By Cindy A. Morales Castillo, COLOMBIA + 20, EL ESPECTADOR, November 18, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
This human rights defender has been Director of the Unit for Implementation of the Havana Agreement for a year. In spite of the rumors of a possible departure, and of the elimination of her position in order to return to the Peace Commission, she defends the job she did. In addition, she gives an analysis of the execution of the Agreement with the now-defunct FARC guerrillas, in effect now for nearly seven years.
Next Friday, November 24, it will be seven years since the signing of the final Peace Agreement with the FARC guerrillas. In spite of the fact that the Gustavo Petro administration has reiterated its support for the Agreement, critics are saying that the “total peace” policy is drowning out its accomplishment.
On the verge of this anniversary, Gloria Cuartas, who heads the Unit for Implementation of the Havana Agreement, makes an assessment of what has been carried out. In addition, she talks for the first time about the possibility that the President might eliminate this job and send her back to the office of the High Commissioner for Peace, which has been centralizing the tasks involved in implementing the Agreement.
How did you find the implementation of the Peace Agreement when you arrived at the agency?
I think that first I have to point out that the records of the prior Stabilization Council didn’t permit monitoring and checking on where public funds were being invested. That major absence that we found had to do with citizen participation in the process. We also found that there was no specialized characterization that would show us, not just about the re-incorporated ex-combatants in general, but also how many indigenous people, how many Afro-Colombian people, how many people with disabilities, what the needs were in the different territories, etc. We are still doing the job of recovering all the records related to the Peace Agreement.
This coming November 24, it will be seven years since the signing of the Peace Agreement. What have been the most significant accomplishments in these 15 months of the Petro administration?
I would say that the most important was being able in this Petro administration to see the completeness of the Agreement and to see the concurrence of the national plans for rural reform with the urgency of buying land. That first point, which might seem to be a simple one, was missing in the previous administration.
We made progress in formalizing land titles. At least 1,637,000 hectares of land are now formalized—653,000 titled properties have been turned over. They are working to update the multipurpose cadaster. With regard to drugs, funds have been allocated to complete the PNIS for the nearly 100,000 families that have signed up. We are continuing to work on political participation. There we still have some backlog.
The day you presented the biggest achievement so far by the Implementation Unit, which is the policy of dismantling criminal organizations, you offered your resignation. But you’re still here. Did the President not accept your resignation?
I offered my resignation under the pressure of comparisons. It’s that it was the dignity of the Peace Agreement, my dignity. I felt as if I had disappeared. It’s not possible that the politicians, that the signers of the Agreement, that the UN Verification Mission, are refusing to recognize the achievements accumulated for the policy of “total peace” by the Unit for Implementation of the Agreement.
I’m answering you with all my energy: they can’t make a woman in a public position disappear. I said, “Mr. President, I’m going. I’m going because I’m carrying a history on my shoulders. I have a history here, and if people don’t want to see it, if they don’t like the ethos, if they don’t like the consultation, so, Mr. President, I made my decision.
What happened then? Five or six days later High Commissioner Danilo Rueda came and told me, “Gloria, you’ve got to wait. I understand the waiting, because with all of my last 35 years working for peace in this country, I have learned to live in the present.” What bothered me the most about all that? The politics of making me invisible—you might say, they erased me. The President didn’t tell me he accepted my resignation. They just said through Danilo, “Let’s wait a little bit.” So I’m applying the geography of waiting.
So you went to the High Commission for the Stabilization of the Implementation Unit. Do you think that was a favorable change?
Yes, they put me in charge of the Implementation Unit, and I started out with the question of whether that kind of an agency effectively has the capacity, the elements, the vision, but most of all, the political role, to be able to understand the relationships with the Ministers, to be able to have the political relationships to be able to carry out the Agreement. Changes have been made, with the support of the High Commissioner, like the arrangements for spending the funds that support the implementation.
Right now, some are saying that change took away the capacity of that office, and thus lowered the profile of the position. Do you see it that way?
That’s the other element that has been complicated. I know that people are saying that it’s not a high profile, and that we’ve gone to having a Unity Commission that might drown in the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace. I have been trying continuously to react to those doubts. I can tell you that the High Commissioner for Peace and I, in the public policy of “total peace” are maintaining constant communication and strategic direction, and he takes part in all of the activities we are carrying out.
But let’s compare what we did, how we operated, and where the funds were invested when we were part of the Commission, with the Unit that doesn’t have the political profile that people say is necessary, but I can assure you that it has a complete vision of the concept of the countryside that is articulated in the policy of “total peace” and with the changes made by the Petro administration.
I’ll give you an example, just the change in the methodology of OCAD-Paz (the funds from the General System of Royalties, intended to be used to make viable, to prioritize, and to approve investment projects that contribute to the implementation of the Peace Agreement) will help to show the difference. Everybody is asking, “How can we get back to the Commission we had before?” But nobody is asking where did the Commission invest the 77.5 billón pesos (roughly USD $19,031,783,500 at current exchange rates) of peace funds? Why isn’t anybody asking that?
But the plan to go back to that commission is still going on. In fact, we know there is a Decree ready to issue and that the only thing that’s stopping it is that the President still hasn’t decided on the person to appoint . . .
Yes, that’s for sure, I can tell you. About four months ago, we in the Unit prepared the Decree, which has the status of a regulation. That means that the Committee for Monitoring, Promoting, and Verifying Implementation (CSIVI) reads it, makes suggestions, and decides which parts will be accepted and which parts not. But there is a request from the Commons Party and from the UN Verification Commission that that be separated out. The only thing I would say is that you have to read it in the context of today. It will be the President’s decision.
In March, in Mesetas, President Petro himself said that we have to back to dividing up the tasks of the Office of the High Commissioner for “total peace” and “put a person” in charge of implementation. Did that statement surprise you?
I was surprised at the situation in Meta, and I remember that I raised my hand and called out to the President, “Mr. President, I’m the one who’s in charge here. I’m in charge, Mr. President!” But that voice was toned down in the reporting. But what has happened since then? An awareness that in the framework of “total peace” there has to be a synthesis with implementation. Let’s say, the one can’t be separated from the other. What the President wants is peace in the countryside; that is what he has ordered us to work on, and I think we have made progress on that effort with the High Commissioner for Peace and with the Implementation Unit.
Then you plan to stay in your position?
I’m in the geography of waiting, in the geography of meanwhile. I’m going to stay on and await the arrival of the “great power” and until the arrival of the wished-for politician with ten bodyguards and four armored cars, who has a big family with political power behind it . . . I’m going to keep on and wait for the arrival of what they call a “high level” person or a person with a lot of influence to negotiate for and move benefits.
I’m telling you that for a woman like me it’s very difficult when the first question isn’t “Tell me how the Unit has made progress.” Or “What have you done to work more directly together?” It’s as if the ethos, the responsibility, the efficiency of the previous Commission had been the example, and as if it had developed too much investment for this country. No. Rather, for me, the Peace Commission is not the yardstick to measure legality. For Gloria Cuartas and for this Unit, you have to measure us on the months of work where we have tried to position the articulation and the completeness of the Peace Agreement.
What kind of work relationship do you have with the High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda, who is the one in charge of that Unit?
The relationship has been flowing. We have been in conversations, but I think the tension is on other sides . . . in political terms.
With whom is that tension?
The Commons Party has not accepted the Unit for the Implementation of the Peace Agreement, and they feel that it didn’t give them the guarantees for the development of the process.
Do you feel that the Commons Party wants somebody more political to head the entity that carries the implementation forward?
I don’t know. I think you would have to ask them what they want. What I know is that in the war and in the peace, I have the ethos and the knowledge to be in this position.
So, then, why do you think there is criticism of the Unit?
I wish you would ask the people that are criticizing the Implementation Unit, and especially the Commons Party if they questioned where we were investing these funds; the place, who was impacted, what gaps were overcome, how PDET reached 170 municipalities. There is the biggest difference between the Implementation Unit and the Peace Commission. It’s that before, the cartels in this country, the politicians, and those that didn’t care whether the Peace Agreement was implemented, had the most to say in the OCAD, so they could make off with 8.5 million pesos (roughly USD $2,000,000 at current exchange rates).
So, then, where was the Peace Commission? It was the political place where the peace funds were being manipulated at their pleasure. And what is the Unit? It’s a vision of peace that lets us understand that diversity and territorial tensions have to have some changes.
Is “total peace” taking political oxygen away from the implementation of the 2016 Peace Agreement?
That question seems very important to me, because there needs to be a lot of education about that. I think that’s a false dilemma. The Peace Agreement with the now-defunct FARC opened in Colombia an integrated and strategic vision of the complexity of the countryside, and it created a structure and a powerful architecture. My task has been to articulate all of those initiatives and push forward everything they needed. Peace in the countryside is a mixture of both things.
We are searching for the thoroughgoing investigations that the Army and Police have done and can put together in the activities that they’re doing, even starting new dialogs with some of the illegal economies. There has to be a total attack on all of the fronts. For it to make sense that there is security for human beings in this government, three policies are joined together: the anti-drug policy, the policy for living together in security, and the policy of no stigmatization harmonized by the Interior Ministry. And add to those the policy of dismantling the armed groups as they join in “total peace”.
President Petro sent the UN a letter where he reiterated the administration’s commitment to the Peace Agreement, but he made a fierce criticism of the JEP. What does he want the Special Jurisdiction to change?
I’ll answer you from my position. I think that not just we, but also the signers of the Peace Agreement, have some doubts about how the penalties will be imposed on those who are appearing before the Special Court. In our case, we want to know if there is a characterization of the signers who will be penalized. We have requested that, but we have not received it. We also have some concerns about the funds to be invested in the TOAR (tasks, public works, and activities with restorative/reparational content that some of those who appear before the JEP will have to perform). We think that the government ought to be taking care of this. What we need is some clarity about what’s to come.
The President also said in May that there wasn’t enough money either for the Peace Agreement or for reparations to the victims. What’s happened with that?
If you asked yourself what it is that unites “total peace” with the implementation of the Peace Agreement, your answer would be the victims. It’s true that the processes put together are very expensive; the President said 300 billón pesos (roughly USD $73,500,000,000 at current exchange rates), but we now have an instruction. We are organizing an investment in three special points: land, housing, and production. We have 50.4 billón (roughly USD $12,351,000,000 at current exchange rates) to spend on peace in this administration, all four years. I don’t think we have the kind of big money that’s being called for, but we do have funds.