|The agreement on political participation was announced on Wednesday with a joint statement of the FARC and the Government in Havana. Photo courtesy of Omar Nieto Remolinos - Office of the High Commissioner for Peace.|
Translated by Matilda Villarraga
Many voices warned that the second point of peace talks between the Colombian Government and the FARC (the agreement on political participation, which was signed on Wednesday) would be the most difficult one of all. "This is the point where people usually leave the table," La Silla heard a source close to the talks say informally in Havana. Evidence of this difficulty is that it took more than five months to negotiate it.
But in the end this agreement represents another win-win situation -just like the first agreement on rural development- that provides the basis for significant changes in the exercise of political opposition in Colombia.
This is what was agreed, what was postponed and what was won by FARC, the Colombian government and the people of Colombia.
Although the joint statement is rather vague, the most important part of the Agreement is a conceptual issue: the idea of direct democracy that it introduces and develops. Democracy is to be exercised beyond political parties and to be targeted in areas where the FARC have influence.
As La Silla reported a few months ago, one of the "Gordian knots" of the negotiation during this cycle were the differences between the Government and FARC on what political representation means.
For the Establishment, political parties and their representatives elected by popular vote – no matter how discredited they are- are the instrument that allows the representation of the interests of citizens in the public arena.FARC, on the other hand, defend the idea that social movements are much more representative of the interests of the people than the political parties and they demanded in Havana guarantees of a possible Statute for the Opposition to be extended to these social movements such as the MANE (the three-year-old student association), the Minga that gathers indigenous communities or the recently founded 'Dignities', social movements that defend specific farmer communities (dairy producers, potato growers, onion growers) and played a major role in the massive rural strikes of last August.
This was a complicated discussion because it is not easy to find an objective indicator - such as the number of votes won in an election – that may help determine how representative a social movement is, given that this could open a door for a sort of authoritarianism as the one existing in Venezuela, where the leader-in-turn determines which movements are legitimate as partners.
However, eventually both parties reached an agreement on this point: the Statute of the Opposition will be discussed with political parties once a peace agreement is finalized and FARC will participate in that discussion as an already legal political movement and in accordance with the rules of democracy.
With this agreement, a number of guarantees for the direct political participation of social movements have been agreed upon: a "legislation of guarantees" for social movements that will be discussed with them; the possibility that these social movements defend their proposals on "institutional and regional media" (especially television); the possibility of forming a part of citizen watch groups that exercise control of public officers; the possibility of participating in the preparation and follow-up of local economic development plans and participating in territorial planning councils; and "special support" to new movements and political parties (it is not yet clear what type of support it would be, but it probably will include state funding).
Besides these guarantees, which no doubt strengthen social movements, whose claims and flags in some cases coincide with those of FARC, the agreement has what is perhaps the most significant issue of the entire agreement: special transitional peace constituencies.
These constituencies seek to integrate the regions most affected by the armed conflict in Colombia (i.e. , those where the FARC operate) and it is the mechanism that would ensure that FARC could gain greater political representation of their social bases in the Congress. Basically, what these constituencies consist in is allowing these regions (apparently 11 in total) to elect "additional representatives with some special rules" for a specifically determined amount of time. This, in translation, means that for example the agricultural communities of the Catatumbo (located in the highlands of Norte de Santander, on the border with Venezuela) could nominate its candidates in this region. So would the indigenous Minga in the Cauca region of southwestern Colombia. Citizens of these regions would have the choice to vote for them (or not).
This would give FARC a powerful platform for political entry into civilian life, if they could show that they have social bases who believe in their ideas and people that will vote for them without the coertion of weapons.
This accomplished agreement - if it is put into practice as it has been thought out- is very significant because it can change Colombia's electoral system from "below", as citizen participation would be much more direct in matters of planning, of citizen watch and of those who are elected to Congress.
The risk of this agreement would be that the FARC mix weapons with votes -a deadly combination that has in the past haunted the Left in Colombia- or use money from dubious sources to push their candidates, and thus creating an imbalance in the electoral race.However, the Agreement was also explicit in stating that the goal is to break the link between weapons and politics and that this presupposes prior abdication of weapons.
The surrender of weapons, judging by the joint communiqué, has seen a change of position on behalf of FARC. One of the asides of the message said that the implementation of the final agreement "will imply the abandoning of weapons". This is a major change, given that until recently some of the heads of Farc had argued that the country would not see their photo surrendering weapons, and that they offered a "gradual" transit of weapons for votes. Both quotes come from interviews held by La Silla with FARC negotiators Marcos Calarca and Andres Paris, respectively.
"With regard to other specific decisions to facilitate transit of FARC to a legal political movement, such as the possibility of access to the political system according to special conditions or eventually to hold special representation in Congress, this subject will be treated in point three of the agenda," announced Humberto de la Calle, the former Vicepresident who is now the Colombian Government's head negotiator.
This means that one of the aspects that made this point so sensitive, the possibility that the State gives FARC seats in Congress by decree and an announcement which was expected today, will be actually discussed later on when the issue of surrender of weapons and return to civilian life is negotiated. This point will be discussed after point 4, which refers to drug trafficking and illegal crops (specially coca).
Nor, as was speculated, did the parties agree to the contents of the Statute of the Opposition that the guerrillas were insisting on. But they did agree to convene a national summit including the spokespersons for all political parties and movements, that will in turn designate a commission that will "define the main guidelines for a special statute and guarantees for those political parties who declare themselves in opposition to the Government". This commission will have a forum where experts, academics, and civil society organizations can also participate.
Electoral reforms, an extremely sensitive subject, especially as the electoral season warms up, were also postponed until after the signing of the Final Agreement. It was decided that a Mission of Experts will be designated afterwards, which "will present a comprehensive review of the organization and the electoral regime, and, on the basis of national and international best practices, submit recommendations to make the corresponding policy and institutional adjustments."
Although we do not know the details of the negotiation due to its confidentiality clause, the signing of this point is a win-win situation because -without offering concessions that will result difficult to swallow for a large segment of socety- the Government has shown progress right at a time when President Juan Manuel Santos must decide whether or not he will seeks reelection and also when he is facing a small storm promoted by the supporters of former President Alvaro Uribe, regarding photos of FARC delegates enjoying a day out on a boat.
It is also a win-win situation for FARC because they have achieved significant and viable changes that guarantee political participation of their social bases.
With this agreement Colombians also win because finally it addresses one of the reasons that have always been used by the guerrillas to justify violence: the inability to exert any real political opposition within democracy.
If this agreement is put into place, it will ultimately enable many Colombians to have a voice in political decisions, even if they are located in the peripheries of power, without being killed. But more importantly, if this agreement becomes a reality, FARC will have publicly committed themselves to attempting politics without weapons.