What do FARC victims think of Colombia’s peace talks?

Posted on Mar 25 2014 - 5:08pm by Rico
Victim of kidnapped FARC victim (Photo: Confidencial Colombia)

Colombia’s six million victims are crying out for their voices to be heard at peace talks held with rebel group FARC; nonetheless, too many of them believe that their most vital interests are being cast aside, and question whether making peace with the rebels is truly possible.

Denied an official seat at the negotiating table in Cuba, the victims of the 50-year internal conflict with Colombia’s largest rebel group demand that their their demands be met, the truth be told, and that the peace process not begin and end with the FARC.

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“Either they tell us that those kidnapped aren’t going to be returned, or they explain with absolute clarity and certainty what happened to them – were they killed in captivity, did they die trying to escape, did they die of natural causes?”

What do the victims want?

“Either they tell us that those kidnapped aren’t going to be returned, or they explain with absolute clarity and certainty what happened to them – were they killed in captivity, did they die trying to escape, did they die of natural causes?” Ismael Marquez, whose son was kidnapped by the FARC in 1999, told Colombia Reports.

“They should indicate the place in which their remains were buried, so that they may be returned to their homes,” Marquez added.

The big question being asked by both groups is, where? Where are the hidden landmines, where are their abducted loved ones, where are the answers to the most fundamental questions separating those still suffering from a partial but immediate solution, and which the talks have still not promised them?

“When they sign the agreement, what is being asked is that the terrorist group tell us where the mine fields are, so we can eradicate them,” explains Mario Gonzalez, president of the landmine victims association VICMA, adding that there are an estimated 1,000,000 anti-personnel mines dispersed throughout the country.

All of which points to something the population is crying out for, and which is one of the two points of discussion outlined in the Agreement under the “Victims” agenda: the truth.

“Forgiveness is as much related to recognizing the truth as to making serious compromises of non-repetition.”

“Forgiveness is as much related to recognizing the truth as to making serious compromises of non-repetition,” Ismael comments. He adds that the aspect of providing the victims with the truth is part of the country’s fundamental set of laws, and specifically the 2011 Victims Law.

“The government and the FARC can’t let slide a norm that present in in the constitution, which is the commitment, no … the obligation of the Republic of Colombia to demand this reparation, this information, this clarification.”

Hold on, it’s not just the FARC

“The FARC aren’t the main problem that we have in Colombia, but the excuse for many problems we have not yet resolved,” stated Frank Pearl last year, one of the main government negotiators in Cuba, highlighting one of the resounding issues that many still fail to take into account.

“There are many groups in Colombia, and just negotiating with the FARC does not mean that there will be peace,” Gonzalez tells us.

“The only way in which there can be peace in Colombia is for all of the groups outside the law to sit down at the table in Havana.”

Judging by the figures alone, Gonzalez is probably right. Though the FARC remain the biggest rebel group in the country, there are many, many more armed groups posing a threat to national security. Such as the second guerrilla group the ELN, other rebel factions and criminal and drug trafficking organizations.

Including the so-called “neo-paramilitary” organizations that, coincidentally, appeared following a land mark “Justice and Peace” Law that dissolved Colombia’s paramilitaries in 2005. The most powerful of them all — “Los Urabeños” — are thought to have outnumbered the ELN with up to 2,400 members in 2013.

“On top of that, we ask ourselves: will the subordinates here in the countryside, where they’re destroying the population, will they submit themselves to what’s being signed there [in Cuba]?” Gonzalo adds.

This is both a worrying and highly relevant issue. As was seen with the demobilization of the paramilitaries in 2005, the collateral effects could see dissident members regroup and form new, equally criminal, organizations.

At a time in which FARC units are both sparsely distributed and their governance barely centralized, there is a strong possibility that some groups will split off from any mass demobilization movement, keeping their arms and continuing to pursue their profitable criminal enterprises, which in many cases involves drug trafficking.

The victims at the table

“In no other peace process with the guerrillas or the paramilitaries has the issue of the victims been considered as a topic in the negotiations agenda,” Mario Aguilera, of the National Center for Historical Memory (CNMH), tells Colombia Reports.

The government has often reiterated that the victims need to be the number one priority at the table, naming these as the “axis of the process in finalizing the conflict with the FARC,” and even the FARC has emphasised the topic of the victims as being a “necessity.”

More importantly, they are specifically laid out in the General Agreement — that outlines the nature of the peace talks — as the fifth of the six points in the agenda that will be discussed in Cuba.

Nevertheless, the victims so far have no specific representative bringing forward their plight at the Havana discussion tables, with some questioning the validity of the talks without them there as a crucial factor.

“The guerrilla victims demand to be present at the negotiating table. It’s right for them to be heard and for them to present their demands and expectations,” said Aguilera. This is especially true, he elaborated, of the upcoming point in the agenda that will directly address them.

“This could contribute to the guerrilla increasing their sensitivity on the issue and their disposition to answer the relevant social needs. Once this process is over, the government negotiators will have all the information necessary for that which is approved to match the expectation of the victims.”

The high commissioner for peace, Sergio Jaramillo, has raised hopes by stating last November that a victims delegations may participate when negotiations reach the stage most relevant to them.

This does not seem to have been set in stone, however, as the only definite time in which the public will have an active say is scheduled for the third phase of the talks.

Or, in other words, once everything has already been agreed upon in Cuba, and the decisions are waiting to be executed.

For now, the victims’ can only hope the government delegates in Cuba are acting in their interest, as they should supposedly be presenting the results of the various public forums and online participation surveys to the other delegates in Cuba.

Whether or not these work is unknown to most. Ismael, for example, complains that despite having sent various requests both to the tables in Norway, where the meetings commenced, and Havana, there are no indications that these have been answered.

This being because the government is keen to preserve an air of mystery around the talks — of which no details shall be released until the entire negotiations process is over and the agreement has been signed.

Memory or impunity?

“I know many people who say that if they come across one of them [guerrillas] they don’t know what they would do to them,” Luis, who lost his left foot in a landmine incident seven years ago, tells Colombia Reports.

The risk of justice not being done continues to mar the idea of a harmonious future for the country.

“Every negotiation implies that the state leave open a gap of impunity, if it wasn’t so the armed actors would never negotiate nor lay down their weapons,” says Aguilera.

As is the case with transitional justice, the rebels will probably benefit from reduced or inexistent sentences for their crimes, after which they will walk the streets among regular civilians.

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For many people, a big issue is that one of the similar conditions for ending the conflict is the “reintegration of the FARC-EP into civilian life – economically, socially and politically,” as well as the reassessment of the situation of FARC prisoners.

This is indeed happening right now with the paramilitaries of the 2005 agreement — of whom the worst human rights offenders have in these past few months begun to leave the prison cells with what can be described as a “clean slate.”

Many have failed to satisfy their victims with the full truth of their crimes.

Is this a sign that the victims of the paramilitaries have already been forgotten? In the case of the FARC, interestingly enough, the rebels themselves have brought up the importance of “establishing the historical truth” behind the conflict.

The challenge, as Aguilera highlights, will be to provide an official memory that will be acceptable both for the civilian population, and the rebels.

“There are a lot of people who are very hurt. There are many who don’t want peace, don’t want to forgive anyone. They want those who are there [in Cuba] to pay for what they’ve done.”

Is peace even possible?

“There are a lot of people who are very hurt,” Luis tells us. “There are many who don’t want peace, don’t want to forgive anyone. They want those who are there [in Cuba] to pay for what they’ve done.”

Nevertheless, there are some, such as Luis, who see the potential for a brighter future being constructed in Havana.

“At this moment in time I feel no anger towards anyone,” the landmine victim says of his own humble feelings seven years after his misfortune.

“Divine justice will take care of everything.”

Gonzalez’s wishes are also for a positive, united outcome.

“We all have to forget in order to live in peace after what has happened.”

For Ismael, the fundamental right to clarification that all victims deserve is his key source of hope.

“Forgiveness is one of the phases that must take place, but there is always an undisputable principle, which is the truth,” Marquez says.

“Without this, then reconciliation and forgiveness will be dead letters, words with no breath, without any foundation in reality.”


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