The Obama administration on Wednesday sent its special envoy to Colombia’s peace process back to Havana, where representatives from the Colombian government and the FARC rebels met to determine whether it was possible to salvage the agreement rejected last weekend by that country’s voters.
Both the government and the FARC — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — said they would continue to abide by the cease-fire currently in effect and to implement parts of the peace deal, including removing land mines, implementing crop substitution programs for narcotics cultivation, recovering the remains of Colombians who have disappeared over the years, and releasing child soldiers.
But the real negotiations over whether the agreement can survive in some form were taking place in Bogota, where President Juan Manuel Santos, who has staked his political career on the deal, met for much of the day with his archrival and the leader of the rejectionists, former president Álvaro Uribe, who said he could not accept what he called “impunity” for guerrilla leaders.
While a majority of those who voted rejected the negotiated terms for peace, “nobody in the plebiscite voted for resuming the war,” a senior State Department official said. “Obviously it’s up to Colombians to come to some new consensus that will allow the peace process to become finalized. The United States stands ready to help that effort.”
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under State Department rules, said there have been “no discussions at this point” within the administration on President Obama’s $450 million aid request for Colombia, which was made on the assumption that the deal would be approved in last Sunday’s referendum.
“It’s not worth speculating on,” the official said. “The hope is that it will go forward,” while the United States continues to support those parts of the agreement that have already been implemented.
So far, the official said, the FARC has “made some constructive statements about maintaining the cease-fire and continuing to use words, not weapons. . . . They made it clear that they want the peace process to continue and want to negotiate a settlement to the war.”
In a telephone call to Santos on Tuesday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry “reinforced continued U.S. partnership with Colombia,” the State Department said in a statement. Kerry, it said, “voiced his support for President Santos’ call for unity of effort in the inclusive dialogue” with Uribe and others “as the next step. . . . He acknowledged that difficult decisions lie ahead for Colombia and welcomed statements” by Uribe and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, reaffirming their openness to a dialogue.
The statement said that Bernie Aronson, the U.S. envoy to the peace talks, held in Havana under the auspices of the Cuban and Norwegian governments, would return there at “the request of the peace negotiators.”
Defying most polls and predictions of overwhelming victory in the referendum — which Santos had promised would be binding — the deal was narrowly defeated just days after Kerry and other world leaders attended a formal signing in the Colombian city of Cartagena.
The agreement lost by only 51,000 votes amid a turnout of only 37 percent.
Uribe, backed by another former president, Andrés Pastrana, led the “no” campaign, which was based on objections to what they said was impunity for FARC leaders in the civil war that has lasted more than a half-century and taken hundreds of thousands of lives.
The accord, as written, provides for “transitional justice” that would allow FARC leaders to avoid prison if they fully confess their crimes and make reparations to victims of decades of bombings, kidnappings, murders and drug trafficking. Opponents also objected to provisions that would have granted the FARC 10 seats in Colombia’s Congress and made expensive new investments in rural development in areas where the guerrillas have been ensconced.
Immediately after the referendum, Uribe said he was willing to discuss revisions to the deal, and his coalition of opponents met early Wednesday to agree on a new negotiating position with Santos. “We’re going to reiterate to the government our concerns, so that, hopefully, there can be corrections. We have a road map,” he said, according to an online report by Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper.
After an hours-long meeting with Santos, Uribe emerged to tell reporters that he had “reiterated the need for the FARC to end all criminal activities” and his concerns about “impunity” for those responsible for crimes against humanity, kidnappings and the recruitment of children.