By Juan Sebastián Lombo, EL ESPECTADOR, September 25, 2022


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

He says that the peace is a policy that’s under construction; he denies that the criminal gangs will receive political treatment; and he stresses that the “Iván Mordisco” dissidents can’t try to replace the group that signed a peace agreement with the Santos administration.

Iván Cepeda is the current president of the Colombian Senate Peace Commission.

What are you aiming for with “total peace”?

In essence it’s a model that doesn’t just aim for the end of the conflict and the violence in Colombia, but also to guarantee that we can consider the social and economic causes of that violence. It’s a policy based on rigorous study of how the previous peace processes have gone, and of accumulating the best of the experiences in different areas, in political terms as well in the submission to or accepting justice. The objective is to overcome the mistakes and oversights of the prior attempts at peace that have repeatedly arrived at the repetition of cycles of violence. Thus, it’s a policy that’s under construction; it isn’t finished in all of its details. We want to accept criticisms, contributions, and proposals from the experience of other people and other sectors. We are inviting a dialog that is argued with verifiable facts and not speculation.

What is the goal from now to four years off, when the Petro administration is over? Is that enough time?

It’s difficult to identify what the developments might be after four years. We know the end goal, but it’s very hard to prophesy how it will develop. Now, it will be harder to determine how the various processes will develop at the same time and all together. What I can say, is that the bid for “total peace” is related to the government’s peace policy. We want there to be a reality in which peace is a government policy that continues on the same path, even when it’s not our administration, the Historic Pact administration.

This “total peace” includes the regional dialogs. How can you guarantee that those don’t remain just talk, with not very many decisions?

We think that when you are having an enthusiastic discussion about the nature of the armed groups that exist in Colombia, you have to discuss just as seriously the problem of why we have territories with so much misery, with so many being ravaged by the drug traffic and other illegal economies. It’s important that we talk about the social problems and the transformations that are necessary in the countryside. One is as important as the other. The policy is “total”, not only because you are going to dialog with everybody, but because it’s aimed at overcoming the drug traffic, the poverty, and transforming the countryside into what we want it to be, which is to be a world power in good living.

That’s the reason that these dialogs are so important, as President Petro has said: they are a binding force. That, in the end, means turning the National Development Plan into laws, or, as has been said about the ELN, that what was agreed upon will be applied. For many people, that’s something to be criticized, and they think we are going to give concessions to an armed group that does not demobilize. I would put it in another way: the government can’t stay at a table and negotiate its obligations. We can’t keep on having the government negotiating with an armed group on such basic things as the development of the countryside and respect for human rights. Those are obligations that are in the Constitution and that have to be accomplished, without any agreement with a group of guerrillas.

Isn’t there a risk that if we implement what has been agreed, and at the end the illegal groups won’t turn over their weapons? As Humberto de la Calle said, they’ll get both the bread and the cheese, and the government will be left with nothing . . .

I don’t think that will be a problem, and if the government carries out its obligations, there will never be either a win or a loss. On the contrary, if we succeed in putting out the fire and if the government is present in the countryside, that will be a gain for the country and there will be a change in logic. Perhaps at another time we have seen negotiation based on whether the government will be more or less demanding and will haggle over the fulfilment of its obligations; that is not the logic of this administration. The government has to carry out its social obligations and close down the armed conflict.

There’s criticism that the peace policy has so many voices: the Peace Commissioner, Danilo Rueda, the Foreign Minister, Álvaro Leyva, Roy Barreras, and you. Shouldn’t there be one single voice? 

First of all, the government officials in charge of peace policy are President Petro and the one he delegated, the High Commissioner. Foreign Minister Leyva is a person who has enormous experience in this area, and is a voice of authority, so in the position he holds, in international terms, he is a spokesperson. If you look at the Foreign Minister’s statements, you can see how “total peace” is a policy that radiates internationally. In my case, I have been involved in previous peace processes, and I carry out a function in Congress as president of the Peace Committee. If you examine the statements we have made, they are in complete agreement. There is one single peace policy here. Obviously, the one who is aware of the decisions and announces them is the High Commissioner, and the President, when he considers it appropriate.

As you are close to the process, have you seen the same will for peace in all of the groups, or are there some that care more about it?

The High Commissioner and the administration have made some announcements that are of record. The first one is that the basis for all of this policy is the implementation of the Havana Agreement. There is no doubt about that. That will be carried out to the letter, and none of its points will be negotiated or renegotiated with any group. The administration will not put the agreements endorsed in 2016 under discussion. Some announcements have been made about the ELN, and they are pretty clear. There is a process going on, an express will to re-initiate the dialogs, and there is agreement that the point of departure will be what had been achieved under the Santos administration. As in every dialog, there are opinions and debates, but it’s a process that is already taking off.

The High Commissioner has made other announcements, some more detailed than others. He has said that he has been in contact with other groups, but he can’t be more precise because there is no more official information. What is clear is that he has said that the dissident group that was commanded by Gentil Duarte has begun an exploratory dialog that has taken a ceasefire as its starting point. He has also said that there is another dissident group, but it has a different characteristic in that it has re-armed.

Aren’t you sending a bad message when, after reaching an agreement with the now-defunct FARC, you are re-starting negotiations with those that left the process before it was signed and with those that signed and later didn’t comply?

I just said that in the case of those that re-armed, there is no negotiation so far. What the High Commissioner has said is that there has been a contact and that there probably will be some dialogs. I want to express, and the High Commissioner did not say this, that the Peace Agreement made in Cuba is unalterable, and it will not be changed with any new negotiation. It is not only the intention of this administration, and those of us who are part of this administration have defended that agreement, but also, it is constitutionally impossible, as it is part of our Magna Carta. Some group may want to submit to the Agreement, but its points cannot be changed.

Now, to my way of thinking, it’s speculative to say that there is a negotiation with the Segunda Marquetalia and, if it does happen, it’s clear that this group will have to re-incorporate into the Peace Agreement and they will have to talk about the conditions under which that could take place. I will defend their return to peace, because it isn’t possible to resolve this problem with weapons or violence, or with any path other than dialog. With regard to the Iván Mordisco group, it’s a different situation because they weren’t part of the negotiations. So they can’t try to replace those that signed the Peace Agreement. It’s not correct that they are really true FARC and that the Santos administration signed with a smaller group. The Peace Agreement was signed by the FARC-EP and the other group are dissidents.

The trouble is the ones that call themselves the Command Staff of the FARC and don’t recognize what was negotiated in Havana . . .

Anybody can have an opinion, but the Peace Agreement is legal and legitimate. It’s a reality that exists and it can be discussed, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a reality. It has an irreversible character. What will surely happen is that this group will talk about new problems that have to do with the areas where they are present, and they will certainly have some ambitions that may be the object of a dialog and to which the administration will have a response.

Was the High Commissioner Danilo Rueda wrong to sign a joint statement with those who identify as the Command Staff of the FARC?

No, what I’m thinking is that there needs to be precision on that point. The High Commissioner has clearly pointed out that the Peace Agreement in effect with the FARC-EP is the one signed in 2016, under which they re-incorporated into civilian life.

Regarding the Segunda Marquetalia, the “Iván Márquez” group, how do you answer those that think that the only path must be submission, as they already have had that opportunity?

It’s a respectable opinion, but I believe there is a dialog that at least could be had, and we will have to see in what terms it’s suggested. As I have said, what will define entrance is that the dialog cannot turn on re-negotiating the Havana Agreement.

With regard to trying to dialog in a parallel form with groups like the Clan del Golfo, how can you do it so that you don’t end up recognizing them as political groups?

That has never been suggested. The administration has not suggested it, nor has the High Commissioner said that, nor have I. Nobody has considered giving political treatment to those groups. I want to remind you that this difference is in the statute, Statute 318, and it even makes the distinction between a process of political negotiations and a submission to the justice system, so that there is no doubt. It isn’t healthy to introduce a narrative to the effect that this administration is going to have a policy similar to that of the Mexican government, which thinks that with the organizations tied to drug trafficking you just have to open your arms wide and give them a golden bridge so that they demobilize. Here we have said that there is a security policy with a very clear meaning: human security, that resorts to force when that is necessary. There is clarity in the difference between a political process of negotiation and one of submission. A President would be ill-advised to enter into a negotiation process without knowing the difference.

Speaking of that, the ELN expressed annoyance with negotiating in parallel form with other groups . . .

The way I understand it is that it was a request that there not be confusions and that it’s very important to make everything clear on this.

If the conversations with the ELN are very advanced and are seen to be in danger because of the approaches of the criminal gangs, should their submission be paused?

W aren’t going to act on scenarios that haven’t happened. We are going to seek peace as soon as possible and in the most effective manner in every area. That results in uninterrupted negotiations, different from what was done with the ELN by the previous administration.

What are you going to do with the criminal groups when they start asking for the same treatment that the ELN is going to receive?

Anybody can ask for a lot of things, but there is clarity here about what can and cannot be done. The process with that kind of group has to consider the situation in the countryside. The government has to be out there in the countryside and that is not a situation that can be negotiated. 

As the discussions are parallel, even the regional dialogs, how do you coordinate so that what’s determined in one area does not contradict other conclusions?

This is a process of coordination that will have to be done when it’s time, but the negotiations that are carried out in the countryside will have to have a territorial contour, meaning that they respond to the particularities of each area in Colombia. Not all of the regions have the same problems or characteristics, and my invitation is that they discuss this more than, or better yet, simultaneously, with the other discussion. I’m seeing a lot of energy for debating the nature of each group, but very little effort to tackle peace in the countryside, and that doesn’t imply a negotiation between an armed group and the government, but rather dialogs among the different actors in civil society, with the economic and political actors, to see how we can resolve such serious problems, like the ones President Gustavo Petro presented in the United Nations General Assembly.

Is there any possibility of a single coordination of all of the dialogs that could end up leading all into the same place?

No, every process has its own individual character, which does not imply that there are no points of articulation. It’s very probable that it will be necessary to seek ways of coordinating the agreement with the ELN with the Agreement signed in 2016. There will be matters that are common in both contexts. We have to find coordinations but that doesn’t mean that they can be the same agreement.

Speaking of the ELN, these talks have been characterized by greater dogmatism. Isn’t that an impediment to the current negotiations?

What I see is that the ELN went forward in a somewhat decided and serious manner under the Santos administration. And in spite of having their visions and defending them, they aren’t a group with which you can’t find consensus and agreement. I don’t think there is an insurmountable difficulty in finding this kind of solutions.

How appropriate is it for Venezuela to be the guarantor for the dialogs, when up to now we are just renewing the binational relationship and different bodies have called attention to the alleged human rights violations there?

There’s no need to mix the cases. Venezuela has been a country that has guaranteed peace processes in Colombia, even in the Uribe administration and later on in the administration of former President Santos. It has demonstrated that it’s a country that contributes to peace, in spite of the fact that it has an internal situation to resolve. The problem of being a guarantor for peace doesn’t have to be treated in an ideological manner. The issue is to resolve the problem of peace in Colombia and in that, Venezuela has been effective.

Aren’t you excluding voices with experience in peace issues, like Sergio Jaramillo or De la Calle?

In no way. I have invited former Commissioner Jaramillo to meet with us and talk about his perceptions, which we would value for the good of this process. We have a much more direct and day-to-day relationship with Humberto de la Calle, because he is a Senator and we can talk any time.

Incidentally, De la Calle says that opening the dialog tables with a ceasefire is a mistake . . .

There we have a difference of opinion. In this case, the ceasefire is not just a strategy for negotiation. The problem is that in certain territories the humanitarian situation makes it urgent that there be a ceasefire. We are seeing regions where there are simultaneous combats going on with multiple armed groups. How could I explain to these populations that it’s not the right time for a ceasefire because it’s not convenient for the negotiations? This administration has the protection of lives as a banner, and that’s why we want a multilateral ceasefire.

Six years ago, the Congress arrived at the end of the negotiations in Havana. What role will Congress play in the current negotiations?

Congress will play a fundamental role with its peace committees, and it will play a role with legislation. We already have two bills to discuss in the coming months, such as the law on public order.

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