The FARC’s new ceasefire

On Wednesday the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia declared a second unilateral ceasefire during the current round of negotiations with the Santos administration.  According to the insurgency’s chief negotiator, Ivan Marquez, it was stated that ‘we announce our willingness to to order a unilateral ceasefire from July 20, for a month…through this, we’re looking to create favourable conditions with our counterpart to advance a definitive and bilateral ceasefire‘.

The timing of this decision comes after two announcements at this stage of the process- a declaration by Santos that the government will intensify an offensive military strategy against the FARC, and pressure from ‘guarantor’ countries Norway and Cuba, and ‘escort’ countries Venezuela and Chile to ‘strictly restrict any actions that cause victims or suffering in Colombia, and to step up the implementation of confidence-building measures‘. Moreover, according to Reuters, the government’s chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle stated that ‘the peace process is at its worst moment since we began talks…I want to tell the FARC in all seriousness, this could end.  Some day, it’s probable that they won’t find us around the table in Havana‘.  He went further to suggest that the government would be willing to consider a bilateral ceasefire before a final peace deal is signed, if the insurgency accepts judicial responsibility for the violence it has perpetrated and only if it abstains from extortion and the drug industry.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 8.30.23 AM

Humberto de la Calle, Chief Negotiator for the Colombian government in talks with the FARC. Photo courtesy of ICP Colombia, Flickr

There is no doubt that negotiations under the Santos administration have produced the most progress of any effort to end violence with the FARC since the first attempt by the Betancur administration in 1982, despite their decreasing popularity amongst the Colombian population. Whilst this is the case, it is really quite unprecedented that the peace process has become incredibly strained in the past few months, given that agreements have been made on most of the negotiation agenda items. The FARC’s declaration of a month-long unilateral ceasefire can be viewed through both an optimistic and cautious lens, as strategic intentions become increasingly blurred given recent insurgent activity against police, military and infrastructure.  There is no doubt that the FARC’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire is an attempt to draw the Colombian government into a bilateral ceasefire.  From an optimistic standpoint, this could be seen as a demonstration of commitment by the FARC to continue to current round of negotiations, and to temporarily cease its military activities.  Given the nature of such attacks over the past weeks, this can be seen as a commitment to the de-escalation of violence.  From a cautious stance, the FARC has been accused of utilising ceasefires as a guise to recuperate and rearm.  Given vows by the Colombian government to increase an offensive against the insurgency, combined by de la Calle’s stance that it is very possible the government will walk away from negotiations, there is viability in a cautious approach to the intention behind the current ceasefire.  Lessons learned from the Pastrana administration granting the insurgency a ‘demilitarised zone’ during its round of negotiations presents a somewhat painful picture, where it became evident that the movement was utilising the space for building up military capacity and training.

Recently, I have been conducting in depth research into the peace process attempts under the Pastrana and Uribe administrations, engaging with the specifics of the negotiations themselves, factors that helped and hindered the processes, and engaging with an array of primary material that I was able to access through archives.  Whilst the Uribe negotiation attempt with the FARC during his first term (2002-2006) never really eventuated, what is clear is that during these two administrations, the FARC really had no need to arrive at a political solution to the conflict.  During the Pastrana administration, the FARC was at its strongest in terms of territorial control, military capacity and capability, and financing coming in through the coca boom.  Paramilitaries were mobilised and exacerbating violence, creating a vicious cycle during negotiations in that the FARC refused to demobilise or cease military activity if the paramilitary groups were not addressed.  Peace attempts during the Pastrana administration also collapsed as a result of other factors, however never progressed further than minor procedural agreements with the insurgency.  In terms of FARC demobilisation, it would have been unlikely that the peace process resulted in success unless significant concession were made due to the insurgency’s strength. The FARC’s strength impacted on Uribe’s attempts to negotiations in that they refused to agree to a ceasefire as a condition of entering into negotiations.  Whilst Uribe demonstrated ‘success’ in the demobilisation of paramilitaries (including the AUC), and made minor progress initially with the ELN, there was no need for the FARC to negotiate under such conditions.  It wasn’t until Uribe’s second term (2006-2010) where military offensives against the insurgency resulted it capacity degradation and deaths of key leaders that the FARC began to show signs of weakening.  A key indicator of this was the fact that around 2008, the FARC returned to a strategy of ‘hit-and-run’ tactics throughout the rural population, avoiding full blown confrontations with the military in small cities.

Despite the current turbulence, these strains can perhaps shed light on why this current round of negotiation has been comparatively effective.  The insurgency is experiencing dwindling numbers, though currently mobilised at between 8000-10000 combatants.  The threat of a military offensive would not be a positive outcome for the insurgency in this late stage of the peace process, and I would argue that this has shaped the FARC’s decision to declare a second temporary ceasefire. I’m not convinced this is an attempt to rearm, though the possibility is there. Should the FARC desire a political settlement, I believe that this round of negotiations would have the highest success in achieving such an objective- particularly given the consensus on key agenda issues. I also believe that the FARC knows this, and despite recent aggression throughout the past weeks has declared this unilateral ceasefire to keep negotiations on track in an attempt to hold on to a political outcome. What is going to be interesting to monitor is the issue of ‘time’- Santos has entered into his second term, and unless a final settlement begins to take form soon, the actual implementation of a peace agreement may have to take place under the next administration.  As such, progression will have to be made very soon to prevent talks from falling through, with both sides attempting to secure what they can to enhance their own standing post-settlement.  The next few months will likely be the final ‘make or break’ stage, and I am interested to see what concessions will be made, including a potential bilateral ceasefire.

Advertisements

Violence, lasting peace and the Truth Commission: what could be its realistic impact for Colombian society?

In early June, the Colombian government and the FARC agreed to form a Truth Commission should a final peace settlement be reached between the two actors.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the general purpose of truth commissions in post-conflict environments is to construct an in depth history of the conflict, including addressing crimes and mass atrocities that have been carried out by actors involved.  In the context of Colombia and due to the nature of the conflict’s protraction, one of pertinent issues will not only be an examination of government, FARC and ELN activities, but also an investigation into the relationship between the Colombian military and paramilitary groups.

An article published by Vice news entitled ‘Can a Truth Commission in Colombia help heal the wounds of wars atrocities?’ caught my attention the other day.  Within the article, there were references to an interview Vice had conducted with Colombian senator Sofia Gaviria, who is the sister of Guillermo Gaviria.  A former governor of Antioquia, Guillermo Gaviria was kidnapped in April 2002, which inevitably led to the final cessation of peace negotiations with the FARC under the Pastrana administration (1998-2002).  After an unsuccessful rescue mission carried out by the Colombian armed forces, Gaviria was killed alongside eight other hostages.

A supporter of the peace process, Sofia Gaviria is quoted as saying-

‘I do not believe in relativism of truth, I believe there is only one truth, but several ways of accepting it or not…but the truth is that such a person was taken from home, abducted, killed, or displaced by a group that operates outside the law. All victims want that truth’

Gaviria is referring to the FARC in the later part of this statement, a truth for victims is key in aiding lasting reconciliation.  However, what originally brought my attention to the article was an assumption behind that title- can a Truth Commission in Colombia help heal the wounds of war’s atrocities.  The establishment of a commission was announced in terms of the agenda item dealing with victims, specifically their rights to justice, reparation, and truth.  In dealing with the Colombian conflict, there is an assumption that a Truth Commission will investigate the incredibly long period of serious mass human rights violations carried out throughout the conflict, and a micro-examination of these crimes.  Overlaid onto the notion of constructing a history of the conflict, there is a further assumption that there will be a investigation into the structural causes of this. What role did all actors play in the exacerbation of violence, and what led to their emergence?

It is highly unlikely that a Truth Commission will be able to achieve all that is expected, particularly due to the nature of the Colombian context.  Apart from the complexities in forensic evidence, the general attribute of responsibility for perpetrated violence is far from clear cut.  For example, there is a significant degree of autonomy amongst most armed actors in the Colombian environment.  Whereas the ELN’s command-and-control structure has always been much stronger than the FARC’s, FARC fronts have operated with a higher degree of ‘flexibility’, particularly throughout the 1990s with the coca boom.  There have been incidents where attacks were carried out by fronts that the FARC leadership didn’t take responsibility for, and whilst this may be deliberate denial by the insurgency, forensic truth regardless will be incredibly difficult to establish. In a similar fashion, whilst there has been evident collusion between the Colombian military and paramilitary groups that operated throughout the country, these groups were also privatised and utilised by an array of actors with differing stakes in the conflict, including large landowners, drug trafficking organisations and business owners.  Whilst a Truth Commission should deal with the shadowy issue of paramilitaries, attribution of responsibility will again be difficult to establish. For a Truth Commission to demonstrate signs of success, there needs to be a realistic expectation of its function.  It can not be considered as a mechanism to facilitate judicial processes, and as a means of attributing legal responsibility for actions. What it should be considered as is a mechanism to provide formal recognition of the atrocities carried out against victims of the conflict. It is a imperative means of having their experiences heard and recognised, and can play a role in contributing to the establishment of lasting peace constructing historical memory.

I state, ‘can play a role in contributing to the establishment of lasting peace’ very deliberately.  A Truth Commission will be but one factor that is important for building peace in Colombia.  Recently, the Observatory of Democracy at the Universidad de los Andes published an excellent report on the Political Culture of Democracy in Colombia for 2015.  Extensive interviews were conducted with 1390 people in 40 municipalities on a range of issues including democratic attitudes, governance, participation, confidence in local institutions, insecurity and corruption, the protection of rights, armed conflict and the peace process.  In terms of FARC demobilisation, Colombia Reports has provided a breakdown in English of key observations in terms of combatant reintegration back into Colombian society. This report provides so many telling findings, but for my own research purposes on legitimacy, I found Chapter Two on democratic attitudes, governance and political participation to be quite interesting- particularly in terms of findings throughout other chapters, and issues that are being brought to the forefront of media currently.  These reflect on the complexities of the Colombian conflict environment, but also those of the overall Colombian state.

Marcha en Colombia: no mas FARC

Colombians march against the FARC insurgency. Photo courtesy of AlCortés, Flickr

Whilst Santos’ approval rating continues to sink in urban areas, perceptions of the Colombian political system’s overall legitimacy has risen since the beginning of Santos’ term.  Whilst political tolerance and satisfaction with democracy are not as strong, Santos’ overall approval level has increased quite substantially since 2011 in areas experiencing violence.  Having said this, according to these surveys, Santos is far from the high levels of approval that Uribe enjoyed during his eight year term.  In contrast to Santos, Uribe pursued a strong policy of securitisation and ‘state-building’ without negotiations with the FARC and ELN, yet was unable to defeat the insurgencies by military means alone.  In terms of conflict and the peace process, the report demonstrates that support for the negotiations themselves is much higher in the municipalities experiencing violence, in comparison with the rest of the country.  At the same time, there are low expectations that talks will result in lasting peace.

This is not surprising, and is a realistic observation.  A Truth Commission will provide a mechanism for mass human rights violations to be discussed, and their effects on victims recognised.  However, two facets that are critical in the maintenance of peace will be the two hardest- the provision of security to all areas of the state, most pressingly those affected by violence, and the enhancing popular perceptions of state legitimacy.  Whilst Uribe was perceived as a strong leader and arguably demonstrated some success in his ‘securitisation policies’, his term was also marked by mass human rights violations, ‘false positive killings‘, and ties to paramilitaries.  Moreover, despite expanding the Colombian military and police forces, both insurgencies survived with substantial numbers of combatants still mobilised.  Successful negotiations and demobilisation of both the FARC and ELN will be the best start for the achievement of peace, where resources can then be turned towards dealing with, amongst other things, the issues of neo-paramilitaries, BACRIMS, and general crime and corruption still plaguing Colombian society, contributing an environment of insecurity.  ‘Healing wounds’ will require much more than a Truth Commission.  Should the current round be successful, it will even require more than a peace settlement.  Long-term, lasting peace requires more than just successful negotiations- it requires the development of state legitimacy, of which the provision of security throughout the whole country is a critical starting point.

The popular decision, or the one that may work?

Colombia Report’s editor, Adriaan Alsema, has published quite a colourful opinion piece entitled ‘why everybody opposing a bilateral ceasefire in Colombia is wrong’– one that, fundamentally, I tend to agree with.  As eluded to in previous blog posts, given the current climate I also share the view that a bilateral ceasefire is imperative in this stage of negotiations.  I believe that despite positive progress in the talks, these negotiations may be severely strained with recent events- if not completely fall through – should a bilateral ceasefire not be agreed upon.

President Santos announced on Saturday that the Colombian armed forces will intensify their offensive against the country’s insurgencies.  On Sunday, the Colombian armed forces killed ELN leader Jose Amin Hernandez alias ‘Marquitos’ in the northern department of Antioquia.  The ELN continues to operate in 9 of the 32 Colombian provinces, with Marquitos commanding 13 units within both Antioquia and Bolivar.

Alsema’s opinion piece highlights a key point that is often not brought up when addressing the current peace process- the fact that there has been ‘war fatigue’ developing throughout the Colombian military.  Alsema dates this back to 2004, which coincides with the ‘securitisation’ policies being pursued under the Uribe administration (2002-2010).  Well-known for his hardline approach and regarded as a ‘strong leader’, Uribe essentially vowed to annihilate the FARC and the ELN by military means whilst simultaneously pursuing the demobilisation of the AUC in 2006.  As the piece notes, there was a significant shift in the FARC’s military and political strategy in 2008, when there was a leadership move within the insurgency to adopt a more defensive approach.  Partly as a response to some major military crackdowns against the insurgency during Uribe’s second term (including the deaths of key FARC leaders), this lead to a move away from mobile combat with emphasis on territory control, to a retreat back to ‘hit-and-run’ strategy within the insurgency.  Consequently, as Alsema notes, this lead to an increase in offensive strategy by the Colombian military and pressure for results.  Whilst the opinion piece highlights some staggering statistics to support this, another indicator was multiple allegations of fake demobilisations- including that of the ‘Cacica Gaitana Front‘, that turned out never to actually exist.

It is evident that Santos’ popularity is dwindling in the polls.  There is a growing sentiment of disenchantment, and much of the Colombian population is becoming fed up with the peace process and its slow progress.  The idea of bilateral ceasefire implementation then comes into question. Although unpopular and could be considered by some as a sign of weakness from the government, is bilateral ceasefire imperative to achieving a signed peace agreement?  Since the beginning of negotiations, I have tended to agree with the acknowledgement that Santos was well aware of this ‘war fatigue’ amongst the military- particularly during his time as Uribe’s defence minister before becoming President.  Moreover, and as I’ve mentioned before, I do believe that there is a conscious acknowledgment that both the government and FARC have reached a military ‘mutually hurting stalemate’.  It’s unlikely that the Colombian military will be able to defeat the FARC, or even the ELN with military means alone.  Put bluntly, money and aid provided under Plan Colombia haven’t had success in destroying the insurgencies.  At the same time, the guerrillas will obviously never be able to achieve their political goals militarily.  Alsema presents a strongly-worded conclusion-

‘If his objective is peace, the president should declare an indefinite and bilateral ceasefire right this minute. If he does not want peace, he should stop pretending and focus on making sure the military doesn’t collapse under the weight of his presidential incompetence’

The crossroad has been met, and something has to give if these negotiations are to keep on track.  More importantly, something has to be done to minimise further violence and conflict.  Given an investigation noted the FARC’s military activity dropped 90% with its self-imposed unilateral ceasefire, a bilateral ceasefire will likely be the move that holds this peace process together.

Pushing too far? FARC steps up infrastructure attacks

The FARC has stepped up the intensity of its infrastructure strikes. On Thursday the insurgency shot dead three policemen patrolling part of the Pan-American Highway. Utilising explosives, it then brought down an energy pylon in its latest significant attack, leaving roughly 500000 without power in the southern region of Caqueta.  These attacks come after the infrastructure strike in Buenaventura, and the insurgency’s ambush in Cauca in April, killing 11 soldiers.

President Santos has called the latest attacks ‘irrational’, and according to Colombia Reports stated-

‘Nobody can explain this type of actions…if this is the way to seek peace, if this is the way to seek support for these peace talks, they are entirely mistaken because what this generates is exactly the opposite’

Santos is right in this statement- these attacks are further contributing to the diminishment of popular support for negotiations.  It is obvious that these recent attacks on infrastructure serve a particular purpose.  They mark an attempt by the FARC to draw the Colombian government into agreeing to a bilateral ceasefire in this current round of peace negotiations.  They are also a deliberate attempt to anger the Colombian population, in order to mount pressure on the Colombian government to declare this.  As I have noted in a previous blog post, bilateral ceasefires have been rarely agreed upon in previous rounds of negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC, with a key exception occurring with negotiations under the Betancur administration (1982-1986).  Whilst there has been mounting pressure for a bilateral ceasefire to be declared, Santos has continuously stressed that this will be unlikely- despite it being potentially necessary in order to boost current negotiations.

Given the present stage of negotiations, the FARC is engaging in a risky strategy with such significant attacks on infrastructure. In this current climate, is likely that such attacks will backfire.  Granted, this strategy is not new for the insurgency, who have been engaging in military strikes against infrastructure and government targets for many years.  However in recent times, arguably the FARC is pushing too far in terms of its current choice of targeting.  Whilst there have been positive achievements in these rounds of negotiation, it is evident that many Colombians are beginning to become disenchanted with current peace process attempts.  According to an April survey by Gallup, there has been a large decrease in support for the process, falling 17 points from the previous poll from 69 percent to 52 percent.  Given that Santos won his second term in office riding on support for peace, this is a worrying sign. It is also detrimental to popular perceptions towards the insurgency.  With diminishing popular support, no current ceasefires in place, and the present state of the insurgency, such attacks are not the strongest strategy by the FARC to keep the peace process on track.

On a slightly more positive note, on Wednesday the EU vowed to provide a fund to aid in the implementation of a peace deal, announcing it will contribute roughly $29M to projects should the process be successful.  This is imperative for successful DDR, and necessary in promoting the appeasement of agrarian grievances.  In the press release, it was stated that-

‘a programme worth almost €21 million will aim to overcoming the social and economic disadvantage of the marginalised and conflict affected regions. The programme will support local sustainable development in remote areas. It is expected to foster income generation opportunities for almost 2000 peasant families and improved livelihoods of around 3000 indigenous and Afro-Colombian families living in National Parks, where all kinds of social and environmental conflicts rule. This action will constitute the first building block of the EU’s support to the Colombian peace process’

The FARC is engaging in a huge risk by attacking infrastructure largely affecting the Colombian population, one that likely won’t directly result in a bilateral ceasefire. The FARC and the government have been in negotiations since November 2012, and there are still two agenda items to be agreed upon- the victims and the end of the conflict.   Given that there hasn’t been a common consensus yet as to how to adequately punish war crimes committed in the past five decades, nor how to compensate the millions of victims affected by the protracted conflict, it appears that unfortunately another hurdle in the process has been reached.

A complex construction of history: Colombian Government and the FARC to create Truth Commission

On Thursday June 4, the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombian (the FARC) agreed to form a Peace Commission to investigate abuses and crimes carried out during Colombia’s five-decade long war.  Both the government and the insurgency agreed to set up an ‘independent and impartial body’ as soon as the final peace settlement has been reached.

Agreeing to establish a Truth Commission is a further step forward in this current round of negotiations, and demonstrates that talks are still on track.  Thus far, the two parties have tentatively agreed to other elements on the 6 point agenda, including issues pertaining to agrarian reform and compensation, illicit drug policy and the nature of political participation.  Moreover, in late May the FARC and the government commenced the removal of land mines– an imperative move as Colombia is one of the most mined countries in the world.

The FARC has been calling for the establishment of a truth commission since the early phases of negotiation.  Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator, stated

‘We wonder: how to establish responsibilities, or how to address the issue of victims at the peace talks, repair them, and make a commitment of ‘never again’, if we don’t establish how the violence, which resulted in six decades or more of armed conflict, began?…without truth, there’s no history; without history, there’s no national consciousness.  If the truth of the past is not known, we won’t be able to build a lasting peace’

The latter point in Márquez’s statement holds truth in the Colombian context.  As in other countries that have established truth commission post-conflict, the intention is to construct an in-depth history of the conflict spanning over fifty years.  These are generally implemented after the political and social conflicts have been resolved.  Whilst other Latin American countries, such as Peru and Argentina, have created truth commissions in the past to build peace, no country in the region has had to contend with such a protracted conflict.  The Colombian conflict has its roots in La Violencia a period of violent conflict that occurred from 1948-1958 that swept across much of Colombia.  Many non-state actors that the Colombian government has traditionally faced can be broadly linked back to this period, particularly in terms of the development of ‘self-defence’ enclaves and ‘independent republics’.  The FARC is one such movement, as is Colombia’s second largest insurgency, the National Liberation Army (the ELN).

The FARC has argued that the state’s role in the conflict needs to be more closely examined, particularly in terms of the responsibility to the victims.  Whilst the FARC sees itself as a victim of systematic violence by the state (just as the government sees itself as a victim of systematic violence by the FARC), the role of paramilitaries will be a likely issue engaged with during the commission. Like the FARC, paramilitaries (autodefensas, ‘self-defense’ groups) within Colombia have partial roots within the ‘self-defense’ units that were established within the rural communities during La Violencia.  Formed partly as a response to government policy, many paramilitary groups espouse a narrative that they have taken up arms to defend against the insurgents. Whilst paramilitaries were legalised by adoption of Law 48 in 1968 as part of the broader US-sponsored National Security Doctrine, the use of paramilitaries by the military, drug traffickers and large landowners expanded significantly during the 1980s and 1990s.

As a result of various massacres and human rights abuses, President Virgilio Barco Vargas (1986-1990) rendered these private armies as being temporarily illegal through Decrees 815 and 1194.  However, segments of the Colombian state (with pressure from the US) successfully reformulated the legislation. In 1991, the Ministry of Defense issued Order 200-05/91 and these private armies were reinstated into the army’s intelligence apparatus, albeit based on an illegal, covert partnership. In 1997 the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (the AUC) was created and can be thought of as an umbrella organisation of a loose coalition of private armies.  The AUC was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation by the US in 2001, and subsequently delisted in 2014 after the Uribe administration ‘successfully’ negotiated a mass demobilisation of over 30,000 paramilitaries beginning in 2003.  Despite this, the legacies of the AUC and other paramilitaries have provided Colombia with a host of other security issues, with the government expressing concerns regarding former paramilitaries joining BACRIMS.

Both the Colombian government and the FARC will need to be culpable for their actions in development of ‘the truth’.  This is particularly important in terms of victims coming forward for reparation, and also in terms of the admission of gross human rights violations during the conflict.  Moreover, it is key in building ‘peace’ throughout Colombian society.  This commission will have a incredibly complex task in constructing a history of events, particularly in terms of attributing responsibility to all actors involved.

A small step closer to MILF military disengagement?

MoroSoldier

Photo courtesy of Mark Navales, Creative Commons

On May 20th the Philippine House Ad Hoc Committee passed the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which approved the creation of the new autonomous political entity that will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).  The draft of the basic law was the product of the comprehensive peace agreement signed by both the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (the MILF) in 2014. This came after 17 years of on/off negotiations between the two parties, and was based on the original framework agreement developed in 2012.

As noted by the International Crisis Group, the House appropriations committee approved the basic law funding on 26 May, and the House of Representatives will soon debate the law, with a target to formally pass this by June 11 when congress enters recess.  Whilst this is the case, Senate President Franklin Drilon expressed on Saturday that he is unsure as to whether the Senate will be able to meet its self-imposed deadline, stressing the importance of the bill being passed by October.  However, should the deadline be moved to October, this further constricts the already short period from the transition of the ARMM to the Bangsamoro autonomous political entity.  Should this occur, this would leave the MILF’s transitional body less than 5 months to oversee the transition from the ARMM to Bangsamoro- an incredibly ambitious time frame given the MILF’s hopes of a three-year period.

However, yesterday on June 2 the peace panels of both the government and MILF announced the creation of a Task Force that would oversee development programmes for militants in an attempt to facilitate return to civilian life.   The Government chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer stated that the Task Force was mandated to ‘undertake all efforts related to socio-economic and development programmes’ and to ‘assist the Panels to identify and implement socio-economic priorities and development projects’ for decommissioned MILF combatants and their communities.  The Task Force agreement is in line with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).  Similar to traditional DDR processes, under the CAB the MILF militants would undertake a gradual decommissioning programme where weapons would be ‘put beyond use’ and return to civilian life.  In an important consideration often not undertaken in all DDR processes, there will be special socio-economic and development programmes for decommissioned women auxiliary forces of the insurgency.

The establishment of the Task Force is positive news in terms of facilitating combatant demobilisation and reintegration.  However, delays in the decommissioning programme has led to delays in a critical component- the hand over of MILF weapons.  Under decommissioning guidelines, the process is done in four phases.  Phase 1 is the ceremonial turning in of 75 high-powered weapons.  This was supposed to be conducted in February this year is a symbolic ceremony, however the clash in Mamasapano, Mindanao postponed the ceremony.  Theoretically, by the time of the Bangamoro Basic Law’s ratification, 30 percent of the MILF’s weapons and combatants would have decommissioned in Phase 2.  This is followed by Phase 3, in which 35 percent will follow after the Bangsamoro police is created.  Finally, the remainder is under Phase 4 when the exit agreement is signed and the Bangsamoro government is established.

The issue that emerges is that at present, it remains uncertain as to when, and if, the Bangsamoro bill will be passed in Congress.  Currently, there has been no clear announcement of a specific date as to when the ceremonial handover of weapons (Phase 1) will be held, marking the commencement of the decommissioning process.  In fact, on Tuesday concerns were expressed that elements of the MILF may still be armed leading up to the election of the Bangsamoro government in 2016.  Despite the establishment of the Task Force, it is critical that Phase 1 is implemented in a timely fashion as a symbolic start to the decommissioning process.  Whereas there has been key progress in the establishment of the political entity, this momentum should be used to simultaneously to strengthen the tenets of implemented demobilisation processes- including getting those weapons.

Buenaventura Attack: the need for a bilateral ceasefire?

The FARC carried out an attack on infrastructure on Sunday, leaving 400000 thousand people without power in Buenaventura, Colombia’s main Pacific port city.  Whilst Colombia’s defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon referred to the attack as an act of ‘terrorism’, this demonstrates the FARC’s reengagement with strategic military attacks on critical infrastructure following its suspension of a unilateral ceasefire.

The attack follows the Colombian army’s airstrike attack on the Cauca province, killing 27 FARC guerrillas including Jairo Martínez.  Martínez had been a member of the FARC delegate for two separate peace processes, and was allegedly at the FARC camp informing combatants of progress in the current rounds.

The last few months have seen a significant escalation of tensions between the Colombian and the FARC, particularly after the FARC attack in Cauca leaving 11 soldiers dead.  As attacks on both sides continue, the question remains: is a bilateral ceasefire necessary at this stage of negotiations?

Given the amount of time that has passed since the commencement of the current round, there are mounting concerns that the peace process may collapse.  However, this is the furthest that any Colombian administration has come to achieving a settlement with the FARC, including significant agreement on key agenda items.  Moreover, bilateral ceasefires have rarely been agreed upon by the Colombian government, with a key exception being during the Betancur (1982-1986) peace process.

This being said, given mounting pressure it is becoming evident that the Colombian government may have to agree to a bilateral ceasefire, as called on by the FARC.  With Colombia’s Attorney General and ombudsman showing their support, as well as Cuba and Norway urging for a bilateral ceasefire, it seems as though this potentially would give the current peace negotiations the boost it needs

Welcome to morethanwars!

Welcome to my personal blog, morethanwars

I’ve been meaning to set up a personal blog for quite a while to provide my thoughts on a range of issues pertaining to security and prospects for peace in Latin America, Central America and Southeast Asia.  However, as I am entering into the final stretch of my PhD research, I figured this would be a good time to start!

morethanwars has been set up to provide broad analysis on security issues being faced in Latin America, Central America and Southeast Asia. Generally, my research focuses on non-state militant threats to state autonomy and overall perceptions of state legitimacy.  My PhD is a Colombian country study, examining the Colombian government’s relationship to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (the FARC).  I research into government decisions to shift between policies of counterinsurgency and negotiation at times.

Currently the Colombian government is in the final stages of negotiations with the FARC, and it is looking promising.  This is not to say peace in Colombia will be achieved if a final settlement is signed, with the country then facing an array of other issues- including a settlement with the ELN, and the security threat posed by BACRIMS.  However, it is a step in the right direction and has the potential to minimise conflict within the country if implemented correctly.

Whilst parts of this blog will be developed to Colombian analysis, I have a strong passion for Latin American politics- particularly in terms of conflict and security.  I find that here in Australia, little exposure is devoted to this region in terms of news and media coverage.  Perhaps this is to be expected, and this blog is in no way ambitious that it seeks to fill that void! However, I do hope to provide a degree of basic analysis for those interested, and to be in contact with likeminded individuals focussing on similar research.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by, I look forward to this endeavour!