Villa Nueva Colombia is the name given to San Vicente de Caguán by the FARC –EP guerrilla men seized after 40 000 kilometers of the Colombian territory were declared as “Clearing Zone” by Andrés Pastrana’s Government to promote unfruitful peace talks.
There was no army when I went there in July 2001, just a “so called” civil police and the insurgence was at large some of the rebels carried weapons in what was considered the capital of the demilitarized zone. There was an unusual movement on the muddy streets of the village which almost resembled the American west and the great billboards with reference to the guerrilla, peace and Revolution were rife.
Of course, that’s not the new Colombia which is finally making progress, where the conflict has been settled thanks to the political will of both sides.
The definitive ceasefire, agreed in Havana last June 23, came into force this week and directly ordered the government’s forces led by President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC-EP led by Commander Timoleón Jiménez, which means the first ceasefire achieved in more than 50 years, it’s the end of the war as both sides have recognized.
However, the two sides stated that a hard stage is opening now: the construction of the new Colombia defined by the Government’s delegates and the insurgence after four years of talks and underlined in the final agreement for the end of the conflict and for the construction of long-lasting and stable peace.
Now the insurgence can resort to the civil mechanism taking part in the political life as a party (without marauding FARC-EP guerrillas carrying weapons like in San Vicente de Caguán or persecuted, inhibited from going to the polls). It’s also relevant that for the first time in Colombia’s history a government has pledged itself to a comprehensive rural reform: which was the first point out of six in the agenda for the peace talks and can be considered as the cornerstone of the conflict which is rooted in the inequalities of land ownership and rural life.
Although large estate issues and land ownership were kept out of the discussion the joint communique announced in Havana last August 24 which summarizes the agreement refers to this reform saying that it would contribute to the “structural modification of the field”, closing the divide between it and the city and creating favorable conditions for the life of the rural population, helping eradicate poverty, promoting equality and securing the full enjoyment of rights by the citizens.
Other Important agreements
Relevant principles agreed by the sides are also the announcement of a great National Political Agreement to define the reforms and institutional adjustment so as to meet the challenges peace demands, setting in motion a new framework of political and social coexistence; the guaranties of safety and struggle against the criminal organizations responsible for homicide and massacre or threatening human right activists and social and political movements (including the defenders of Paramilitarism); and the promotion of a new vision for a special treatment to the drug consumption issue, the illegal crops and the organized crime associated to drug trafficking, ensuring a general approach on human rights and public health.
Also important is the issue regarding the victims of the conflict, an open and bleeding wound in Colombia for which the comprehensive system of truth, justice, redress and non-repetition was created, where legal and extra-legal mechanisms will be involved. This matter will convey investigation, search of missing people and sanction to serious human right violations. The penalties will fall on the guerrilla fighters as well as the state forces, although amnesty was announced for political crimes and their connections.
The Special Jurisdiction for Peace in charge comprises two types of procedures: one for those who accept their responsibility and another for those who don’t, or delay it.
Much work is lying ahead for the implementation of the agreement. The points for the handover of weapons and trials are yet to be defined; the mechanism for verification and follow-up should also be constituted –where representatives of the guerrillas, the Government will take part, alongside eight countries of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean State (CELAC)- and the accompanying mechanism, which is deemed essential in a country where previous insurgent demobilizations ended up in massacre, are now occupying time in Colombia. These are the events leading up to D-Day when Juan Manuel Santos and Timoleón Jiménez will sign up the agreement following that of Cuba subscribed by the heads of their delegations, an event which could be staged at the UN General Assembly, but later Santos said it will be signed in Colombia.
The latest press reports anticipated that the signing will take place on September 26 in Cartagena de Indias, according to the President. The chronogram will be set in motion with the presence of insurgent in the veredales zones and the handover of weapons to the UN (process to be concluded 180 days later), as well as the army relocation in the national territory, giving way to the plebiscite, scheduled for October 2.
Running to the Ballot Box
Asked about the possibility of the people voting NO, the head of the governmental representation in Havana, Humberto de la Calle said that nothing is renegotiable, and only President Santos can open or close the peace process.
To avoid this, the most important is the press treatment to the agreement reached in the society’s perception, something which has been emphasized as the Government indicates in press conferences and visits by the negotiating teams to different points and sectors of the country.
For its part, the guerrillas are calling members to the 10th and last National Conference scheduled for September 13 to 19 in Llanos del Yarí, San Vicente del Caguán.
About 200 delegates are expected to take part in the meeting of the leadership of FARC-EP which not only can countersigned the agreements but to give way to the change of the guerrilla organization into a legal political movement.
Who wants the NO?
The triumph of Yes is expected in a country wishing peace, especially after more than 218 000 deaths the conflict caused between 1958 and 2012, according to the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, out of them 23 000 were victims of selective murder and almost 12 000 from 1985 to 2012 dead in massacres.
However, some are campaigning against. Former president Álvaro Uribe is among the enemies, out-and-out defender of a military solution to the conflict, stirring it up during his office and aiming at a triumph over the insurgence. No wonder, he qualify the agreements as promoters of impunity which will lead to a “short” peace.
The also former president Andrés Pastrana, who furthered the unfinished process of Caguán, is rumored to be against, although his Conservative Party has said that its vote will be affirmative.
Maybe far too soon to be considered are the polls reflecting a winning Yes... Colombia is indeed living an historical moment in which the country’s destiny will be decided.