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The role of the Cuban government was extraordinarily important

Humberto La CalleHumberto de La Calle’s life is inextricably linked to the most recent history of politics in the Republic of Colombia. Important moments in the carreer of this lawyer, professor and diplomat include his performance as a minister during César Gaviria’s administration, representing the executive branch before the National Constituent Assembly in 1991; as Vice President of the Republic during the government of Ernesto Samper, 1994-1996, until his resignation; minister of the interior during the term of Andrés Pastrana and, more recently, candidate in Colombia’s 2018 Presidential elections.

Nonetheless, millions of his compatriots associate De La Calle with a transcendental goal for their country, longed for by generations: peace in Colombia.

De La Calle was head of the negotiating team, reprsenting the Juan Manuel Santos government, in the Peace Process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (farc-ep), from 2012 until the 2016 signing of the General Agreement for the End of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace in Colombia, in Havana.

To hear his views on Cuba’s work in facilitating the peace talks, the current political situation in his country, and latest developments in relations between the two nations, Granma spoke with Humberto de La Calle , the man who affirmed on the memorable date of August 24, 2016, “The best way to win the war was by sitting down to talk about peace.”

-How would you describe Cuba’s role during your country’s peace process?

-The role of the Cuban government was extraordinarily important. It was one of the necessary ingredients for the success of the Agreement. I would like to highlight the work of the diplomats and officials who accompanied the two delegations. This work was carried with the greatest professionalism.

Cuba fully understood its role as guarantor, in association with Norway, in a direct negotiation between the parties. In this sense, it was absolutely neutral, precisely as expected. The two guarantors provided security for both parties and we afforded them broad confidence, that we handled with skill and discretion. In my first visit as head of the delegation with then President Raul Castro, he made that position clear: “You can count on Cuba’s full support, but from our side there will be no deviations or interference.” And I must also highlight the generosity of our hosts during that long period, as well as the affection of the Cuban people, who spared no efforts to make our stay more pleasant.

-The fourth implementation report from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, presented last June 16, states that, through November of 2019, more than half of the Peace Agreement was in its initial phase of implementation. What is the reason for this?

-Progress has been made in the area of reintegrating former combatants. But the current Colombian government and prominent leaders of the governing party have reiterated that their work is focused on attending to what they call “grassroots guerrillas.” This generates a bias that has led to structural issues, like a road map for Colombia, that go beyond the Havana agreements, which, frankly, are frozen.

A genuine comprehensive rural reform remains a pending task, as is political reform. As for transitional justice, it is no secret that the government has inadequately presented its objections, which fortunately, failed. I firmly believe that it is a mistake to set aside the Agreement that meant the cessation of a conflict that lasted more than half a century.

-It is also alarming that, thus far, more than 200 former farc-ep combatants have been killed since the signing of the Peace Agreement. How will violence in your country be overcome?

-Complying with the Agreement in its entirety is the best recipe. In the case of illicit crops, for example, voluntary substitution generates a more sustainable impact. The use of force leaves the door open for the replanting of coca, as the United Nations points out in its reports.

I am careful with words. The death of social leaders and people who have been involved in the crime of rebellion is not entirely new. The government cannot be held accountable as if it had inaugurated this hecatomb. But the uncertainty created about the Agreement has contributed to this alarming figure, to which the death of other leaders must be added. Such is the case, for example, of human rights defenders.

-The Peace Talks between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (eln), were being held in Havana, until their conclusion by decision of President Ivan Duque. What is your opinion of Cuba’s role as guarantor in these negotiations?

-I was not personally involved in those negotiations, but I have the perception that Cuba acted with the same rigor that it exhibited during the talks with the Farc.

-How do you assess the decision of the current Colombian government to ignore the Rupture Protocol, signed within the framework of the peace negotiations by the Colombian government, the eln and the guarantor countries?

-A big mistake. The protocols of rupture are millenary. There would be no possibility of dialogue if they were not signed and respected. The government took the wrong path and created a problem that has become a dead end. And it is not just Cuba, because Norway as guarantor and other countries also agreed to these protocols.

Beyond the legal format, this Protocol does not play an insignificant role. It is a legal and moral commitment of the Colombian state. The argument that it was signed by the previous government has no validity whatsoever.

-In 2019 Colombia also modified its historical position of support for the Resolution that every year the United Nations General Assembly approves demanding the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States…

-A foreign policy error. The blockade violates elementary principles of respect for human dignity.

-Likewise, the Colombian government’s High Commissioner for Peace, Miguel Ceballos Arevalo, declared in reference to the inclusion of Cuba on the U.S. list of countries that allegedly do not cooperate in combatting terrorism, that the decision of the State Department was an “endorsement” of the government of Colombia and its “insistent request” that Cuba hand over members of the eln peace delegation.

-That statement was indeed made. Later, in a (Congressional) political control debate, the Colombian government asserted that it had not discussed the issue with the U.S government. But the fact is that the Commissioner understood that the U.S. decision reflected support for Colombia and its request in violation of the Rupture Protocol. A very serious move. To generate or applaud this decision is equivalent to condemning Cuba for keeping its word. Because, furthermore, it is no secret that Cuba has collaborated with several Colombian governments in the search for an end to the conflict. At this point, there is no way to demonstrate any Cuban action meant to promote terrorism on our soil.

-The government of Iván Duque recently announced the decision to maintain and consolidate diplomatic relations with Cuba?

-Well, that’s how it should be. Colombia, long ago, adopted an open approach in its foreign relations. Now we see a different attitude toward Cuba that isolates us from the regional scene and that constitutes, moreover, an act of ingratitude toward a country that has worked hard for the end of the armed conflict. Let us hope that these words become a reality and that we manage to overcome the issue of the Protocol in order to recover the atmosphere of mutual solidarity that has been very useful to us.

-Several Colombian Congress members, last June 15, urged that the government “explicitly reiterate its commitment to the role of Cuba as a guarantor country in the process of implementing the Peace Agreement.” Do you support this statement?


-From your experience, what suggestions can you make to any negotiating team participating in a Peace Process?

-Be clear that what is signed is to be fulfilled, regardless of subsequent political vicissitudes. The negotiator is the voice of the President, who as head of state has authority in the matter, commits the Colombian state.

-Finally, how would you describe the current situation in Colombia?

-It is difficult, because of the pandemic. Thus far, the figures have been good, but there are concerns about the social effects on the population, as the blow to the economy and employment has been very hard.

I hope that Colombians understand that one way to assist the weakest is to comply with the Agreement in those areas that are indicated as being most impacted. The battle against the pandemic is complementary to the Agreement, not a contradiction, at least in what it says about territorial development provisions. Otherwise, there is a harsh political confrontation. I hope that we will manage to overcome the epidemic in order to understand that reconciliation is imperative if we want a better country.

(Source: Granma)

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