Geoffrey Corry remembers…..

The news that broke from Havana on 24 August that the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, would soon sign a peace accord with the FARC leader, Timolean Jimenez, was something I had been hoping would happen having followed the progress of the peace talks over four years. It reminded me of that day of joy back on Good Friday at 5pm when political leaders got the all-party Northern Ireland deal over the line. A referendum will take place in Colombia on 2 October and it will be a cliff hanger of a vote because the popular former President Alvaro Uribe opposes the Havana deal.

Colombia deserves an end to 52 years of conflict.  The cost of conflict has been high: over 22,000 dead, 250,000 casualties, the internal displacement of 6 million mainly from rural lands into the cities, all leaving deep divisions that will take years to heal.

Peacebuilding was a slow and marathon journey in Colombia

The Havana talks were a very significant piece of peace making. They were supported strongly in their initial stages by the Norwegians on the back of their efforts in Sri Lanka. They were not proximity talks but intense and painstaking face-to-face bi-lateral negotiations. Both the government and FARC had permanent delegations in Havana and they worked through a seven point agenda embracing land reform, crop substitutions for coca, transitional justice arrangements and FARC demobilisation/integration. It is an ambitious programme and, as we know in Northern Ireland, full implementation is crucial. It falls to Eamon Gilmore as EU envoy to provide external support.

Glencree’s role in supporting Colombia’s peace process

Glencree played a small part in the build-up to negotiations by taking part in an NGO capacity building programme between 2004-7 in cooperation with Trocaire and managed by Patty Abozaglo. Over a period of two years, I travelled to Colombia and took part in ten conflict management training workshops across the country with over thirty Colombian partners: in the capital city of Bogotá (2), Medellín (2), Bucaramanga (2), Caquetá (2) and up on the Caribbean coast in the old city of Cartagena (2). Nearly all the participants were directors, staff members and volunteers in regional NGO agencies supported by Trócaire and Irish Aid. All the training was done in Spanish and I usually had two translators at my side to work through PowerPoint presentations on our peace process and interactive roleplays on local conflict issues. I also addressed a large national peace conference organised by the Colombian Catholic Episcopal Conference.

Fascinated by Political Dialogue Workshops

There were two study visits by Colombian NGO leaders to Glencree and Ireland in 2003 and 2007. These helped them to see what a peace process looked like on the ground and the potential role that civil society groups can play in preparing society to think about inclusive negotiations. They were fascinated about how our political dialogue workshops played a role in underpinning the negotiations and I know that this encouraged some participants to support political initiatives to engage the FARC in the pre-negotiation phase. Another outcome was the incorporation of some of the peace process concepts that I introduced in the workshops into their peace education resource materials.

So peace is a process that comes dropping slow. It is best suited for marathon runners who are there when the process ebbs, regresses and flows forwards into the final political negotiations.

Geoffrey Corry, Glencree Facilitator