Conflict and Peace in Colombia

Consequences and Perspectives for the Future

Oct 09, 2003

It was just over one year ago that Colombian President Álvaro Uribe took office. In an effort to evaluate Uribe’s year in office, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin American Program, the Kellogg Institute of the University of Notre Dame, and Fundación Ideas para la Paz in Bogotá, recently held a conference titled “Conflict and Peace in Colombia.” The conference was designed to evaluate the political, military, economic, and social policies of the Uribe government and the possibility of a peaceful settlement of Colombia’s internal conflict.

In a keynote address, Dr. Luis Carlos Restrepo Ramírez, Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace, reiterated the government’s commitment to “democratic security,” based on the strengthening of democratic authority and the establishment of the rule of law throughout the national territory. He underscored President Uribe’s willingness to seek peace with all armed actors, within the framework of the law, the Constitution, and international treaties to which Colombia was party.

Restrepo referred to the government’s request to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to lend his good offices to a peace process with the FARC, based on a cease-fire and the group’s eventual demobilization and disarmament. Although he said that the FARC showed little interest in dialogue, Restrepo left open the possibility of a humanitarian accord, calling for the participation of the United Nations, the liberation of all kidnap victims, and an assurance that any guerrillas that might be freed from prison would desist from re-taking up arms and would remain under the tutelage of a third country.

Restrepo said that the government also remained committed to a process of dialogue with the ELN, which unilaterally suspended talks in December 2002. He said that the government was prepared to go forward with the National Convention long sought by the ELN, if there were a prior cease-fire.

Restrepo described talks with paramilitary or “self-defense” groups, three of which declared a unilateral cease-fire in December 2002. According to Restrepo, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the government signed the Accord of Santa Fe de Ralito in July 2003, which envisioned the group’s demobilization by December 2005 in exchange for government actions to facilitate the re-incorporation of AUC members into civilian life. Restrepo discussed at length various legislative proposals aimed at “the consolidation of the peace process,” including controversial draft legislation (“Ley de Alternatividad Penal”) empowering the president under certain circumstances to request the suspension of judicial sanctions against members of illegal armed groups that had committed serious human rights abuses. Insisting that the principles of truth, justice, and reparation guide the peace process, Restrepo defended the proposal by saying that decisions would be made by the president on a case-by-case basis: only individuals who had been investigated and judged, had committed to provide reparations to the victims, and who had pledged to lay down weapons and serve an alternative sentence would be eligible for an alternative to prison.

Conference participants included Lee H. Hamilton, president and director, Woodrow Wilson Center; Cynthia Arnson, deputy director, Latin American Program, Woodrow Wilson Center; Dr. Luis Carlos Restrepo, High Commissioner for Peace, Presidency of the Republic of Colombia; Rodrigo Pardo, deputy director of El Tiempo; Alfredo Rangel, director, Fundación Seguridad y Democracia; Eduardo Lora, principal adviser, research department, Inter-American Development Bank; Michael Shifter, vice-president for policy, Inter-American Dialogue; Caroline Moser, Overseas Development Institute, London; Edgar Forero, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Bogotá; Verónica Gómez, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, OAS; Christopher Welna, associate director, Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame; Rodrigo Gutiérrez Duque, president, executive committee, Fundación Ideas para la Paz; Hernando Gómez Buendía, coordinator, National Human Development Report for Colombia, United Nations Development Program; Juan Manuel Santos, president, Fundación Buen Gobierno; Carl Meacham, professional staff, Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Pilar Gaitán, advisor, Colombian Mission to the OAS.


Conference reports in English and Spanish will be available in the late Fall of 2003.

See blue box at right to download papers.


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