The Colombian government and the FARC rebel group, the country’s largest, have reached an agreement on the issue of illicit drug cultivation, both negotiation teams confirmed Friday.
The deal, whose exact terms will not be revealed until the eventual signing of a broader peace agreement, will be announced Friday evening at 7PM EST, according to the FARC and to Reuters, which reportedly spoke with a member of the government’s High Peace Commission.
At 18:00 (local time) press conference #FARC and government to announce agreement on illicit use of drugs
— FARC_EPeace (@FARC_EPeace) May 16, 2014
Illicit drug cultivation and trafficking is the third in a six-point negotiation agenda for ongoing peace talks between the government and FARC, currently being held in Havana, Cuba. Initiated in November 2012, the talks have already produced agreements on the issues of land reform and political participation rights — for a demobilized FARC, in particular — though the details of these agreements are being kept confidential until such time as an overarching peace accord is reached.
The announcement comes five days after the start of the 25th round of negotiations and five months after the topic of drug cultivation was originally broached, following an agreement on political participation signed last November. Significant progress had been reported by both sides at the close of the previous round of discussions.
Roughly one-year-and-a-half after the start of formal negotiations, the Havana talks have now reached their halfway mark. Still to be discussed are some of the more complicated topics on the negotiation agenda, including victims of the armed conflict and an eventual demobilization and reintegration process for FARC guerrillas.
The specific terms of the agreement will remain the subject of speculation for some time, but the FARC has repeatedly advocated for an end to aggressive policies criminalizing drug production, such as Colombia’s widely denounced and United States-backed aerial fumigation operations, which have been shown to poison nearby water supplies and human populations and indiscriminately destroy licit crops along with targeted coca, poppy, and marijuana fields.
Instead, the FARC has proposed a program to incentivize drug farmers, many of whom are forced into illicit production through coercion or economic necessity, to convert to other crops, something the government has also expressed an interest in pursuing. This proposal would work in conjunction with agreed upon but as-of-yet undefined agrarian reform efforts to end the economic dependence of rural populations on the drug trade. Additionally, the FARC has called for the decriminalization of drug consumption, and for users to be dealt with from a public health perspective.
The FARC plays a mostly peripheral role in Colombia’s drug trade, leveling “taxes” cultivation and production operations. The guerrilla group has been known to traffic in narcotics, however, at times trading drugs for weapons with more traditional narco elements in the country.
News of the agreement could carry implications on upcoming presidential elections, which take place on May 25. Incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos has championed the talks throughout his campaign, whereas his primary opponent, the right-wing Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, has been a staunch opponent since the beginning of the peace process.
Earlier Friday, the FARC joined the ELN, Colombia’s second largest rebel group, in announcing a unilateral ceasefire to be put in effect throughout the election period, starting on May 20. The rebels have called on the national government to reciprocate, though so far, no such measure has been announced.
The negotiations between the FARC and Colombian government seek to bring an end to the 50-year armed conflict between the two parties. Despite repeated calls for a similar process to be initiated with the ELN — made by both the rebels themselves and by various independent human rights and conflict observer groups — no formal talks have taken place.