The Havana peace talks between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the guerilla forces of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) resumed again on Monday.
The discussions were officially launched in October 2012, but began their 25th round this week. They aim to reach peace in the five-decade-long conflict through dialogue, with the mediation of the Norwegian and Cuban governments. The talks are also an important prelude to the Colombian presidential elections on May 25.
VICE News spoke to several analysts in Havana who agreed that the pressure of the upcoming elections might help improve the dissatisfaction surrounding the negotiations.
The talks have reached a consensus on rural reforms, but political cooperation on drug trafficking, disarmament, and reparations for victims are currently being debated. The participants also want to find a system that will sustain a long-lasting peace agreement.
“The delegations discussed each topic separately this week,” a source close to FARC told VICE News at a restaurant near the Havana Convention Center — the home base for the discussions for the last 18 months. The residential area of Reparto Siboney, to the west of the city, also serves as a meeting zone for the representatives of the guarantor countries and allies in the peace process — Cuba, Norway, Chile, Venezuela — as well as local and international journalists.
The talks will continue with the blessing of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has stated that he hopes to sign a peace agreement with FARC during his current term of office, which ends on August 7. The government is also negotiating with the ELN, which had several months of unsuccessful round-table dialogue with the Álvaro Uribe administration in 2007.
'The FARC is not willing to allow the peace processes with the government to turn into a Nuremberg Trial for guerillas.'
While Santos, who is the election favorite, is optimistic, the negotiators are seeing each other in an environment that has historically done little to move closer to the end of this long armed conflict. Hostilities have raged for over half a century and there has been over 30 years of dialogue. Worse still, there have been more than 6 million victims across both sides.
“The FARC is not willing to allow the peace processes with the government to turn into a Nuremberg Trial for guerillas,” one of the rebel leaders who is seeking a successful pact in Havana, told VICE News. The head of the government negotiators, Humberto De La Calle, was very specific when he addressed the hypothetical but widely discussed issue of reducing armed forces in conflict zones. De La Calle said that this “has not been a topic of discussion during the round–table and will not be in the future, either.”
There are other shadows cast on Havana. The US State Department has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of a number of FARC ringleaders. This includes the commander known as “Ivan Márquez,” who is FARC's lead negotiator in Havana. Márquez is accused of having ties to drug trafficking, allegations that the rebels deny vehemently.
Meanwhile, a wiretapping scandal also appears to have opened up a new chapter.
The hacker Andrés Sepúlveda has been accused of spying by both sides involved in the peace talks. Both FARC and the Colombian government accuse him of attempting to sabotage the peace process, and both parties agree that his intent was to sell the information which he acquired illegally through wiretaps.
'I would be a fool if I said that the wiretaps don’t exist because there are serious indications that this is occurring.'
Because Sepúlveda did not only spy on FARC, but also on government representatives, he feels like his actions were somewhat heroic, according to the Colombian magazine Semana. He has allegedly sold information to the military in previous years, but the Minister of Defense, Juan Carlos Pinzon, declared this week that there are no proven ties between Sepulveda and the ministry.
Many details are still unknown, including the real destination of this information, who else was complicit in its acquisition, and what the real intended purpose was.
“I would be a fool if I said that the wiretaps don’t exist because there are serious indications that this is occurring; it appears as if there are private companies that sell information, but in our capacity as negotiators we will wait for the official investigation,” De La Calle commented in a press conference, as he prepared for his most recent trip to Cuba.
The official Cuban media has vociferously emphasized the magnitude of this discovery, but also echoed Cuban Vice President Miguel Díaz Canel's declaration: “In spite of the roadblocks in various sectors, we cannot bypass the will of millions of people who do want to achieve peace."
And so the stage is set for the 25th round of talks, and the international focus is once again on Colombia.