Timing is everything. On September 20, Pope Francis met with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana. Three days later, Cuban President Raúl Castro was photographed in a three-way handshake with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, the commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Castro’s hands were clasped over theirs as if he were blessing a marital union. And, in a way, he was. The Colombian government and FARC had just announced that, after over two years of negotiations, they had come to an agreement on transitional justice, the last point on their four-point peace talks agenda.
As is the case with the “agreements” on the first three points of negotiation—land reform, the cessation of FARC drug trafficking activities, and FARC’s right to form a legal political party—the plan for executing and enforcing the transitional justice scheme has yet to be publicly spelled out. But according to the Santos administration, the details will be finalized and an agreement will be signed within six months’ time. At that point, the agreement will go to a public referendum. Until then, any agreements are largely symbolic. To be sure, that did not stop Santos from vaunting his administration’s progress toward peace at the United Nations General Assembly this week.
But symbolic progress is still progress. When talks started in 2012, FARC negotiators demanded immunity from future trials. Back then, the demand seemed far-fetched—even insulting to the tens of thousands of men, women, and children whose lives were destroyed or lost at FARC’s hands. After years of talks, the negotiators squared the circle by offering no immunity but promising that no demobilized FARC fighter who confesses his or her crimes—no matter how severe—will go to jail. It’s hard to imagine many fighters choosing prison
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