By Barbara Gutierrez
and Marie Guma-Diaz
From left are Marta L. Jaramillo, Colombia’s consul general in Miami; CLAS Director Ariel Armony; Colombian Ambassador to the U.S. Luis Carlos Villegas; and lead Colombian negotiator Humberto De La Calle Lombana.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 18, 2014)—An unprecedented meeting took place last week at the University’s Newman Alumni Center between the Colombian government negotiators—who are negotiating peace with the country’s main guerilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)—and more than 50 journalists, academics, and UM students.
The meeting, which was the first in the U.S., provided a unique opportunity for members of the media and academics to hear firsthand accounts about the peace negotiations being held in Havana, Cuba, to try to end the 50-year-old conflict that has claimed more than 250,000 lives in the South American country.
The event was hosted by UM’s Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS), in collaboration with the Fundación Gabriel García Márquez para el Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano (FNPI) and the Colombian Office of the High Commissioner for Peace.
“Miami is a strategic site for this meeting, which focuses on a process of historical proportion. It reflects our deep commitment to Latin America,” said Ariel Armony, the director of CLAS who was instrumental in bringing the forum to UM. “This has been an enriching experience of the highest intellectual level. We gave a great deal of thought to this type of gathering—of coming together with a clear purpose with the best national, international, and local journalists and the best of our academic world.”
Negotiators Humberto de la Calle Lombana, who leads the Colombian government delegation in Cuba, and Sergio Jaramillo Caro, the high commissioner for peace, presided over the event along with Colombian Ambassador to the U.S. Luis Carlos Villegas, who said holding the forum at UM was of extreme importance, particularly because of the large Colombian community in South Florida.
“Miami is one of the key spots geopolitically, economically, and commercially for our country,” said Villegas. “UM has one of the strongest programs on Latin America in the country and it is only logical that an important matter like the peace process in Colombia should be discussed here.”
The two-hour session, which was by invitation only and designed to provide up-to-date information to those interested in the peace process, was conducted in Spanish. It came two years after members of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ government began negotiations in Cuba with the FARC, which the U.S. government regards as “narco-terrorists.”
To date, negotiators have reached partial agreement on three elements—land reform, political participation, and drug trafficking—of the five-point agenda. The two remaining points center on truth and reparations for victims, and the end of the conflict, which includes a cease-fire.
Members of the press and academics at the event were able to ask questions and interact with key figures in a respectful, but spirited discussion moderated by Jaime Abello Banfi, general director of FNPI. The event was attended by numerous prestigious media organizations, including the BBC, CNN, Reuters, Radio Caracol, and Mundo Fox, among others.
“The forum gave me a better understanding of the process and a hint of where the negotiations are heading,” said Diego Urdaneta, correspondent for Agence France Presse. “The University played a fundamental role in providing a neutral territory to discuss the process without trepidation.”
Other participants included academics and international business and policy experts from UM and other institutions who see Miami as a significant site for this gathering, said Bruce Bagley, professor of international studies at the College of Arts and Sciences.
“The seminar hopes to reach the very large Colombian community in South Florida, and explain a process that can greatly improve conditions in their country under President Juan Manuel Santos,” said Bagley.
The event also gave students the opportunity to see political theories applied in complex, real-life situations and witness the development of a treaty that has the potential to change the direction of a country and impact the entire continent.
“It’s an occasion to turn theory into practical solutions,” said Nashira Chavez, a Ph.D. student in the Department of International Studies. “It’s an intense intellectual exercise because you need to connect all the dots when you see the process up close.”