"The year that is ending was important for peace," wrote Carlos Lozano in mid December in "Voz," the Colombian Communist Party weekly newspaper he directs. "The last of the national security forces were freed by unilateral decision of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the FARC ended hostage taking for the sake of money, dialogues began in Havana, and the FARC declared a unilateral truce through the holiday season."

On August 26, 2012, after almost two years of informal contacts and six months of face to face negotiations in Havana, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC commander Timoleón Jiménez announced plans to negotiate an end to war lasting half a century.

With Norway and Cuba serving as guarantors, the two sides met in Oslo in mid November, moving shortly thereafter to Havana. On the agenda are agrarian reform, future political participation, end of the fighting, reparations for victims, drug – trafficking, and enforcement mechanisms for any settlement.

Colombian social movements and left political groups mobilized to generate proposals for discussion. "They demand to be included in the negotiations inasmuch as the government’s problems and those of the insurgency won’t be solved without Colombian society taking part in the process," Lozano explained.

Toward that end, regional forums on agrarian reform – the first agenda item – were taking place throughout Colombia as 2012 closed. They culminated in a national forum in Bogota on December 17-19 attended by 1400 representatives of 550 diverse groups representing both sides.

Fault lines were evident during two years of preparatory discussions. Lozano reported that the government, "already engaged in secret contacts with the FARC, interposed all sorts of unnecessary obstacles, refusing, [for example,] to allow monitoring of FARC prisoners held in dungeons where human rights are violated."

Rejecting humanitarian exchanges of prisoners, the government "sent Colombian troops into the midst of war that it wouldn’t settle through political means. (…) Deaths would have been avoided if the establishment and the ruling class had even a tiny dose of humanity in this respect."

There was the "military operation (…) culminating on November 4, 2011 in Cauca department when FARC Commander Alphonso Cano [was killed.] The new central staff commander Timoleón Jiménez continued efforts toward peace negotiation begun by his predecessor (…) despite hard blows like the killing in 2010 of [Commander] Jorge Briceño."

Now negotiations are unfolding while "scorched earth operations are in force to mollify ultra right and militaristic enemies of dialogue. Anti-people measures aimed at investment confidence, like tax and pension reforms, represent obeisance to the oligarchy and trans-nationals. There’s no talk of the anti-democratic monstrosity of military privilege."

"The error continues of negotiating in the midst of conflict," he told an interviewer; "a bilateral ceasefire is required." And "the government has a narrow concept of the agenda [and] is closed to popular participation." Lead government negotiator and former Colombian vice president Humberto de la Calle set the stage. "We are not negotiating the Colombian model of development. The guerrillas don’t have to abandon their ideology and the government does not have to change its model for society," he told reporters in November.

"They fear democracy," said Lozano, "because whenever full democracy and guarantees for all arrive in this country, their power will totter. It’s a problem of class. The dominant class prefers violence because it allows them to impose their designs through ‘blood and fire. (…) Seemingly decent members of the bourgeoisie overlooked [atrocities and human rights abuse] to defend the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez. He defended their economic interests and they see him as a second liberator of Colombia. An economic model now in the midst of a world crisis they consider unalterable."

Lozano took encouragement from the national forum on agrarian reform. On hand were "spokespersons of ANDI (National Association of Businesspersons) and SAC (Colombian Farmers Society) who showed more realism and breadth of view than the national government. [At issue are] substantial problems like control of land, the large land holdings, use of soil, and being forced to live under ‘parapolitics’" – the fusion of politics and paramilitarism.

Earlier, Lozano told a TeleSur reporter that a discussion of "regions" is required in order to bring to the table "all the mining, energy, and mineral exploitation leading to terrible environmental deterioration." There are certain "areas where businesses are created exclusively for the trans-nationals." Moreover, "the government refuses to confront cattle ranchers whose huge land holdings serve "only and exclusively in order to feed beef cattle and not social development." He denounced the cattlemen’s business organization FEDEGAN for staying away from forums on agrarian reform. "We must not forget that the former FEDEGAN president is being prosecuted for paramilitarism," he added.

In regard to the countryside, social ecology observer Juan Pablo Ruiz Soto complained that discussions in Havana are ignoring "any proposal for sustainable use of renewable natural resources and there is no mention of recuperation of our forests and our river basins as a condition for achieving a lasting peace."

Foreign analysts have weighed in on the negotiations. Cuban political writer Iroel Sánchez suggests they gain strength from "the staying power of the Cuban revolution and the recognition of Cuba’s role in facilitating previous efforts towards peace in Colombia." Observing that FEDEGAN’s posture "was applauded by ex-president Alvaro Uribe and condemned by Colombian political sectors from head of state Juan Manuel Santos to the President of Congress," Sánchez sees Colombian ruling circles as divided and on that account regards these peace negotiations as differing from previous efforts.

In the past, agrarian reform was "unacceptable to both oligarchs and landowners. (…) Today a part of the Colombian oligarchy thinks differently. With a non-agricultural economic base, that sector wants peace because it seeks association with foreign companies in order to exploit the important mineral resources in rural zones of the country. Or they see opportunities in developing the acquisitive power of popular sectors."

Ignacio Ramonet in Spain, writing for Le Monde Diplomatique, explored this theme in December. "President Santos surprisingly decided to open peace negotiations with the insurgency not only because the FARC is weakened militarily, but also because the landowning oligarchy, opposed to agrarian reform in Colombia for 65 years, (…) does not have the dominant power it had.

In recent decades a new urban oligarchy has consolidated itself, one more powerful and influential than the rural oligarchy. "During the most terrible years of the war, the big conglomerates remained isolated from the countryside. It was impossible to move across the land from one locality to the other. The ‘useful Colombia’ ended up as an ‘archipelago of cities.’ These cities (…) developed their own progressively more potent economies – industry, services, finance, and import-export businesses.

Today they dominate the country and to a certain extent Juan Manuel Santos is their representative." "For the urban oligarchy, the cost of peace would be relatively modest. They landowners would pay for agrarian reform, not they. Their interest is not in the soil, but in the subsoil. In the current international context, pacification would allow exploitation of Colombia’s immense mining resources for which China has an insatiable thirst.

Additionally the urban business class thinks that, should peace come, the now excessive military budgets could be dedicated to reducing currently abysmal inequalities. Business people look at a Colombian population heading toward 50 million inhabitants and see an important critical mass in terms of consumption – as long the average buying power increases." They are aware of wealth redistribution policies elsewhere in Latin America that "have reactivated national production and favored expansion of local businesses."

So far, commentary on the peace talks seems to have touched very little on U.S. complicity in Colombian militarization and human rights abuses. Iroel Sánchez did observe that, "War in Colombia generates a flow of money and resources from the United States that benefits important sectors of that country."

And Quindio University student activist Andrés Felipe Cruz Ortiz sounded this cautionary note: "Throughout Latin America the tendency was evident to consolidate plans conceived of and directed by the Pentagon, in the context of fight against ‘the internal enemy.’ (…) We see imperialism strengthening its control over countries on the way to emancipation, and for that we see corporations’ privatization plans for developing monopoly capitalism."

Yet for Carlos Lozano, "peace is indispensible for the left. It will force democratic and popular sectors to unify so the option might emerge of power for the people and thereby the possibility of transforming Colombia."

January 3, 2013