As Britons were hitting the exits from the European Union, the world had a moment to appreciate the vote of confidence in peace cast by Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, as he closed the “End of Conflict and Cessation of Hostilities” ceremonies at the Laguito Convention Center in Havana on Thursday.
“This is a peace of everyone, without exception,” he said. “This is the peace we have been dreaming about.” He then shook hands with “Timonchenko,” the FARC’s guerrilla commander Timoleón Jiménez, who said so powerfully, “May this be the last day of war.”
While the Washington Post emphasized the agreement announced in Havana is not a final accord, it “essentially amounts to an end to the fighting. It means the two sides have worked through some of the most sensitive aspects of their negotiations, particularly the nuts and bolts of getting 7,000 heavily armed FARC fighters to come down from the mountains, lay down their guns and begin a transition to civilian life under the protection of Colombia’s security forces, their lifelong enemies.”
The deal effectively brings to an end a horribly violent 52-year old conflict that killed as many as 220,000 people, Euro News said. The final agreement is expected to be signed July 20th.
This is, of course, an astounding, long-sought achievement by the FARC and Colombia’s government, with the Colombian people the principal beneficiaries. But, it is also an occasion to consider the role that Cuba played in the talks, which began in Havana in November of 2012, and what this process says about the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States currently underway.
When the ceremony took place, Cuba, along with Norway, was recognized for the role it played as co-guarantor. Thursday, for example, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated both countries for devoting “considerable diplomatic skills” to the peace process, as did U.S.
Secretary of State John Kerry. At a background briefing, a senior official at the State Department reiterated that “as the host and facilitator of these talks, we believe that Cuba played an important role.”
What was that role? Colombia’s former High Commissioner for Peace, Daniel García-Peña, said yesterday on Democracy Now, “The Cubans have, from the very beginning, offered a very significant support for the process.
“The FARC, as many guerrillas in Colombia and throughout Latin America, see the Cuban revolution and the Cuban government…with great respect. And the pressure that the Cuban government has put on the FARC and the guerrillas has been quite significant, but also the way that they have been very discreet in allowing the Colombians, both the government and the guerrillas, to really take the lead and to drive this process.”
We’d point out that when Cuba’s government was pressuring the FARC to make peace, the U.S. government penalized it with a heavier load of U.S. sanctions due to its State Department designation as a state sponsor of terror; in part, for hosting FARC members in Cuba while the negotiations were taking place. After the December 17th, 2014 diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba, President Obama moved to drop Cuba from the list.
García-Peña also added, “The fact that Cuba is entering into a new moment of its relations with the United States…is one of the aspects that weighed heavily upon the Colombian guerrillas to understand that to continue the armed struggle simply had no future whatsoever.” What happened in U.S.-Cuba bilateral relations helped nudge the parties closer to peace.
But, Eric Farnsworth, Vice President of the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in Washington, speaking to the Christian Science Monitor, said the U.S. role was also distinctive because we didn’t try to control the process, and we spoke with a lowered voice: “And it has struck a lot of people as a new day in Latin America when the U.S, says, ‘It’s up to you guys to do this deal, but we will do what we can to support it.'”
This suggests that a prediction made by Eric Hershberg and Bill LeoGrande in their new reader, “A New Chapter in U.S.-Cuba Relations,” is coming to pass more quickly than most. In it, they write, “A successful conclusion of peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which have been facilitated by Havana, may add to awareness in Washington of the constructive role that Cuba can play in realizing common objectives.” At a time when hardliners in Congress are making mischief with proposals to stop U.S.-Cuba cooperation in security affairs, this points to the need for more collaboration, not less.
Finally it is worth noting how Cuba’s President Raúl Castro framed the achievement in regional and global terms. He said, as María Peña reported, “Peace will be a victory for Colombia, as well as for all America… In a world disrupted by war and violence, the achievement of peace in Colombia represents a hope for millions of people on the planet whose main preoccupation is survival.”
Britain may have exited, but peace is in the house, at least in Colombia, for everyone, without exception.
This week, in Cuba news…