By Lorena Arboleda Zárate and Alfredo Molano Jimeno*
EL ESPECTADOR, October 10, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The former delegate of the United States government at the dialogs with the FARC in Havana, sees no political will in President Duque, who ought to be taking leadership in overcoming the differences. Aronson warns that taking part in his country’s election is something very dangerous for Colombia.
Since February of 2015, as instructed by then-President Barack Obama, Bernard Aronson was the United States government’s special delegate for the Havana peace process between the administration of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC guerrillas. That decision, said John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State at that time, signified an endorsement of the negotiations that terminated with the signing of a Peace Agreement ending this country’s conflict, and the first step on the path toward construction of a stable and lasting peace.
A path that has been full of difficulties. In Colombia, “Uribism”, — diehard opposition to what was agreed in Cuba—came to power in 2018 with Iván Duque, while in the previous year, in the United States, the Republican Donald Trump did the same thing. His view of this country centered on the drug war, with threats of decertification as part of that. Four years after the signing of the Agreement in Cartagena, it went to a plebiscite, lost, was renegotiated, and ended up being approved by Congress. Aronson, these days deep into the Democratic Presidential campaign, outlines to El Expectador his view of the implementation of the peace, the Duque government’s political will, and the ongoing risks if Trump is re-elected, among some other crucial subjects.
You’ve been following the Peace Agreement in Colombia and its implementation. What’s your opinion of how it has gone forward under the current Iván Duque administration? Do you think they’re really committed?
I dedicated two years to working with both parties. I went to Cuba 25 times, and today I can say that it was a very good agreement. Is it perfect? No, it isn’t. And I understand that Colombians have differing points of view about it. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of misunderstandings and disinformation about what the Agreement really provides, and some of the opposition is based on false accusations. In terms of implementation, that has always been a difficult challenge that’s going to take many years and a lot of resources, but the key is to have the political will to carry out what was agreed upon.
And do you believe the political will exists?
The first part, the demobilization of the FARC, laying down their weapons, and gathering in the designated zones; that has gone very well. The negative part is that everybody agrees that the key to the success of the Peace Agreement was for the government to occupy the areas that the FARC had controlled; that it would bring security there, plus education or health, and it has not done that. So the vacuum that remained after their departure from those areas has been occupied by armed groups like the ELN, the dissidents, the bacrim, the former paramilitaries, the drug trafficking gangs, and I believe that the government, as has been stated by the UN—this is not just my opinion—has failed to carry out that responsibility, particularly to provide security. The massacres are continuing and there is no excuse for that. I’m not saying that they could prevent every act of political violence, but the social leaders, the human rights defenders, and the indigenous communities are being murdered, and the UN has called the government’s attention to that.
Are you saying you think that the government has failed in its responsibility to provide security?
The government has that responsibility and it’s not carrying it out. There is a lack of will to make security a priority. The National Commission for Security Guarantees was created years ago to meet monthly, and that is not happening. This is a very bad signal, frankly. This government dedicated its first year to trying to block and undo the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). So it’s difficult to say that they believe in operationalizing the Peace Agreement and that they really have the will to implement it. The Agreement is not being implemented satisfactorily.
When the Colombian Congress was debating the President’s objections to the JEP, the then-Ambassador Kevin Whitaker issued a statement calling for the objections to be approved. What’s your opinion about that episode?
Kevin Whitaker is a friend of mine and I have a lot of respect for him. I’m not familiar with the details of what happened, but I do know that the government spent the first year trying to attack the JEP, not just in the Congress, but also in the Constitutional Court, and that’s a clear example showing that they’re not serious about implementation. It’s very easy to sit alone in a room and criticize what was agreed upon, and act as if you could create a perfect document, but that doesn’t exist. Many Presidents have tried to end the war in Colombia by means of different negotiations, and they failed. This Peace Agreement must be seen as a success for this country, and that does not mean that Colombians can’t continue to have different opinions about it, but to simply be a critic without proposing an alternative is not constructive.
How will the election of Donald Trump affect United States support of the Agreement? Do you believe things have changed?
Unfortunately, things have certainly changed since President Barack Obama is gone. The support that Obama gave to the Peace Agreement was absolute. He committed USD$450 million to the so-called Plan Peace Colombia, and when the new administration came in, Donald Trump tried to undo everything that had been accomplished. The only thing that Trump appears to be interested in with respect to Colombia is how much coca is being produced. It’s a legitimate concern; the United States has had a great interest in that, but President Trump doesn’t seem to be interested in anything else. He only started to talk about Colombia two weeks ago, because elections are coming up and he’s trying to gain votes in Florida, but we have not seen a consistent voice in support of the peace and its implementation.
Several weeks ago former President Juan Manuel Santos reported that allegedly there is support for Trump’s re-election coming from the Iván Duque government. Do you believe that is an inappropriate interference?
I’m not familiar with the facts, and I won’t make any accusations, but one of Colombia’s great strengths in the last 20 years has been a strong bipartisan consensus with the United States and with the support it has given in the areas of security, democracy and what was related to the peace process. Ant to endanger that bilateral relation would do great damage to Colombia, because taking part in elections in the United States, if that is what is going on, would be interfering in internal politics. That would lead to weakening that bipartisan support. So it would be a very dangerous posture, if that is what is happening.
How important for the United States is a return to fumigation with glyphosate in Colombia? According to what you’re saying, this is the principal interest of the Trump administration . . .
The United States is concerned about coca production in Colombia because obviously it’s a problem for us and for many other countries. The Trump administration has focused exclusively on aerial fumigation as an alternative opposed to the crop substitution programs. But there has to be a sustainable effort in the countryside to develop other crops, provide campesinos with credit, develop the roads and other ways of getting their crops to market, and trying to wean the campesinos away from the coca so as to give them other options for feeding their families. The majority of them don’t want to be drug traffickers; they’re just trying to survive.
And is that happening?
We know it isn’t easy, and I understand that it could be frustrating, but that is what the Agreement requires. The first effort should be developing alternatives and crop substitution, and if that isn’t possible, then voluntary eradication, and only after both of those possibilities fail, you can turn to forced eradication. But this government is doing it in an order that’s different from what was established in the Peace Agreement.
Why do you believe that the Duque government doesn’t want to give an opportunity to what the Peace Agreement sets forth, and instead insists on aerial fumigation with glyphosate? Why make an effort to show the world that the Agreement isn’t working?
To be fair, the production of illegal crops has increased a lot during the peace process and aerial fumigation looks like the fastest way to make progress that’s visible. The Trump administration has put a lot of pressure on the Duque government to go back to the aerial fumigations. In fact, in the first months of his administration, President Trump wanted to decertify Colombia. And I believe that, in general, the administration of the United States will continue to pressure for reduced production of coca and cocaine.
What did you think of the “Iván Marquez” announcement that he would return to the fight, arguing that the government was not complying with what was agreed in Havana?
I don’t think the lack of commitment by the Duque government to implement the Peace Agreement should be an excuse to go back to war. There’s no excuse for going back to war and it’s unfortunate that Iván Marquez chose to do that. Nevertheless, more than 13,000 former combatants and militiamen of the FARC turned over their weapons as they had committed themselves to do. They went to the zones that had been set up for them to stay, as they said they would do, and they are not following Iván Marquez. The directors of what today is the FARC Party condemned that act, and the fact is that the war is over for them.
The FARC said that, through you, while you were in Cuba during the peace process, they put on the table the discussion about “Simón Trinidad” and the possibility of bringing him back to Colombia. What happened with that supposed negotiation?
The FARC, and particularly Iván Márquez, brought this case to the table for discussion numerous times, but I was always clear that the government of the United States would not negotiate the situation of Simón Trinidad. They had several proposals, but we really never had a negotiation on that. It was not an area that was relevant to the peace process.
Elections are coming soon in the United States and it appears that there is some uncertainty about the results, but what do you believe might be coming for Colombia if Donald Trump is re-elected?
With respect to Colombia, we hope there is no attempt to intervene in our domestic politics. What we have seen during the Trump administration for years with regard to Colombia is, in every case, that he is focused only on aerial aspersion and that’s what our bilateral relation has consisted of. What I think is that if Donald Trump is re-elected, he will continue that policy, which could be dangerous because he might de-certify Colombia, as he already tried to do in the past.
Biden has always supported Colombia; he has done that since the beginning of Plan Colombia, under the Clinton administration. He visited Colombia during the peace process, and so I think that in Biden we might find a stronger friend if he wins the election. But besides that, a Biden administration—and I’m speaking for myself—would give much more support to the human rights situation, to security, and to the implementation of the Peace Agreement than under a new Trump administration.
If you could give President Duque any advice about the Peace Agreement, what would it be?
I would tell him that the Peace Agreement could be a unifying force, and not a divisive force, but it depends on how he takes on his responsibility. There are a lot of things in the Agreement that are good for Colombia. He should take the lead in overcoming the differences, and he should understand that those are things of the past, that he can concentrate on the future, and try to implement the Peace Agreement in the interest of all Colombians. I hope that President Duque realizes that it’s a national responsibility, but it’s also an opportunity, and that it will be good for the country by reducing division and overcoming polarization.
* Special to El Espectador