Colombia: the history of peace negotiations

By Christian Peacemaker Teams
June 14, 2013

As Ekklesia has reported recently (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18543), FARC and the government are moving ahead with peace talks in Colombia. But many questions remain about the current process, and as this Christian Peacemaker Teams briefing indicates, what lies behind it is a decidedly mixed history. Can the politics of hope overcome a legacy of oppression and despair?

Throughout Colombia’s history, several negotiation processes between insurgent guerrilla groups and the government have taken place – some successful and others with devastating results.

In September of 2012, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the Colombian government would begin talks with the oldest and largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP) hosted by the Norwegian and Cuban governments, with Chile and Venezuela observing the process.

Other remaining guerrilla groups, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) have also announced their desire to participate in the ongoing talks.

If the former two groups were to join the negotiations and these talks were to lead to some sort of agreement, Colombia could possibly see the end to its sixty-year-old civil war that has led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people. Ideally, everyone should be happy and hopeful that the Colombian government and its armed opposition have agreed to end hostilities and resolve issues through dialogue.

Unfortunately, past events have embedded a heavy dose of skepticism into Colombians. All sides have seen the others break agreements. Years of violence have left deep wounds that are far from healing.

The majority of Colombians would like to see an end to the violence of the armed conflict, but if the violence of social and economic issues which led to the armed conflict remain, then there is a good chance that other armed groups would simply rise again. People living in desperate conditions will take desperate measures to fight back.

In the 1980s, a series of negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC led to the formation of a political party called the Patriotic Union (UP).

The signed agreements gave amnesties to any rebel fighter to enter civilian/political life. The UP provided a new political space for FARC soldiers who chose to leave the ranks to join political life and for Colombians who wanted something different from the traditional (Conservative/ Liberal) ruling parties.

During the general election of 1986, the UP successfully elected people at all levels of the government—including the congress, mayors, municipal councils, and other community leadership positions. Presidential candidate Jaime Pardo received a large number of votes.

The success of the UP scared the political elite of the country. This fear led to the horrific mass murder of more then 3000 members of the UP, including two presidential candidates and thirteen congress members. (Verdad Abierta)

In 1990, the M19, a guerrilla group known for its bold actions such as holding the embassy of the Dominican Republic and sixteen high level diplomats hostage, and taking the Justice Palace (home to the Supreme Court) hostage, negotiated a deal with the government.

Their actions led the M19’s top leaders to join the national political scene and some were even elected to congress. Unfortunately, lower ranking foot soldiers who re-entered civilian life were often assassinated. This result again proved that giving up one’s gun and joining society meant almost certain death.

In 1999 then-President Andres Pastrana’s government and the FARC began talks. For three years, the government invited civil society to share opinions and dreams for peace. The United Nations and many countries participated in mediating.

Unfortunately the Colombian government used the time to strengthen its army with the help from the USA. The FARC used this time to regroup its forces and increase its finances through the cocaine business.

Military actions from both sides then led to the end of the talks. In 2002 after the FARC kidnapped a member of congress, Pastrana declared that negotiations were over.

Later in 2002, Colombians elected former governor of Antioquia, Alvaro Uribe Velez as president. Uribe, with a burning desire for revenge, promised as part of his platform the complete elimination of the FARC before he finished his term.

When Uribe was a young man, the FARC kidnapped and killed his father. With military aid and training from the USA, Uribe was able to strike serious blows to the FARC, taking control of large areas of the country that had been under FARC control for decades. The Colombian military accomplished this conquest with a high cost in human lives and in serious human rights violations.

Uribe’s Minister of Defense, Manuel Santos, claimed some of the biggest victories the Colombian military has ever had against the FARC. Six of the FARC’s highest ranking officers were killed in battle and several others were captured. Santos was also Minister when the military conducted the famous Operation Jaque which rescued fifteen FARC hostages, including ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three USA military contractors.

During this time, the military has admitted to over 3000 cases of possible extrajudicial killings – civilians killed by the military and presented as guerrilla fighters killed in combat.

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(c) Christian Peacemaker Teams (http://www.cpt.org/about_cpt) seeks to enlist the whole church in an organised, nonviolent alternative to war. CPT's initial roots among Mennonites, Church of the Brethren and Quakers have spread into a broad ecumenical network that supports biblically-based and spiritually-centered peacemaking; creative public witness; nonviolent direct action and protection of human rights. CPT partners with other nonviolent movements around the world, both religious and secular.

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