Here we learned from our past mistakes. In previous processes the government ended up inviting almost two-dozen countries to participate, without really knowing what for. So, we went to the other extreme, to a minimalist strategy or a needs-based approach: you bring different countries in at the right moment and ask them to play a very specific role.
During secret talks we only needed to have two countries, Cuba and Norway. Indeed, even among two you already have problems with coordination. Cuba gave the FARC the necessary security guarantees, offered us a place to conduct negotiations far from the media, and provided us with all the resources to make the negotiations a success. Norway, for its part, brought all its quiet professionalism to bear and provided critical help with some of the thorniest issues – for example, by bringing transitional justice experts to talk to the FARC.
Once the talks became public, we involved two more countries, Chile and Venezuela, but at a different level: not as guarantors that were present all the time, but in an accompanying role, to come and find out what we were doing and tell other countries, especially in the region, what was going on.
Then, after signing the agreement, you need much more support. Before we signed the agreement the European Union had already appointed a Special Envoy, Eamon Gilmore, to start talking to us in Havana, which worked extremely well in planning for agreement implementation, thanks to his experience in Northern Ireland.
The role of the UN is a whole different chapter, because the FARC did originally not trust them. The previous failed peace negotiations [1999–2002] had left a bitter taste. It was always clear to us that the FARC were never going to hand over their weapons to the Colombian state. So, we knew we would eventually need the UN. I myself went to New York just as the secret talks ended in December 2012 to discuss what a UN mission might look like. The UN resident Coordinator in Colombia and several other key people in the UN system quietly built relations with the FARC by supporting the participation of civil society and by providing expertise, advice and institutional support to the peace process. Three years later, when we had to agree on the verification mechanism, the FARC had completely changed their attitude towards the UN and agreed to the tripartite approach (government, the FARC and UN). The Security Council also played an extraordinary role by approving two resolutions unanimously in 2016 – a time when, according to the UN, they otherwise couldn’t agree on anything. This support contributed to setting up a very robust and credible system which I think worked extremely well.
The US was also very supportive. By the end of 2014 we told them it was the right time for them to send somebody to Havana so they get a better idea of what’s going on to get a sense of the FARC’s views. They sent an excellent diplomat who helped the FARC to understand Washington’s point of view, and vice versa. Sadly, with the change of government in the US came a corresponding change of attitude, which shows that one cannot let windows of opportunity pass by.