Colombia: on the Peace Talks between the Santos Government and the FARC Guerrillas
Yesterday peace talks between the Santos Government and the FARC guerrillas began in Oslo, Norway. We of course hope that these talks lead to a just and lasting peace. But there are some important reasons to believe these talks may be prolonged and peace in the Colombian countryside still far away. President Juan Manuel Santos indicated a few weeks ago, and his government's chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle Lombana, said yesterday, that the government wishes to conclude a peace agreement within a few months.
This is unrealistic given the difficult issues that need to be settled for there to be a lasting peace. Meaningful land reform, which has been discussed and debated for decades without any effective implementation but is now listed in the first place on the talks' agenda, cannot be quickly nor easily carried out. The titling of rural lands will certainly be a topic of controversy. Literally millions of people have been forced off their lands. In many cases they had lived upon these lands and farmed them without a clear title. In other cases their lands have been taken by paramilitary forces or large landowners in the vicinity and title conveyed to these usurpers. In other cases the lands have never been adequately surveyed and a reliable legal description has never been recorded for them. The determination of who has the rights to each of these parcels and how title to them should be described will be a monumental task.
And how about the lands held in common by indigenous peoples and by Afro-Colombian communities? The Santos administration's development plans seek to make these lands available for mining and other activities. A meaningful land tenure policy should instead recognize the authority of these communities to maintain their communal lands, which in most cases help protect the sensitive ecology of the areas in which they are located.
Behind all of these questions looms a troubling reality: the Santos government has focused upon a so-called "locomotive of development" the principal aspect of which is to propel mining development throughout a great part of the country. It has invited in foreign investors and multinational businesses on extremely favorable terms for them, seeking to develop the country's mineral resources-gold, silver, coal, coltan, and nickel among others-and petroleum reserves speedily to produce riches which, in a country with one of the most unequal distributions of wealth in Latin America, will almost certainly pad the hinvestment portfolios of the wealthiest Colombians and leave the vast majority of Colombians in poverty. The impatience of the Santos government to come to a peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas almost certainly is due to its determination to develop these mineral resources quickly. Foreign investors have raised questions about the safety of investing in areas of the country where there is a guerrilla presence. In some cases, as in the eastern plains region, access to the lands holding large mineral deposits is impeded by guerrilla forces, and the Colombian Army has not effectively established a meaningful presence in these areas.
And what of the presence of paramilitary forces in many regions of the country? How are the peace negotiations going to deal with them? President Santos, like his predecessor Alvaro Uribe Velez, has promoted the evident fiction that paramilitary forces no longer exist, that they have been demobilized and what remain are "bacrim", or "bandas criminales" (criminal gangs). In many areas of the country, including Uraba, where our Dane County, Wisconsin, sister community of the Peace Community of Apartado is located, the paramilitary structure remains in place, and, as before the supposed "demobilization" took place, the Colombian Army collaborates with these forces to murder and threaten rural residents of this area. And multinational corporations continue to pay these paramilitary forces to harass, threaten and murder those who try to defend their lands and livelihood. Paramilitarism was a strategy of the Colombian state, apparently following upon advice from the United States government, which through the Yarborough military mission to Colombia in 1962 reportedly suggested the Colombian government could achieve control of rural areas by creating a paramilitary structure. Part of the impatience of President Santos to obtain a peace agreement with the guerrillas is due to the pressures of international investors, almost certainly supported by the United States government. Indeed, Secretary of State Clinton has reaffirmed her government's strategic interest in protecting access to sources of minerals to support the country's economy.
I have only touched upon one topic to be dealt with in the peace talks. But there are others-among them, how to compensate victims of the armed conflict; how effective demobilization should occur; and how to deal with drug-trafficking, which is endemic in Colombia- for which a solution will likewise be very difficult to achieve. It was encouraging that Ivan Marquez, spokesman for the FARC, mentioned some popular movements which have successfully challenged multinational interests supported by the Colombian government-among them Santurban and Marmato, in each of which the Colombia Support Network has had a presence-because no lasting, meaningful peace can be achieved without responding positively to the issues raised by these courageous community participants.
Unless the Colombian government, the FARC guerrillas, and the representatives of the countries accompanying the peace talks-Chile, Cuba, Norway and Venezuela-understand that a lasting peace depends upon a just solution to the problems addressed in the talks, however long that may take, this latest effort at peace will fail. Let us all hope for a clear-headed commitment to address all of the issues fully and fairly on the part of all of those participating in this peace process.
John I. Laun
Colombia Support Network USA