4 February, 2008, a "Walk for the peace of Colombia", calling for the end of kidnappings, killings and wider violence by the FARC. Photo: Robert Thivierge / Flickr
This article forms part of the section on the Negotiating Timeline: From Start to Finish, from the project “Peacemaking in Colombia: Lessons from the negotiators”, a collaboration between DemocraciaAbierta and the IFIT.
The issue of political participation is inherent to any process that seeks to demobilize a guerrilla force with political goals, and that was known to all parties from the very beginning. All previous negotiation processes, successful or not, had included that element. In fact, for the past 26 years, this objective of political reintegration was already present in the Colombian constitutional legal mechanisms which gave the president the means to negotiate and lead a peace process. However, as stated on the agenda agreed on September 2012, political reintegration was an issue that included one more element: expansion of citizen participation alongside the idea of democratic openness.
The process of political participation was designed not only as a process of demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of a guerrilla force, but also as a process that could produce a transformation that would lead to stable and lasting peace. In this sense, the initial approach to this agenda item was to develop something beyond the actual FARC issue, to generate added value to the agreement. By contextualizing the political participation of the FARC within the concepts of citizen participation and democratic openness, negotiators were forced to think harder about how to do that - especially within the context of the 1991 constitution.
The Negotiations and Challenges
The political participation negotiations were some of the shortest in terms of time, but they still faced two significant challenges. One was how to determine the political issues surrounding the social and economic reintegration of FARC members and the conditions under which they would have access to political participation. For example, how many seats they would get in Congress, the structure of their political party and the restrictions that the most responsible would have before or after participating in politics remained a tough subject to agree on, and the overall decision had to be postponed. This helped the Government gain some time because at that moment neither the table was ready to make such big decisions, nor society ready to accept them.
The second more problematic challenge was that while this agenda was running, the Government simultaneously passed legislation that would allow a final agreement to be endorsed through a plebiscite. Despite the fact that this issue was always to be addressed in item 6 on the agenda, the FARC negotiators proposed a ‘constituent assembly’ as an alternate validation mechanism. That would require reviewing several issues that were already in the 1991 Constitution – a proposal that the government had always opposed even discussing at that point of the negotiations as that would require a much wider political consensus that did not exist.
Item 6, regarding the validation process, was to be discussed at the end of the agreement. In any case, it was a discussion that could not have taken place any earlier. Nevertheless, outside the negotiation table, the FARC as well as the government often made public pronouncements that caused fierce clashes relating to legislative initiatives by the government regarding the validation mechanism. These clashes even led to a halt of the negotiations for a short time, which fortunately did not have very drastic effects.
Confident Building Measures (CBMs)
In this case, the CBMs were forged towards the end of the discussion of the political participation item. However, although tied to this agenda item, these CBMS were not aimed specifically at facilitating the negotiation of political participation, but rather at facilitating the negotiations in general to create conditions that would ease the ceasefire and consolidating the joint initiative on the matter of demining.
In the case of political participation, the parties chose to address territorial incorporations. Both parties understood that neither were going fix the issue of the FARC at this time, but both could recognize that there were vulnerable territories that hadn’t had sufficient political representation or access to institutions of power. The parties defined the needs and laid the foundations, so that part of this agreement would create temporary congressional seats for these territories. This exercise built an extra level of trust between the parties.
The FARC's direct political participation was a key issue in the debate, and was pushed to the forefront by the 'No' campaign in the build-up to the plebiscite. Despite the large number of public discussions and debates concerning all aspects of the Columbian peace process, the prospect of the FARC’s leader Rodrigo Londoño (aka ‘Timochenko’), gaining a seat in Congress dominated the media coverage. The image of the FARC’s leader in Congress, participating in legitimate political activities was difficult for the Colombian public to accept.
An analysis of the political participation agenda item, at the time, indicated the public’s inability to marry the two ideas of political transition and a process of reconciliation.The public’s inability to reconcile the two ideas was based, in large part, on a series of myths and distortions in language that were employed by the opposition, that led many to believe that the power being assigned to the FARC was such that its members would be able to install a ‘Castro-Chavista’-style regime, since they were so closely associated with Cuba and Venezuela.
This agenda item led to concrete decisions on issues regarding the FARC’s political participation and their transition into a political party, as well as the methodological decisions on the other changes associated with citizen participation. What these methodological decisions reinstituted was the idea of specific mechanisms: expert commissions, methods of electoral reform, instruments of transparency, and the security of the political exercise. The goal of all of these ideas was to make citizen participation more inclusive, (e.g. through participatory budgets).
Citizen participation requires the creation of mechanisms, commissions, and many legal reforms, including constitutional reforms. In that sense, it is something the government is able to implement. The Government can create the necessary commissions, launch the issue of the statute of the opposition, or propose electoral reforms. However, all these reforms would have to pass through Congress, which is currently the main challenge for the implementation for this part of the agreement – especially in the run-up to the March 2018 elections, where candidates have their own agendas and interests.
The main challenges remain to achieve these changes despite the political context; to bring these issues into the political agenda, to make the peace process a real issue within those political agendas, and to ensure that certain minimum expectations for the process are respected and included within those political programs. Finally, it remains a challenge to achieve a hard reconciliation process when it requires that the public change their ideas about “the other side” and see people, previously considered to be enemies or rebels participate in legitimate political processes. This is where much of the anxiety regarding the political process lies.