By Santiago Torrado, EL PAÍS, Bogotá, October 5, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The head of the Unit for Implementation of the Peace Agreement defends the opportunity to represent the administration’s flagship policy.
“When we arrived, peace had been banished from the Palace,” laments Gloria Cuartas (Sabaneta, Antioquia, 63 years), the head of the Unit for Implementation of the Peace Agreement in the Gustavo Petro administration. As soon as she moved into her office on the second floor of the Department of Administration of the President’s Office, known as DAPRE, a few blocks from the Presidential Palace, the former Mayor of Apartadó wanted to rescue the picture of the artist Dora Ramírez, which now decorates her office. She lovingly calls it “The Peace Abandoned”; she found it in the installations of the President’s Office. At first, she wanted to put the picture in the office of the High Commissioner for Peace, which her Unit is part of, but the walls there are not firm. “Peace requires a strong wall,” she jokes as she tells the story.
Cuartas is vehement in defending the progress of the Unit, which she has headed for a little more than eight months. Under the umbrella of Commissioner Danilo Rueda, her unit was formed to replace the defunct Presidential Council for Stabilization and Consolidation, which operated during the Iván Duque administration.
The conversation has barely begun when Cuartas ventilates her annoyance with the message published by ex-President Álvaro Uribe on his social networks on the occasion of the 7th anniversary of the victory of “No” in the plebiscite for peace. She pulls out a copy to read through his message slowly, as the former President has blocked her. Uribe describes the signing of the Agreement with the now-defunct FARC guerrillas as a “coup d’etat”. She accuses him of permanent “denialism” in order to delegitimize the work of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the JEP, the transitional justice court that arose out of the Agreement.
“For me, as a worker for peace, as one responsible for implementing the Agreement, this is the definitive tweet to pass a note to the JEP, to the Constitutional Court, to the Inter-American Court, and to the International Criminal Court, letting them know about the historic systematic nature of the way the ex-President has acted,” she points out. “What he’s been doing since 1994 until today is setting up an internal enemy,” she adds. With close to 4,000 signers of the Peace Agreement having been murdered, he is shaping, she says, a systematic plan like the one that killed off the members of the leftist Patriotic Union Party. “This conversation started with the warning of how dangerous the arguments of the ex-President are,” she maintains. “He could be in opposition to ‘total peace’ or to the Peace Agreement, but he shouldn’t send messages that legitimize murder, or see the ‘other’ as an enemy and a murderer.”
Question: What does it mean to do the implementation within “total peace”?
Answer: Statute 2272 (the so-called “total peace” law, passed in 2022) requires us to open a horizon for all of the inconclusive processes that this country has experienced. In the social explosion, the young people were demonstrating in the streets for the rights to jobs, education, health care . . . Petro comes in with a mandate for “total peace”. I think that all of the analysts have avoided talking about what implementation means in that framework. The President sees the possibility of putting together all of the components of peace in the office of the Peace Commissioner—legal, economic, political, geographic—and placing the mandate in a great universe, because neither “total peace” nor implementation can walk alone. We have defined the policy, the alignment, the orientation, all the things that weren’t done in the previous administration.
Question: How is the idea of reviving the Presidential Council for Implementation going?
Answer: At a land purchase ceremony in Mesetas, the President spoke of the need to separate the processes. Since May we have been in the process in which the Unit was constructing the decree that created it. It’s in the hands of the President. I hope we can get a much more public conversation going, so that people understand the role of this Unit and the contribution it has made to implementation.
Question: Several media sources have reported that you have placed your resignation at the disposition of the President. How did that get resolved?
Answer: That is a very difficult question. There has been unwarranted political pressure against me. I believe I am a woman with talent, experience, and technical knowledge; after Apartadó I took training to be able to put my life as a militant at the service of seeking peace, but also as an academic and political woman. That’s why I am so troubled that they want to raise doubts about my name. Then I thought that the problem was not my name, it was that they were looking for a structure for the Agreement. On September 7, I gave the President my resignation verbally. I expressed my interest in supporting and fortifying the Agreement. Nobody wants to take the risk of finding out what the Unit is. We are touching on the land, and the SAE, the Society for Special Assets is furnishing land to the communities for the first time. I think I’m a woman with the philosophy and the technical capacity to confront this, but I can’t face the smear campaigns.
Question: Did you start feeling devalued?
Answer: Yes, of course. Giving myself some distance, we asked ourselves if the real factors of power in this country have understood the opportunity for “total peace”.
Question: How did you settle it?
Answer: Danilo Rueda sent me a letter, which he made public, in which he supported the work of the Unit. We decided, together, to wait until the President would make the pertinent decisions.
Question: Rodrigo Londoño himself, the head of the Commons Party, has denounced the “indifference” of the High Commissioner toward the Agreement, calling it a “historic irresponsibility”. Has “total peace” relegated the implementation of the Peace Agreement to second place?
Answer: The peace was banished from the President’s Office, from public service, and from daily life. Mine has been a political task of positioning in the ministries and in DAPRE. I respect the Commons Party, I respect Rodrigo Londoño, and I respect the National Reincorporation Council, where we have spoken. The voices of the signers of the Peace Agreement must have total guarantees of participation. If the administration wants to make progress in building peace, we have to work in a holistic manner. I think the Commissioner has strengthened the paths to reconciliation.
Question: Besides implementation, there are now formal discussion tables for dialogs, with the ELN and with the Dissidents of Iván Mordisco, and multiple approaches. Aren’t there too many fronts for the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace?
Answer: And more might be opening up. He has responsible people. Camilo González Posso (the government’s chief negotiator with the self-named Dissidents of the Central Command Staff) is going to have responsibilities; the Commissioner has other delegates. What this Unit does is accompaniment in the countryside where there are processes going on to create ecosystems of peace. But for the political negotiations, the High Commissioner has assigned regional delegates. It’s not just Danilo, there is a large group of people.
Question: Does the High Commissioner find it hard to delegate?
Answer: That question is difficult for me, because he has turned everything over to me. His telephone is working 24 hours a day, and he always has good counsel. What I think is that this country is afraid of total peace. President Petro’s administration has an institutionality that is opening difficult pathways in order to lay bare the untouched realities. Or maybe it’s that Colombia is afraid of “total peace” because it sees what it has created in these last 40 years: orphanhood, exodus, young people with their projects frustrated, crime, and on the other hand, a community that has endured, that is trying to make progress.
Question: The last monitoring report by the Congress on implementation points out the deterioration of security; the government has been unable to halt the killing of signers of the Agreement. Is that a principal obstacle for making progress at a better rate?
Answer: That’s why we are doing “total peace”. The lives of the signers of the Agreement and of the social leaders are a moral imperative. What is the principal defeat of the Agreement? That we have not been able, in seven years of the Agreement, to get the support of people with influence in the society, like ex-President Uribe, the powerful economic groups, or the cattle ranchers. President Petro was right when he spoke of truth, land, and education in the framework of a national agreement. The first thing I propose, respectfully, is respect in this country for the lives of the signers of the Agreement.
Question: Shouldn’t halting the recruiting and the murder of the signers be a prerequisite for entering into negotiations with the Dissidents, as the leaders of the Commons Party have demanded?
Answer: Yes. We have also demanded it. I don’t exonerate the Dissidents who have committed murders, but I want to end, under my strict responsibility, that the hypothesis of hate crimes be taken up, like those Uribe installed, and an economic elite that opposes all the signers of the Agreement. I hope the JEP, the Constitutional Court, and the Inter-American Commission evaluate the hate crimes instigated by Democratic Security against those who had been in the guerrillas, against the campesino communities, and against social leaders. I want that response to be placed in those terms.