The biggest challenge of the Colombian Peace Agreement

“If we are not able to implement the Peace Agreement to a certain operative extent, we risk the viability of Colombia as a nation,” says Lucas Carvajal, ex-member of the Colombia FARC guerrilla group. Español

Lucas Carvajal Francesc Badia i Dalmases
11 August 2017
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Graffiti in Nasa, Colombia. Demotix/Joana Toro. All rights reserved.

Francesc Badia: What was the key that made possible the building of trust to start the negotiations? How important was trust building in this preliminary phase?

Lucas Carvajal: In my opinion, the key was the determination on both sides to end the conflict. Beyond a discussion about what needed to be done – the necessary reforms for peace – the most important factor was that both sides were clearly convinced of how urgent it was to end the conflict. This played a determining role, because it is what unified our strategies and allowed for consensus. 

FB: Did each side trust that those across the negotiating table truly wanted to end with the armed conflict?

“Let’s not go back to war, those who die for the one side or the other are the same".

LC: Of course, this developed during the discussions surrounding the “Agenda of the General Agreement”, which was a roadmap that both sides agreed to and it allowed us to build mutual trust. So, agreeing on a common goal from a series of discussions centered around reaching a consensus in structural strategic points that would lead to the end of the war, helped establish that trust.

FB: Was there a key moment, a point of no return of sorts, a moment in which you could say: “we have now reached a point in the negotiations where they will not be stopped: this is irreversible”? Was there a moment in which this was perceived, or was it more of a gradual process of trust building with each step bringing about more conviction in reaching the final agreement and that the negotiation would come to fruition?

LC: In my opinion, there was a point in which the irreversibility of the negotiations was obvious for the country and it was the moment in which we had a unilateral ceasefire, and – also unilaterally – the government had decided to stop the air force bombings. However, this de-escalation was stalled by a defensive action by one of our guerilla units which caused the deaths of 11 soldiers in the Cauca region. This provoked a response from the government which started air raids again and one of those air raids killed around 60 companions in Guapi, one of our camps. What is important about an event like that, which is painful for both sides, is that it generates an enormous mobilization within Colombian civil society. If there is ever a possibility of going back to war, and a movement of this caliber is organized against it then there is no turning back. There would be public declarations from social sectors that did not necessarily agree with the peace agreement in the first place, and these people say things like “let’s not go back to war, those who die for the one side or the other are the same. People do not need to die for this, there is no justification to go backwards and kill people, and we have to move forward with the agreement.” In my opinion that moment was very important so that the country could realise that this was serious and that we had to make it to the end.

FB: I’m interested in the internal process of approval within the FARC. They were conversations at the negotiating table in Havana, this was a back and forth process, and the internal process of approval was an original process, of internal innovation, in the organisation’s unique way. Could you describe the process?

LC: This process was like no other in the history of the FARC. It was agreed on and built by all the members of the organization. From the beginning, the Secretariat organised internal consultations and created permanent dialogue between the combatants, the leadership and the party, the Clandestine Communist Party. From there, consultation meetings were organised, we had a Plenary Session of the Central High Command and finalized this whole process with a sort of internal authentication, which was passed through our highest instance, the X Conference, where members - be they members of the smallest unity in the most geographically isolated region or the highest cell of the Clandestine Communist Party -  discuss the Final Agreement and voice whether they agree with it. From there, the internal discussion is opened and the Final Agreement was approved, definitively taking the plunge towards a political solution. For us, this is very important because it wasn’t simply a decision taken by the leadership but a decision embraced by the collective that decided to take a step towards peace.

It is also about trying to guarantee that the members of this new political organization to enter the work force, to participate.

FB: There is another question that directly influences how the negotiation moved forward, how its advances and relapses were perceived by the country, what role the media played, who were decisive in the failure of the process of Caguán. How was their role perceived throughout the process?

LC: I think that you have to distinguish between two courses of action. On the one hand, certain media moguls and opinion makers in the press had an agenda clearly positioned against the agreement, particularly against us, which was very visible every time the negotiations surrounding the different parts of the Agreement were initiated. When we started discussing the issue of integral agricultural development, they would immediately say that we were the main hoarders of the land of the country. When we started discussing the issue of victims, they immediately said that we were the main aggressors. When it came to discussing drugs, that we were the main cartel. But the development of the agreement shows the contrary. We were not hoarders, aggressors or gangsters. The conflict and its resolution is much more complicated than this biased and simplified vision that certain players in the media pushed forward. On the other hand, I think we have to recognize that there were sectors of the media that played with the agreements, gambled with it like they never had before, but they also endeavoured to provide objective reporting of the negotiations in Havana and how the guerillas were dealing with the peace building process in their camps. I think that this is more visible now, in retrospect, through a few great documentaries which have come out and through longer pieces and journalistic investigations that have focused on it. I think it is important to highlight that. There are interests, they are some people in the media who stuck to a single editorial line: a biased one. This is true, but you also must underline that, indeed, there are people who have struggled understanding the role of journalism and media outlets, who have broken those barriers and prejudices concerning how we view our war.

FB: As soon as the Agreement was ratified, the peace-building process was initiated. This is what the agreement mandates. In your opinion, how will the political polarization that surfaced, and was then accentuated by the celebration following the referendum with its extremely tight result and the campaign, affect the implementation of the agreement? The time has now arrived to implement it and this will play out with the backdrop of the presidential elections that are heightening this political polarization. How do you think all of this will affect the peace-building? What is your perception of the integration and political participation efforts in this complicated context? 

In this particular political context, if we do not succeed in an efficient implementation of the Agreement, then the viability of Colombia as a nation will be at risk in the short term. 

LC: The political discussion in the country today revolves around the implementation. The biggest institutional challenge in Colombia is how to successfully implement the agreements. Amongst other things, in these first seven months of implementation, the lack of an institutional muscle (to put it lightly) which allows for the implementation to be achieved has been highlighted. And this is regrettable. Indeed, we are in a context of deep political polarization and heated debate. But above all this, the biggest difficulty when it comes to implementing the Agreement lies in the capacity of the regional actors to mobilise the tools that they have at their disposal. That is to say, it is an issue of willingness in some cases and, in other cases, of institutions that do have the willpower but no weight or no authorization to use it; there is a bureaucratic weight that blocks them. I think that we must withdraw the discussion surrounding the implementation from political discourse – to fulfill our dreams, and other common goals, we must bring all this back down to earth. The implementation is a concrete, operative problem. For example, the issue of political reincorporation, guaranteeing that those who want to form a new political party, a desire that has surfaced from people who were basically eliminated in the 1980s, are not killed now. It is also about trying to guarantee the economic reincorporation, trying to guarantee that the members of this new political organization are guaranteed what they need to enter the work force, to participate. When it comes to education, to create a specific number of grants or educational opportunities for these people. Regarding the issue of Integral Rural Reform, it would be for “x” number of farmers to benefit from it throughout the country. We really need to bring the discussions back down to very concrete issues and this is where the risk is, because the risk is not that either candidate wins, or that the extreme right imposes itself. The issue is that there are realities and people to change and if we doze off momentarily then we are not going to transform anything and this will result in a tremendous failure. This is where the challenge lies when it comes to implementation and it is a vital problem for many people in Colombia. In this particular political context, if we do not succeed in an efficient implementation of the Agreement, then the viability of Colombia as a nation will be at risk in the short term. 

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