Aronson serves as President Obama’s special envoy to the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Conflict analysis is a familiar topic for Aronson since he worked to resolve the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua during his time as the Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs.
For the past 52 years, the FARC has engaged in criminal activities such as kidnapping and murdering innocent Colombians and profiting from cocaine trafficking. Since 2012, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has worked to create a peace negotiation with the FARC to end the civil war.
As the special envoy, Aronson traveled to Havana, Cuba, to participate in the discussion. He described what happens during the talks.
“There is no designated institution focusing thoughts. There is no designated mediator but more of an ad hoc structure that the parties can come to agree on.” Aronson said.
Norway also serves has a host country during the talks. Aronson described the process of the talks as a technical process because there are a lot of technical people on both sides who draft what will happen during the talks.
“As the special envoy, there is no job description for what I do and I’m there because President Santos and his company ask me to be there. My job is the build a relationship with both sides.” Aronson said.
Between the human rights abuses and the resulting violence, the peace negotiation is a stormy issue. Aronson believes in approaching the negotiations with an open mind.
“You have to be able to understand the narrative of each side. You don’t have to agree with the gross narrative but at least understand. If you come with a partisan attitude, you’re not going to be useful but instead be another mouthpiece,” Aronson said.
Aronson addressed why previous talks have failed and what has changed. He drew from his experience from helping El Salvador resolve its civil war. He said that the difference between Colombia and El Salvador was that in El Salvador, people weren’t ready to rise up. The US military was able to prod El Salvador along by asking, “What if we cut off the money supplies?” In Colombia, on the other hand, the military and political action by the government steadily wore down and the FARC reduced its numbers. What prodded the FARC to re-engage in talks was the rise of the leftist governments that rose throughout the region.
As a guerilla insurgency group, members of the FARC are people who’ve spent years living as criminals in the Colombian jungles and a part of the peace process is reintegrating them back into society. A major question is how to demobilize the FARC. Aronson said that the Colombian government as has already demobilized 52,000 members of the FARC and there are institutions in place already that provide literary and job training and social services to reunite them with their families.
Another major area of concern is the drug trafficking. The FARC has made billions of dollars over the past 52 years from the cocaine industry and there was a 40% increase in cultivation in 2012. Aronson believes that educating people about the peace process is an important way to build government support.
“The Government can move in but not just with anti-narcotics but with government services, rules, security, and transportation. It’s not enough just to take away the cocaine,” Aronson said.
Unfortunately, the FARC has denied the billions of dollars it has collected and locating the drug money will be a major challenge in the discussion in Havana.
As a part of the peace process, the FARC needs to be held accountable and tried for its actions. The peace process calls for building a truth commission as a way to have the FARC apologize for its crimes. The FARC won’t apologize for raising a revolution and they won’t say what they’ve done for the past 52 years was a mistake. The truth commission is still a work in progress and the Colombian government is still working on choosing whom to appoint as members.
Some of the biggest hurdles in the peace process are the substitution of crops for cocaine and building proper infrastructure so the farmers can make a living.
“It’s very important for the international community to stand with Colombians, not just for the price of peace but providing for the country,” Aronson said.