The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

James O'Keefe Headshot

Colombian Peace Talks - The Differences Were Plain to See But the Common Desire for Peace Was Clear

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

A press conference announcing a peace process is no ordinary event. After two day's waiting we are escorted to a secret hotel location through roadblocks and under the watchful eye of security and sniffer dogs. Peace is a serious business. The delegations keep us waiting, triple checking. Here they come. No, it's the seating plan. We snap and scrutinise the layout. The peace process guarantors of Norway and Cuba in the middle, the Colombian Government team to the left of Cuba and the FARC team to the right of Norway. Bookended by Venezuela and Chile.

And then we are underway. With a four hour press conference one thing was certain, differences would be revealed: The FARC delegation citing revolutionary poetry and speaking as "a collective" in the shape of the eloquent Ivan Marques; the Colombian Government team firmly on the agreed agenda and process, answering through its delegation's equally impressive lead negotiator Humberto de La Calle.

However four hours is nothing for two sides that have been entangled in 48 years of destabilising and constricting conflict. What's more in the glare of the world's cameras and tough questioning the authenticity of the participants would be tested. In this respect the Norway phase of the process achieved something important. Whilst equally resolute, on show was a real determination across that long table to achieve a lasting peace.

Marques spoke powerfully about Colombia's need for social justice and to tackle poverty, whilst also revealing the isolation of a guerrilla army "it is not easy to come down from the hills...we have set aside our fears and come here to talk about peace in Colombia". Adding later that "One way or another we must get out of this dark night."

Humberto de la Calle stated that whilst neither side was there to convince the other they agreed on one thing, that the end of the armed conflict won't in itself bring peace. Only after deep social change, the transformation of society and full political participation, will peace be lasting, he said.

This commitment to social justice runs central to the narrative of both sides and is the key genetic component of the five step sequential process agreed by the two parties. Any final agreement will be put to the Colombian people.

The one point of friction today which the Colombian media picked up swiftly was the FARC delegation's straying off the five point agenda into economic reform and foreign companies. When challenged on this point the charismatic showman of the FARC team Jesus Santrich responded "I say, take it easy, we are just starting here" in a way which was both frank but also maybe conciliatory.

It took a question from a former member of the IRA now a peace campaigner to take the sting out of things offering a view to the government delegation that it was necessary for FARC to speak in such terms for their members. There will be higher hurdles ahead. The reference to transformational justice sounds like it could mean amnesty by another name. FARC will also be pushing for an earlier ceasefire ahead of a final agreement if progress is made not something the process is set up to accommodate and all with an election looming in 2014.

After the formal conference the conversations continued in the lobby and around the hotel. This was a group of people in anticipation of a new era for their country. I felt simultaneously honoured to bear witness but also a little like a gatecrasher at an intimate family celebration. I wish this family well because peace is an inalienable right too.