Tue, Oct 11, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Seeking peace in Colombia is more difficult than waging war

By Juan Manuel Santos

Colombians are close to bringing to an end the oldest and only remaining armed conflict in the western hemisphere. After more than five years of negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), we can say that we have reached an irreversible phase that will put an end to more than 50 years of a cruel and costly war.

All of my predecessors over the past five decades attempted to make peace with the FARC, the largest and oldest guerrilla army to have emerged in Latin America. They all failed. So why has this peace process proved successful?

Above all, this has been a well-planned and carefully executed process that began when we achieved certain conditions. First, we had to change the correlation of military forces in favor of the Colombian state. Second, we had to convince the FARC’s leaders that it was in their own personal interest to enter serious negotiations and that they would never achieve their objectives through violence and guerrilla warfare.

Last, but not least, we implemented a radical change in our foreign policy, which led to an improvement in our relations with our neighbors and the rest of the region. This facilitated their support of our initiative and thus the beginning of the peace process.

We started secret negotiations about four years ago to establish a limited and focused agenda and clear rules of procedure (the absence of which was a major stumbling block in previous negotiations) that would allow us — assuming we reach an agreement — to end the conflict. This was the first time that the FARC had agreed to such a process.

The outcome of this phase was a five-point agenda: rural development, political participation, drug trafficking, victims and transitional justice, and lastly the end of the conflict, which includes disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration — commonly known as DDR.

Following the signing of a framework agreement in Oslo, Norway, in October 2012, we began the public phase of negotiations in Cuba. The host country and Norway acted as guarantors, while Venezuela and Chile have accompanied the process. Later on, the US and the EU appointed special envoys to the talks.

From the start, a basic rule of the negotiations has been that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. To date, we have settled all items except DDR. To avoid past mistakes, we studied why previous peace negotiations in Colombia had failed, as well as lessons from peace negotiations elsewhere.

We also selected a group of international advisers with hands-on experience in peacemaking to help us navigate through the difficult waters of this process. I can now say that making peace is much, much more difficult than waging war, and I have done both extensively as Colombia’s minister of defense and now as president.

This peace process is groundbreaking in several ways. We have placed victims — more than 7.5 million in our case — and a comprehensive system to guarantee their rights at the center of the solution to the conflict. We have also agreed to create a special jurisdiction and tribunal to guarantee that those responsible for international war crimes are investigated, judged and condemned as stipulated in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This is the first time that a guerrilla movement has agreed to disarm and be subject to transitional justice.

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