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Peace agreement with FARC ‘only the start’: Expert

posted by Esteban Refshauge

Even if FARC guerrillas and President Juan Manuel Santos’ government reach a peace agreement in the upcoming negotiations, it will only be the start of a much longer peace process, said a Latin American affairs expert Monday.

“A peace agreement is only the beginning of a much broader peace process,” Josefina Echavarria told Colombia Reports.

Echavarria, a Latin American affairs expert, has written extensively on Colombia’s civil war and regional conflict analysis.

The expert joined the chorus of prominent international organizations and figures that have praised the ongoing dialogue between the FARC and Colombia’s government. She described the five-point agenda as a “document that allows people to get together. It is a good start.”

When asked what has changed since the last formal negotiations that ended in failure in 2002, Echavarria claimed there has been a recent and significant “shift in awareness” in Colombia. She attributed this change to the demobilization of the paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which took place during the presidency of Alvaro Uribe. Nearly 30,000 persons went through demobilization ceremonies between 2003 and 2006, after which the Uribe administration repeatedly asserted that paramilitaries no longer existed.

Yet six years after this alleged success, the crimes of Colombia’s neo-paramilitary groups, as well as the nation’s other long-term problems, are obvious for all to see. “What the demobilization has allowed us to understand is that peace is about much more than mere disarmament,” she said.

Echavarria was critical of the, “counterproductive belief that a stronger military will strengthen the government’s bargaining power.” Indeed, she pointed out that the Pastrana peace talks coincided with an unprecedented arms build-up in Colombia, primarily sponsored by the U.S. and eventually formalized under Plan Colombia, Pastrana’s six-year plan to end the armed conflict in the country.

Echavarria subscribes to the mainstream thinking that Colombia’s civil war is “un-winnable” for both the rebels and the government. One of Uribe’s most common boasts in his post-presidential commentary is that he weakened the military capacity of FARC. Yet even if this true, in 2012 Colombia has suffered a series of guerilla attacks on its military and energy infrastructure.

According to Echavarria, a lasting peace in Colombia can best be achieved via a gradual process of reconciliation that focuses on local and regional communities. She also claimed Colombia’s policy-makers should learn from post-traumatic recovery in other parts of the world, such as Rwanda and Nicaragua. That is, in the absence of a perfect model of peace for Colombia to emulate, it is only necessary to adopt certain aspects of reconciliation from a number of different cases.

The next phase of the peace talks will begin October 8 in Oslo. Five main representatives for each party will travel to the Norwegian capital and will have an equal number of alternative representatives, arriving to a maximum of thirty possible consultants. Negotiations will then continue in Cuba’s capital Havana.

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