Colombia has initiated dialogue with the Central High Command of the FARC (EMC), the largest dissident group of the now-defunct FARC. This dialogue follows a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the state, set to last for three months, extending until mid-January 2024. The commencement of peace talks comes on the heels of overcoming various challenges and a recent period of violence and tension in the Cauca department, located in the southern part of the country.
These discussions are part of the broader context of “Paz Total,” the government’s peace proposal to various illegal armed groups operating within Colombia. The negotiations with the EMC represent the second dialogue table, the first of which was initiated with the ELN a year ago.
A Three-Month Extendable Ceasefire
The initial agreement with the dissident group entails a bilateral ceasefire, a development that follows a series of armed confrontations and attacks by the armed group in southern departments. The decree ordering the suspension of military operations was signed by Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez and is in effect until January 15, 2024, with the potential for extension.
The cessation of hostilities encompasses “respecting life in all its forms,” safeguarding the rights and freedoms of the civilian population, including those who signed previous peace agreements. It also aims to create conditions for the smooth conduct of local elections for mayors and governors scheduled for October 29.
Camilo González, the government’s chief negotiator, emphasized the significance of commencing dialogue amidst a ceasefire marked by stringent commitments to protect the civilian population. “It is preferable to embark on this path without the cacophony of weapons, prohibiting aggression and killing, rather than pursuing a path of destruction,” he stated during the event in Tibú, near the Venezuelan border.
Dialogue Takes Root in Catatumbo
Simultaneously with the ceasefire, the dialogue table was established in the municipality of Tibu, located in the border department of Norte de Santander. This region, historically plagued by violence due to the presence of various armed groups, particularly in Catatumbo, has experienced decades of turmoil.
Andrey Avendaño, the spokesperson for the dissident group at the negotiation table, called for consensus, encouraged the local population to participate, and expressed the belief that the dialogue’s inception could provide a means to de-escalate the social, political, and economic conflicts that have persisted in Colombia for decades.
Avendaño asserted, “For us, the political solution is the roadmap. We resorted to arms because all other avenues were closed.” He made this statement while accompanied by a group of six EMC members.
The Largest Dissident Group from the Defunct FARC
The EMC is the largest dissident group to emerge from the now-defunct FARC. They do not accept being referred to as “dissidents” as they consider themselves the continuation of the original FARC. However, this is also the largest dissident group to have refused to acknowledge the 2016 Peace Accord of Havana, and it was deprived of political status under the previous government, which classified it as a criminal organization.
The group’s original leader, a prominent FARC figure, Gentil Duarte, was killed in combat last year. Currently, the group is under the leadership of Ivan Mordisco, another former FARC commander who was previously declared deceased in 2022. However, Mordisco re-emerged this year to announce the commencement of dialogue with the state.
Experts suggest that the primary challenge in complying with the ceasefire lies in the heterogeneous nature of the group, which is comprised of various armed factions. Additionally, according to Jorge Restrepo, director of the Center for Research and Studies on Armed Conflicts (CERAC), potential ceasefire violations could arise from clashes between the EMC and other criminal structures in the Cauca region, particularly concerning drug trafficking control, rather than conflicts with the state itself.