Colombia Hopes Peace Negotiations Will End FARC Uprising
By Dialogo January 07, 2013
BOGOTÁ – The year 2012 finished on a bright note with both the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels engaging in peace talks in Havana to end Latin America’s last remaining guerrilla war.
In August — the halfway point of his four-year term — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the two sides would launch negotiations following an inaugural ceremony in Oslo, Norway.
“The FARC is not finished,” according to an analysis by the Bogotá think tank Insight Crime, noting that the terrorist group “still operates in coca-growing areas, from which it can draw tremendous revenue, increasingly dabbling in the trade of the processed cocaine itself.”
The two sides began meeting in Havana for several months of preliminary talks that involved the president’s brother, former newspaper editor Enrique Santos.
“We decided on Cuba for security, and above all because it guaranteed confidentiality,” Enrique Santos wrote the Bogotá daily El Espectador.
Difficult start to Cuba peace talks
Santos said one of the most difficult issues that came up during the preliminary talks was convincing rebel leader Jaime Alberto Parra Rodríguez to make the trip to Cuba. Santos said the rebels were distrustful of plans to shuttle Parra out of the jungle on a government helicopter.
“It was very hard to convince the FARC to ... accept putting [Parra] on a helicopter supplied by the state," Santos wrote. “At the time of picking him up, he appeared guarded by more than 50 men armed to the teeth. In the end there was crying by women guerrillas and a farewell ceremony. That was the first big achievement: getting Jaramillo to Havana.”
At an October news conference following the inauguration ceremony in Oslo, lead FARC negotiator Iván Márquez made no apologies for the FARC’s war crimes.
Humberto de la Calle, lead government negotiator, responded that if the FARC thinks it has all the answers, its fighters should disarm and test their ideas by running for political office. He pointed out that many former rebels have followed this path, including the presidents of Brazil and Uruguay, and Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro.
Analysts say the end game of these negotiations is to convince the FARC to demobilize and form a legal political party, a move the rebels had previously refused to discuss.
On Nov. 19, Márquez announced a two-month unilateral ceasefire. However, Colombian officials say that since then, the FARC has continued to target government troops and that four soldiers have been killed and 22 injured in rebel attacks.
President Santos refused to call off government troops because he said a respite would give the FARC time to recover and prepare a new offensive. In a year-end speech, the president defended his record and said that the number of rebels killed, injured or captured this year increased by 18 percent. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón pointed out that the FARC now has less than 8,000 fighters while a smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, which may also join the peace talks, has fewer than 1,500 fighters.
Santos has also hinted that he’d call off the talks if they show no progress by the end of 2013.
José Roberto Leon Riaño, director of the Colombian National Police, recently told reporters: “We have seen [FARC set off explosives and] acquire military equipment as insurance to prepare for a terrorist wave once the truce ends.”