On Monday, October 15, the government and FARC negotiators will sit down in Oslo to begin the next phase of the Colombian peace talks. Next Wednesday, they are expected to hold a joint press conference, after which the talks will move to Havana, Cuba, where negotiators will resume discussions the following week.
While the formal opening of peace talks is really just one moment in a much longer process–and perhaps not even the most important moment at that–the public launching of this process nonetheless marks a major juncture for the future of Colombia, and is a moment filled with expectation. A poll this week showed 77 percent support for the peace process, and Colombians clearly share high hopes that the time for peace has finally arrived.
Much is happening behind the scenes to ensure that the peace process goes smoothly. The negotiating teams have continued to prepare, to brief, to line up support, and to refine their strategies. Rubén Salazar, head of the Colombian Conference of Bishops, announced this week that the negotiating team requested the bishops to be prepared to play a facilitating role in the negotiations. (See “Iglesia dice sue sí participaría en proceso de paz.”) In the absence of a mediator, such facilitation may be critical if and when the two negotiating teams come to an impasse.
Iván Cepeda and Angela María Robledo, co-chairs of the House Peace Commission, talk at the Local Authorities' Peace Summit in Bogotá in late September.
Other mechanisms to engage civilian society are also beginning to be put in place. Luis Eduardo Garzón has been appointed as minister-counselor for social dialogue. The Peace Commissions of the House and Senate in Colombia have announced plans to hold 16 hearings in eight regions of Colombia from October 24 through November 22 to solicit civil society inputs for the negotiating table. Mayors and governors are in dialogue to ensure that regional considerations are given their due in any peace agreement and that civilian populations are protected while the peace is being negotiated. (See “Peace Summit of Local Leaders”). These kinds of initiatives will help ensure that any peace that is agreed by the parties will be able to hold in the regions.
In his role as director of a new Center for Reflection on Peace and Post-Conflict, former ELN-leader and peace advocate Francisco Galán has been brought in to advise the Colombian Congress on public policy options, and to generate analysis and proposals to support the peace process and the post-conflict phase. The center has funding from the Swiss Embassy.
The fifth national Semana por la Memoria (Week of Memory), which began on October 2, serves as a reminder of the importance of ensuring that victims' voices are considered as Colombia's leaders discuss the path to peace. During this year's events, the Center for Historical Memory released five more book-length studies of emblematic cases of violence, all of which can be downloaded from the CHM website. The latest studies deal with sexual and gender-based violence in the Bajo Putumayo region, the struggles of the indigenous populations in Cauca, and case studies relating to the justice and peace law and the testimonies of the paramilitary members of the Colombian United Self-Defense Forces (AUC). Truth-seeking steps such as these, beyond providing the victims with symbolic reparations, also help to lay the groundwork for healing and reconciliation down the road.
A “week of indignation” began early Friday morning in 25 of Colombia's 32 departments. The week anticipates activities coordinated by social and popular organizations to underscore the many ways the country has been affected by the war. The organizers are also calling for a more active role in the peace talks.
Cultural figures are seeking to create an environment supportive of the peace process. A day for non-violence last Friday culminated in an all-night concert at Bogotá's Bolívar Plaza. César López, the Colombian musician who invented the escopetarra (a guitar crafted from a AK-47 gun), brought down the house. (Click here for the concert video.) This was Colombia's version of turning swords into plowshares. Musicians including Juanes, Shakira, Miguel Bosé, and others are also putting their talent at the service of peace, and shared this message through a special edition of El Tiempo last month.
It is still unclear whether, when, and under what conditions a parallel peace process with the ELN or other armed groups might be undertaken, or whether the ELN or other extant guerrilla groups might be brought into the process with the FARC. One hopes such discussions are under way or under consideration and that they will be revealed when conditions are opportune.
Concerns remain of course about many aspects of the future–including the representation of victims' needs at the table, the juridical framework for peace, the reintegration of the guerrillas into the political life of the country, and the question of a ceasefire. These concerns are normal parts of any peace process and can be expected to intensify as the process unfolds. A number of ideas on the ceasefire issue were floated at the public forum on ceasefires I attended at the University of the Andes on October 3rd. (See Semana coverage of these debates). On my visit, I heard other proposals for humanitarian accords or agreements to diminish the impact of the violence on the civilian population while the war is being waged. (See “Peace Summit of Local Leaders.”) More ideas and proposals will continue to emerge along the way. The important thing is that there are processes whereby ideas can be discussed, debated, and channeled to those at the peace tables. For now, patience will be required. Everyone is moving into position and the next act is about to begin.