Ivan Marquez assesses state of Colombian peace negotiations

Havana- Peace and political normalization in Colombia are now up in the air. Ivan Marquez is member of the secretariat higher command of the FARC-EP and one of the guerrillas’ negotiators in Havana. The FARC-EP and the Colombian government have been holding talks for a year in Cuba. In this interview we conducted in Havana, Marquez assesses the progress, difficulties and the real possibilityof a peace with justice prevailing in a conflict that has been continuing for over five decades.

How are the FARC-EP assessing the progress in the peace talks so far?
Following the indication by our commander, Timoleon Jimenez, we have recently presented a first report on the status of the peace talks to the country, so that the public, with more elements on the process, could continue to help with their contribution to the political solution of the conflict. Although progress has been made, as represented in partial agreements, we believe that we could have advanced much further .
In the course of the past 14 cycles of talks we have had with the government at the negotiation table, we presented 200 proposals, aimed at overcoming inequality in the country, at real democratization, and at the institutional changes that are required as a basis for the construction of peace.

In which specific contents have you reached an agreement?
We have achieved a significant partial agreement on the rural issue, but at the same time crucial matters regarding the necessary agrarian reform are still pending. The agrarian reform is necessary to undertake for overcoming root-causes of the conflict and the enormous gap in the field that affects national problems so powerfully.
The second point is that regarding political participation. This so far has witnessed modest agreements, but we aim to remove obstacles so that the construction of the agreement could soon acquire an irreversible dynamic.
It is fair to say that during the last round of talks the parties have devoted themselves to the analysis of issues that have to do with the remaining items on the agenda, which is a not inconsiderable achievement, because it places us on a level of understanding concerning the strategies on the table; something which will transform itself into a more effective discussion on the agenda at a later stage.

What are the current key issues which allow dialogue to continue?

Without a doubt we need to address the decisive issue of the renouncement by the State of the disastrous National Security Doctrine, the concept of the internal enemy and paramiliatrism, to thereby open the way for the creation of a reliable democratic environment which eliminates the reluctance towards the political participation of the insurgency (armed insurgents).

The Government wants a referendum to give legal and social support to a peace agreement. You, instead, insist on the need for a Constituent Assembly. What is the difference?

These two visions need to be reconciled at some point if we are to strengthen the process. We will need to discuss this when we will actually address the discussion of Item Six of the Agenda which refers to the mechanisms of countersignature/ratification of the agreements. There is no point in discussing this now. Everything has its time. But in any case we will need to discuss this as a result of a consensus and never as one of the parties’ unilateral adventure.
This seriously affects the confidence which a road towards a final agreement and leading to the end of the conflict should stimulate. And another crucial issue is that it would be wise and prudent to separate a referendum and the elections because doing otherwise could actually end up negatively affecting the peace process as a whole.

These past few weeks many areas of Colombia have experienced an escalation of tension on the basis of accumulated social and economic claims. What are your assessment on this?

Colombia is no doubt witnessing an extraordinary manifestation of social dissent against the arbitrary application of decisions that have been favouring foreign investment in the context of neoliberal policies that have emphasized injustice and inequality.
The patience of Colombian people for ruling elites without any sense of the nation and without humanity is coming to an end. These elites only care about ensuring the rights of capital and increasing the profits guaranteed by their submissive and lazy attitude in spite of the drama of poverty which is affecting the Colombian people.
The most unfortunate thing is that the government, rather than correct this course aims at exasperating the situation even further now by imposing the application of norms intended to punish  social discontent through imprisonment. Above all they try to hit  popular leaders who lead protest strikes, thus violating the fundamental rights of citizens.
Under these circumstances we need the solidarity of social organizations in the world to be on the side of the Colombian people, because the weak cannot be left alone against a power using disproportionate force and repression to crush dissent.

Negotiating peace in the midst of war seems a contradiction, in fact it is an exceptional case in this type of processes. Why won’t the government agree to what would be a logical ceasefire?

We have always considered as inconsequential talking of peace while in the middle of war. For this reason, at the very beginning of the talks in Havana, we proposed to the government a bilateral ceasefire so that the talks could actually develop in a favourable environment, but the counterpart, in a gesture that has not ceased to amaze, rejected that possibility.
Following this refusal we proposed to engage in an effort to sign a treaty to regulate the war, which at least would have lessen the pain and the effects of the war, both for the population and the combatants. But unfortunately the government also rejected this initiative. Although it is not convenient to venture hypotheses about the reasons the government might have had for these refusals, we would like to believe that they would not try to push the progress of the negotiation with bombings and military operations against the guerrillas.

Recently the Colombian government has opened a line of contact with the National Liberation Army, ELN, in Uruguay. What is your opinion about this initiative?
The FARC have hailed this attempt as very important for peace in Colombia and it is not only coming from the government but also stems from the determination of the comrades of the ELN. We are witnesses to a sincere desire on the part of the Command and ELN fighters to seek a political solution to the conflict based on social justice, real democracy and sovereignty.

The enemies of peace in Colombia constantly try to derail the talks in Havana. How can these warlords be neutralised?
The enemies of peace in Colombia act openly, and therefore the country has clearly identified them: the main one undoubtedly being former president, Alvaro Uribe Velez, top leader of the paramilitary, ideologue of the “false positives” (“falsos positivos”) and main responsible for the “parapolitics”. Together with Uribe are other lieutenants not worth mentioning.
Uribe could not win the war by resorting to its degradation through an excessive use of force, nor by opening the door to the interference of foreign powers in the internal conflict. Still, he does not want to allow peace to be achieved through the civilised process of dialogue.
Surely they do not want peace because they do not want to be called to answer in the courts for the horrendous war crimes for which they are responsible. The Colombian people are wise, and it is only the people, which has spoken overwhelmingly in favour of a political solution to more than half a century of fratricidal confrontation with its demonstrations, that can isolate the delirious attitude of this warmonger right.

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