By Gloria Castrillón Pulido, COLOMBIA+20, EL ESPECTADOR, October 30, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

 President Gustavo Petro and former President Juan Manuel Santos were called together by the UN Verification Mission, accompanied by the Ambassador of Norway. They had dinner together along with some of the men closest to them last Thursday at a club in Bogotá.

They met on Thursday, October 27 at 7:00 in the evening at the Metropolitan Club in Bogotá. The dinner was convened by the Chief of the UN Verification Mission, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, and President Gustavo Petro attended, along with his Interior Minister, Alfonso Prada, the High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda, and the Historic Pact Senator, Iván Cepeda. For his part, former President Juan Manuel Santos attended with General Óscar Naranjo and former Minister Guillermo Rivera. The Ambassador of Norway, Nils Martin Gunneng, Dag Nagoda, his adviser, and three more officials of the Mission, including the Deputy Chief, Raúl Rosende, attended as witnesses and associates.

The meeting was very cordial, according to several of the attendees consulted by COLOMBIA+20. None of them wanted to be quoted, even though they agreed that, after the dessert, the point in common was the necessity to accelerate the implementation of the Final Agreement signed at the Colón Theater.

The meeting began with a mezcal and a brief introduction by the Mexican Carlos Ruiz where he explained that the interest of the Verification Mission was to have a dialog between the Santos administration, which made the Final Agreement possible, and the current administration, which has made a broad and generous proposal. He emphasized that this exchange is necessary and appropriate.

The people consulted stressed that there is no tension or any specific event that motivated the meeting, but that it’s evident that there are some important differences between the two political leaders. The first disagreement was produced after the interview with Santos by the Spanish newspaper, EL PAÍS on September 17. “The administration needs more organization, more management, in order to implement what is already in the Agreement, and not overshadow the Agreement with the FARC by what they call ‘Total Peace’. People want and need results soon,” he said.

A week before that interview, the highly-praised Peace Commissioner, Sergio Jaramillo, issued stronger criticisms of Petro’s “Total Peace”, coming from an official of the Santos administration. On CARACOL RADIO, he said he was concerned by the lack of clarity in the new administration’s approaches to the illegal armed groups. “What I hear is that they have not appointed anyone to take charge of the implementation of the Agreement. The office is dedicated to talking with criminal organizations.”

Next came the statements by the former chief of the negotiating team for the Final Agreement, Senator Humberto de la Calle, who opposes having the Petro administration negotiate with the dissidents led by Iván Márquez. Doing that would “send a bad message to the country, because they have already had their opportunity. The irresponsibles win; they would reward the irresponsibles and depreciate those in the Commons Party that are complying, the former combatants that are standing firm for peace, and they are the majority,” he stressed.

He continues his criticism until the present day. Last week, during the proceedings on the extension of time for the Public Order Statute, or Statute 418, the Senator said, “I propose an explicit article that says that the deserters cannot enter into conversations with the administration unless they submit to judgment under the law.” His proposal was defeated.

It’s true that these statements coming from the principal framers of the Final Agreement were considered “friendly fire” and even hard to understand, as it’s supposed that everybody agrees on sealing the peace for Colombia.

In that respect, the statement that President Petro made after being introduced by Ruiz Massieu, was directed toward reaffirming that the implementation of the Final Agreement is the basis of his administration, a concept that was reiterated by Danilo Rueda. Rueda also made a statement explaining the security situation in the countryside, and provided a review of the actions taken by the administration to implement the Final Agreement.

Rueda also retraced the ways that contacts with different armed groups have gone forward. And he explained that the administration’s policy has two different tracks: in one of them they are moving toward political negotiations with the ELN, and on the other track, toward the reception or submission by other criminal groups. He insisted that carrying out what was agreed upon in Havana was the base for negotiation with other groups.

Then, President Santos spoke, and stated that he feels identified with that purpose. However, as part of his contribution, he wished to make a couple of points. The first is the weakness of Colombia’s institutional framework for peace. He explained that during the Iván Duque administration, Duque had dismantled and disregarded that infrastructure, and that it is a priority that this be put back together and strengthened.

His associates emphasized some institutions that were left in the background or frozen out during the previous administration and need to be reactivated. General Naranjo, for example, expressed his concern about the precarious security situation in the countryside, and asked for more alignment between peace efforts and security efforts. He was referring to the role played by the Police Unit for the Building of Peace (UNIPEP in Spanish) in generating confidence after the signing of the Agreement, and that it would be worthwhile to “revive it”. He also spoke of the Special Investigation Unit in the Attorney General’s Office and of the Elite Group in the Police, also created by the Agreement. The High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda, answered that those were priorities for the administration and that steps are already being taken to reactivate these three agencies.

Guillermo Rivera, for his part, insisted on the implementation of point 2 of the Agreement and he noted the decree that he issued from his office to guarantee the safety of social protest. He also insisted on the necessity of guaranteeing the participation of the whole society in political reform.

Everybody agreed on one point: the urgency of putting together the international conference on the war on drugs, provided in point 4 of the Final Agreement. It calls for the event to be held in the framework of the United Nations Organization to make an objective evaluation from the perspectives of the countries that produce and that consume drugs, keeping in mind the experiences and the lessons learned in Colombia. Santos will undoubtedly be a protagonist at that event.

Finally, President Petro talked of the problems he had found in government agencies, and of his efforts to carry out the terms of the Agreement that refer to land. He stated that peace is a matter for the whole government, and he spoke of the Peace Cabinet.

At the end of the meeting, which lasted until 10:00 p.m., there was a sensation that all agreed on the necessity to speed up the implementation of the Peace Agreement. Santos and his advisers identified the areas of priority. Petro and his officials explained what they were doing to push forward the accomplishment of what had been agreed. Even though it was not touched on directly, everybody knows that there are still some doubts among the Santistas about negotiating with those who betrayed the Agreement. But as one of the attendees said, “the administration is still constructing its policies, it’s designing its instruments, we have to give them time to get organized. We don’t want the same thing to happen to Petro that happened to the Santos administration, that before  the Agreement had even been signed, everything was dismissed out of hand. Every administration knows how to kill its fleas.”

No date has been set for the next meeting, but everyone is sure that they will be meeting again.

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