Friday, February 27, 2015

President Santos Four-Man ‘Peace Squad’ in Havana

As President Juan Manuel Santos and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) continue peace negotiations, the Colombian chief executive has had to deal with constant criticisms from the far-right and at the same time face the reality that the guerrillas have gained a political advantage have gained by declaring an indefinite cease-fire and then sticking to it. (Read more in this week's edition of NotiSur). This has prompted Santos to seek outside help from a select group of foreign advisors with expertise in peace negotiations.

In early January, the president’s Havana negotiators sat down for a closed-door meeting with four special guests: William Uri, a US mediation expert from Harvard University; Joaquín Villalobos, a former Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) guerrilla who helped negotiate El Salvador’s 1992 peace accords and has since become an outspoken critic of all leftist groups in Latin America; Jonathan Powell, a former British Cabinet chief who helped broker the peace deal with the Irish Republican Army (IRA); and Shlomo Ben Ami of Israel, an ex–foreign minister who played a leading role in the 1978 Camp David peace agreements with Egypt.

Santos seems to have covered all of the political bases with his four-man team of advisors. The four VIPs come from a very diverse background: a Salvadoran ex-guerilla turned British Foreign Service-sponsored peace negotiator and critic of the left in Latin America; a former Israeli Foreign Minister who negotiated for peace at the Camp David Accords; a former British banker and advisor to the Prime Minister who negotiated with the IRA; and a US author and social anthropologist who’s bestselling books have put him in the boardrooms of various peace talks and negotiations.

We thought it would be interesting to provide a bit more information regarding their biographies and their lifelong journey to the Havana Peace talks.

Photo: Fabrizio León in Observador Juvenil
Joaquín Villalobos: Perhaps the most enigmatic of all four, Villalobos began his career as a commander in the People’s Revolution Army, a left-wing Marxist guerilla army that emerged in El Salvador in the 1970s, eventually merging with other groups to form the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). During the bloody civil war that ensued, Villalobos fought against a US-Israel supported regime and paramilitary death squads. Conversely, he was also accused of participating in the murder of leftist poet Roque Dalton.Villalobos. His entire track record confronts this tension between fighting both for and against the revolutionary left.  Following the 1992 peace agreement in El Salvador, he was sent by British Foreign Service to study in England, and has acted as a major critic of leftist politics in Latin America since then. His main attributes seem to be straddling the line between the feared and ruthless left-wing guerilla commander of the 80s, and the right-of-center peace negotiator of today. Read his article,"La paz: cerca de La Habana, lejos de Bogotá"in El País  

Wikimedia Commons

Shlomo ben Ami:While the Israeli-supported Salvadoran government forces waged war against the guerillas in the 80s, Ben Ami was acting as the Israeli ambassador to Spain. A fluent Spanish speaker who was born and raised in a Mizrahi Jewish family in Morocco, Ben Ami began his career as a historian at Tel-Aviv University, concerning himself principally with studying the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. As Israel’s Minister of Foreign Relations, Ben Ami participated in the 2000 Camp David Summit. Since then, he has publicly supported the Palestinians’ decision to not accept the terms dictated by Israel. He now serves as vice president for the Toledo International Centre for Peace. .


Photo from Uri's Web site

 William Ury: A bestselling author of books on mediation and conflict management that deal with a wide range of topics. See his  official  Web site. “Bill Ury has the remarkable ability to get to the heart of a dispute,” former US President Jimmy Carter recently said. Trained initially as a social anthropologist in Yale and then Harvard, Ury founded and directs Harvard’s Program on Negotiation. He has participated in a wide array of peace talks ranging from family disputes to mediation for the Bushmen of Kalahari and the clan warriors of New Guinea.

from The Guardian
Jonathan Powell: An adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (1995-2007) and chief British negotiator on Northern Ireland. One of Powell's chief accomplishments was helping the Northern Ireland peace talks to move forward, resulting in the Good Friday Agreement. Powell also had a close working relationship with former US President Bill Clinton, and participated in a US-UK-Israel project that brought Latin American figures such as Joaquín Villalobos to study in England. The diplomat has also had his share of controversies, including an accusation that he might have divulged too much information Russian officials about the activities of the British spy agency M16 in that country. After retiring from government service, Powell became a senior investment banker with Morgan Stanley in 2007. He left the banking sector to create Inter Mediate, an organization that participates in armed conflict negotiations around the world.

-Jake Sandler

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