One full year has past since peace talks opened between the Colombian government and the rebel forces after decades of war. But behind the slow pace, there are real reasons for hope.
Exactly one year ago representatives of the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), gathered in Havana's Palace of Conventions to begin negotiations on a possible end to half a century of civil conflict between the democratic State and a self-styled "People's Army."
BOGOTA – Will the guns finally go silent and give way to a Colombia where war is neither the engine of a nation, nor cause and excuse for why things are or are not done? There have been hitches so far to the negotiations, but what successful peace process is without them? The pace has lagged, but whoever thought peace would come in six months? Patience is needed, if a satisfactory and lasting conclusion is desired.
Much has evolved this year in the framework of the conversations in Havana, which is ultimately positive. Consider firstly the FARC's line. A year ago they were talking like they had won the war, hectoring with the same tone they used five decades ago, laying the blame on everyone but themselves. They said it was the State that should be put on trial, because the State (and nobody else) had been the real producer of the war's victims.
The tone is all quite different now. The FARC have realized how in reality, they are talking to a negotiating party, on equal terms, not to a defeated opponent. Their cynicism is also, evidently, less than it was. Their words changed in time: they recognized their responsibility as protagonists of a martial conflict, the need to compensate the victims they left on their path, the possiblity of handing over their arms and ending once and for all, half a century of bullets.
And there is no better proof of this change than the two points of the negotiating agenda the parties have agreed on so far: "a comprehensive rural development policy" - who owns land in Colombia and how it is used - and "participation in politics." To some, it has seemed like the talks have lasted a long time, especially since President Juan Manuel Santos vowed a year ago they would measured in months not years. But few of us could have imagined that two such crucial points, which nobody could foresee the two parties agreeing on, could actually emerge.
All or nothing
What the parties are discussing now is nothing more nor less than the kind of country Colombia could be. Still, optimism should clearly be cautious at this stage. "Nothing is agreed on until everything is agreed on" is the State's guiding motto in the talks.
And with that in mind, we know much remains to be done. This means not just more than half the points on the negotiating agenda – including crucial points yet to be discussed like justice, a historical accounting and reparations - but also the likely many, stumbling blocks that may threaten the pursuit of talks.
While the negotiators' formula has had some success, the loss of time could affect public opinion. It is after all the public that will have the decisive say on whether or not any agreement is legitimate. As we said, the attitude has changed quite a bit. But it can improve further still. Let what has been learned so far serve precisely that purpose - to travel the remaining path with the benefit of experience.
"Resolving the problem of illicit drug trafficking" is the third point on the agenda. Let's begin then, and take account of the ideas civil society and universities have sent toward its resolution.
The peace process is said to face a crucial deadline: next year's elections. We may sound very optimistic saying this, but a process like this should be able to stand a day's voting, and even a change of government. For now, a year after all this began, one must think only of continuing the process forward, regardless of events happening around it.