigenous population; Jaimito is reported to have been the right-hand man to Pablo Catatumbo, one of the FARC’s strongmen in Havana. The deaths were celebrated by President Santos, who tweeted that another FARC leader and his number two man were “taken down by our public forces. Congratulations, and the order is to persevere.”

These strikes took place right after the president announced a change in the military leadership and demanded an intensification of anti-guerrilla operations from their substitutes. During the command relief ceremony, held last Saturday in Bogota, Santos said that the offensive will continue and will only end when a peace accord is signed. “Every war ends in agreements. Every war ends in a conversation with the enemy,” he said.

Santos also made reference to a statement by FARC’s top man, Timoleón Jiménez, better known as “Timochenko,” who criticized the president’s statements as well as those by Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, who noted that Timochenko remains a military target.

“Those were the conditions from day one of these talks. There is going to be no ceasefire; we will not let our guard down except on the day that we sign,” said Santos.

While this new round of talks takes place, Colombia is waiting for the Constitutional Court to decide whether or not it backs the Juridical Framework for Peace, a constitutional reform designed with a post-conflict situation in mind, which would introduce specific legal mechanisms for demobilized guerrilla members in times of transition; the FARC has so far rejected this initiative on the grounds that it is a unilateral government project. It has emerged that Justice Jorge Ignacio Pretelt supports the reform, but the media have also publicized a letter sent to the Colombian court by an attorney at the International Criminal Court, expressing misgivings about the possibility of suspending the habitual penalties against authors of serious human rights violations. Fatou Bensouda’s letter opposes the Framework for Peace, noting that the suspension of penalties would work against their ultimate purpose, since “in practice it would prevent the punishment of those who have committed the most serious crimes.”

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