Colombian government, FARC release classified information from negotiations
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Colombian government, FARC release classified information from negotiations

In a surprise twist in the negotiations between the Colombian government and the country’s largest rebel group, the two sides have released classified documents in an effort to deflect widespread criticism of the closed-door nature of the talks.

On Wednesday, Colombian media outlets published almost 70 pages of previously classified documents dealing with the first three points on the six-item negotiation agenda between the government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

The two sides had already announced that they had reached agreements on these three subjects — agrarian reform, political participation for the FARC and the illicit drug trade — but had not released any specific information about those agreements.

Many in Colombian politics and civil society have criticized the secret nature of the talks, which they say essentially amount to rewriting the country’s political landscape — and potentially its constitution — without input from the people. The negotiation process, which is taking place in Havana, Cuba, began in November 2012.

People on both ends of the political spectrum, including representatives of victims’ rights groups and far-right politicians like Uribe, have also said President Juan Manuel Santos is making too many concessions to the FARC, allowing their leaders too much power and not giving enough weight to the human rights violations committed by the group over the course of the country’s 50-year conflict, potentially opening the door for widespread impunity for all but the most egregious offenders.

In New York for the United Nations General Assembly, President Santos said Wednesday that the negotiating team hopes that the documents will silence what he called misleading information circulated by individuals and groups opposed to the talks.

The government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, said during the press conference that the release of the documents was intended to combat some of the “misinformation” that had been circulating about the talks and agreements so far. However, he cautioned that this did not mean that there would be similar transparency in the future.

“Confidentiality is necessary in order to be able to have free discussion and progress in constructing agreements,” said de la Calle. “This is how all of the world’s serious peace processes have been.”

However, he added, the publicizing of some information marks an important step in the process, allowing individual citizens to see the agreements to date and “draw their own opinions.”

As with all other aspects of the dialogues, the declassification of documents drew both praise and criticism. Conservative former presidential candidate Marta Lucía Ramírez applauded the action but said it should have been done much earlier, while Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez, a close Uribe ally, continued insisting that the entire process should be made public.

Nothing is agreed — but some things are agreed

Though there is undoubtedly more detailed information that was not included in the declassified documents, the available information does give some insight into the concessions and compromises made by both sides thus far.

In terms of agrarian reform, the groups have agreed to the creation of a land bank that will distribute land free of charge to small-scale farmers “without land, or with insufficient land.” This program will be complemented by other support mechanisms, including systems of credit and technical assistance.

The agreement on this point also mandates the creation of a special program for reconstruction in the regions that have historically been most affected by the conflict and resulting poverty, aimed toward reinforcing rights and “facilitating reconciliation.”

The second agenda item, political participation of demobilized guerrilla fighters, has been a point of contention for both sides. Those in the FARC camp fear a repeat of the Unión Patriótica massacre, in which 2,000-3,000 members of the political party formed by the FARC in the 1980s were systematically assassinated in less than a decade, while many on the right resent the idea of granting political representation to a group responsible for decades of widespread atrocities.

The political agreement would result in the creation of new political parties, and would allow citizens in the regions most affected by the conflict to elect special congressional representatives to serve throughout the transition period. The specific regions and number of representatives has not yet been determined.

According to de la Calle, these accords seek to ensure that “nobody ever again uses arms to promote a political cause… and that those who have put their arms aside to move into politics have all the guarantees that they will not be the targets of violence.”

Despite de la Calle’s promises, members of the FARC, for whom the memory of the government-condoned Union Patriótica murders is still all too fresh, may still be wary of signing on to such an agreement.

On the point of illicit drugs, the two sides have agreed to implement a program of substitution and alternative development, to allow farmers who have been growing coca to transition back into the legal marketplace through sustainably replacing coca with other crops.

The agreement does not officially eliminate the controversial practice of aerial fumigation, but does require the government to first attempt manual eradication in territory  where people choose to continue growing coca, only relying on aerial fumigation as a last resort.

This point is sure to cause concern among farming communities, who have often been the victims of fumigation, even when they are growing legal crops like pineapple or plantains. Most analysts agree that the policy of aerial fumigation has been a near-total failure in terms of its goal of eliminating coca production, and the continued practice has created serious distrust of the government in many rural communities — and this agreement is unlikely to do much to reassure them that they will be safe from future illegal spraying.

Above all, negotiators stressed the “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” nature of the talks and asked the Colombian people for their patience as the two sides continue to negotiate on the remaining points, which include victims’ rights, demobilization and implementation of the accords.