On Wednesday, April 26, 2017 the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies hosted the Hemispheric Forum, “Command Update: Military and Police Operations During the Colombian Peace Process.” Perry Center Professor Celina Realuyo moderated the forum. The featured speaker was Major General Carlos Alfonso Rojas Tirado, Chief of Staff of the Colombian Strategic Transition Command (COET) and Commander of the Joint Monitoring and Verification Command of Colombia. With primary responsibility for the military’s implementation of disarmament and demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the background of having personally participated in peace negotiations in Havana, Major General Rojas is uniquely qualified to describe the on-the-ground reality of post-conflict Colombia and contextualize current operations with respect to negotiators’ expectations.
Major General Rojas briefly summarized the history of the Colombian conflict, then discussed the framework under which the peace process was negotiated in Cuba. In an attempt to forge peace accords that were fair, efficient, and minimized further loss of life, representatives of the Colombian government, the FARC, and United Nations (UN) negotiated under a cessation of hostilities that called for FARC combatants to be localized and centralized in designated zones, bounded by one-kilometer buffer zones open to UN representatives only. The final agreement, signed on June 23, 2016, called for an operationally and logistically complex FARC disarmament process that would be verifiable, simultaneous in all parts of the country, and implemented primarily by COET.
In considering the preliminary success of the peace agreement and implementation thereof, Major General Rojas considered the question from multiple perspectives. From the perspective of peace, the accord is already a victory, he said, because not one Colombian citizen has died at the hands of the FARC since the deal was signed. From an ethical perspective, the peace process fills a critical societal need, since war generates intense social trauma for the entire country. The political perspective and continued controversy over the peace agreement are still open questions, but, in the assessment of General Rojas, the peace process has passed the point of no return, and implementation has been rapid compared similar cases around the world. The challenge for all Colombians now is building peace every day, a societal mindset that cannot be ratified with just a signature.