HAVANA TIMES — The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has declared a unilateral ceasefire to go in affect between November 20 and January 20.
This was disclosed on Monday in Havana by Luciano Marin Arango, known as Commander Ivan Marquez, who is a member of the delegation that arrived in Cuba to negotiate peace with the Colombian government.
According to a statement read by Marquez concerning the decision, “This is a solid contribution to establishing the climate of understanding necessary for the parties to engage in dialogue and reach their goal […] a peace treaty to end the social and armed conflict.”
“The FARC secretariat, welcoming the huge clamor for peace from diverse sectors of the Colombian people, is ordering the guerrilla units throughout the country to cease all types of offensive military operations against the security forces and acts of sabotage against public or private infrastructure,” said the statement read by Marquez.
In return, FARC called on the Santos government to put the brakes on all legal initiatives that benefit transnational corporations and it criticized the privatization of state property, job insecurity, social cuts and support being given to the financial sector.
The announcement is significant and puts Santos in a predicament, since on repeated occasions he has refused to halt military and police operations against the guerrillas despite contacts and talks with them.
As the president said this past Thursday at the opening ceremony of the Ibero-American Summit in Cadiz, Spain, “Some people are proposing truces and a cease-fire. My response has been loud and clear: No truce or ceasefire. If they want to put forward a ceasefire to humanize the conflict, what we want is to end it – not humanize it.”
Humberto De la Calle, the government representative in the negotiations, made it clear that the gesture of the guerrillas would not change the executive’s position one iota. As he stated, “We initiated the second phase, which should end with a definitive agreement on the conflict. Meanwhile there will be no military concessions, no ceasefire and no demilitarized zones.”
Yet, despite all of this, De la Calle said, “We want a process with the guerrillas that advances through practical arrangements that are possible, an agreement with real results for Colombians, not frustrations.”
Many things on the table
However such dialogue won’t be easy since FARC is not accepting to limiting any accord to the surrendering of weapons and the creation of a political party.
The negotiations are touching on such crucial points as land reform, giving land to the poorest campesinos; rights and guarantees for the exercise of political opposition, new movements arising from the signing of a final peace agreement, a ceasefire, the laying down of weapons and the reincorporation of FARC to civilian life; crop substitution in the areas affected by the planting of coca, and compensation for the victims of the conflict, including finding out the fates of hundreds of missing.
This is a complex agenda given the current reality and the history of Colombia. The link between drug trafficking and all spheres of society — including political, military and the guerrillas — will be a serious obstacle to reaching an agreement. Land reform and crop substitution can find enemies in the most unexpected places.
Another thorny issue is the reinsertion of the guerrillas into political life. The government representative said, “We hope to show that they [the guerrillas] think that it’s time for the force of ideas, not the force of bullets, and even less a combination of both.” This was said before he explained that the path of dialogue would allow a stable peace with FARC once it is “converted into a legal political party.”
History playing against them
Previous experiences aren’t so encouraging. The last successful peace negotiations in Colombia resulted in the reintegration into the political life of the M19 urban guerrilla group, but in the years that followed around 3,000 of its members and leaders were murdered in the streets or in their homes by death squads.
In this sense, any agreement reached by the two delegations will have to consider a national reality marked by the action of dozens of paramilitary groups, private police and armies of drug traffickers.
All of them are extremely violent, uninterested in the stability of Colombia, and are directed from the shadows, which makes it difficult to point fingers when someone is murdered.
The road to peace will be long but could start with these first steps, which are being assisted by the governments of Norway and Cuba.
Paradoxically, while President Santos thanked his Cuban counterpart for his involvement, the US maintains Havana on a list of terrorist countries for — among other things — its links with the Colombian guerrillas.
(*) Published originally in Spanish by Cartasdesdecuba.com.