By the time they sat down to negotiate in secret, in February of 2012, the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas had been fighting for almost 50 years. Thousands had died, millions had been displaced. Ending a conflict with such deep roots would require new tactics and creative approaches at the negotiating table. But, critically, it would also depend on each party’s ability to build internal support for the process they were engaged in. Through compelling video interviews with the protagonists (government and FARC negotiators, politicians and human rights experts), this 4-page multimedia case explores many of the challenges the Colombian government and the FARC faced during four years of negotiations, focusing on the strategies they developed in order to build trust, avoid past mistakes, set a realistic agenda and begin to find common ground. The case also examines how the two parties managed the internal negotiations with their respective constituencies, paying special attention to the difficulties the Colombian government encountered when it put the agreement to a referendum in the fall of 2016.
This case allows students to learn from first-hand accounts about the delicate balance involved in managing both external and internal negotiations in highly partisan, contentious negotiations. By taking an in-depth look at the Colombia peace negotiations, students can identify some of the innovative approaches that were used in terms of process design and discuss whether they would be applicable more broadly. In addition, the story of the referendum can be used very effectively to highlight the risks of facing strong internal opposition, and to frame a discussion where students are asked to consider strategies that might be used to overcome internal challenges and build public support in a negotiation of this kind.
Also available: Peace and Justice in Colombia: Finding a Balance After 50 Years of War