Humberto de la Calle has in a new book revealed details about the five years he spent in Cuba negotiating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerilla group on behalf of the Colombian government, a process that paved the way to a peace deal.
The former Colombian vice president (1994–1996), who was the chief negotiator in the peace talks with FARC, spoke with EFE on the occasion of the release of "Revelaciones al final de una guerra" ("Revelations at the end of a war"), published by Penguin Random House, which sees the veteran politician delving into his experience of the peace process.
"I am completely calm, what we did was right for Colombia," said De la Calle, who had taken detailed notes over the course of the negotiations between Sept. 2012 and Aug. 2016 in Havana, which led to a deal being struck in Nov. 2016.
"The underlying problem is that there was no good violence. While there are Colombians who believe their violence was justified, a lot of work needs to be done to turn the page," De la Calle told EFE.
While in Havana, De la Calle got to know how FARC's chief negotiator Iván Márquez's mind worked.
Márquez's whereabouts was currently unknown, as last year he is believed to have made a return to the jungle in southern Colombia, stoking fears that the peace accord had been abandoned.
De la Calle linked Márquez's apparent disappearance to the situation faced by one of FARC's other leaders, known by his pseudonym Jesús Santrich, who was awaiting extradition to the United States over alleged drugs trafficking.
"Santich's situation created uncertainty for some FARC members and fears that they could become subject to extradition," said De la Calle. "Santrich's extradition could be definitive."
The former negotiator said Márquez was right when he "complained about unfulfillment of the State," adding that he saw fragility in the application of the peace deal.
While the results of a plebiscite held on Oct. 2, 2016 to ratify the peace deal exposed a divided Colombia, De la Calle hoped the people of the Latin American country would reflect more about their nation's future.
He described the dramatic nature of the peace talks, saying the experience was like a roller coaster. "You'd get up thinking 'today we're going to fix it' and at six in the afternoon it was in crisis."
"It was a psychological duel, besides sitting for eight hours in front of some gentlemen accused of such serious crimes," he said.
For De la Calle, the main obstacle to achieving lasting peace was the killing of human rights defenders and activists, which cost the lives of 162 people in 2018, according to the Ombudsman's Office.
He compared the current situation to that of the left-wing Patriotic Union party that was born out of peace negotiations with FARC in 1985 and saw the systematic killing of over 4,000 of its leaders and members, including two presidential candidates.
"What is happening with the social leaders is, let's say, similar and different to what happened with the Patriotic Union, which here there have been more selective killings," he said.
De la Calle said the ideological affinity of the now-disbanded rebel group had with the Venezuelan government was key at the time to stabilizing the peace process. "Without Venezuela, an agreement would have been impossible."
"Venezuela communicated a political message through the mouth of Chávez (the deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez) that somehow created a parasol of protection for FARC," he said.
On the topic of Venezuela, the politician gave his support to making way for clean elections in the neighboring country.
De la Calle withdrew from active politics following last year's presidential election in which he garnered 396,151 votes, just over 2 percent of the total.
Of the peace deal reached with FARC after years of negotiations, he said: "I do not regret a single comma of the agreement. In time, Colombians will really understand the magnitude of what happened."
The Colombian armed conflict began in 1964 and led to over 173,000 murders and over 77,000 cases of forced displacement during the civil war, according to the United Nations.
"The war has seen human rights violations against civilians, including extra-judicial executions, kidnappings, forced displacement and land theft carried out by all sides," the UN Development Programme said on its site.