Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos promised a public peace process with communist guerrilla groups if the appropriate conditions are present, and he denied any secret moves along those lines, in statements published by Bogotá daily El Tiempo on July 3.
“When I find that the appropriate conditions exist to initiate some kind of process to end this conflict, which is already nearly half a century old, the country will know it,” said Santos, who insisted that he is not going to repeat “the errors of the past.”
During almost his entire administration, conservative President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) held failed peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, Marxist), the country’s leading guerrilla group with 48 years of bloody armed struggle against the state.
In addition to the FARC, which currently has around 9,000 fighters, according to the Defense Ministry, the National Liberation Army (ELN), a guerrilla group in the tradition of Che Guevara, is also active, with 2,500 members.
President Santos also reiterated that despite the fact that he would like to end this armed conflict, because “Colombia needs it and deserves it after so much bloodshed,” he would only undertake a peace process if the appropriate conditions are present.
“Once burned, twice shy,” he said in that regard, at the same time that he promised that “if a process is initiated, it won’t be behind the country’s back.”
Santos has demanded that the FARC release all those it has kidnapped, exclude those younger than 18 from its ranks, and halt “terrorist acts,” as conditions for undertaking a peace process.
In the middle of June, with the administration’s support, Congress passed a constitutional reform bill that will enable future peace negotiations with the guerrilla groups.
The bill puts forward the possibility of granting benefits such as the suspension of penalties to the leaders of armed groups who demobilize. It also establishes mechanisms for prioritizing and selecting cases of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
Nevertheless, Santos has said that this mechanism does not mean that the administration is thinking about negotiating with the guerrilla groups already.
Santos told El Tiempo that “we will continue (striking the FARC militarily) with full force, until the conditions are present to – hopefully – end the conflict.”
In a statement published on its website on June 22, the FARC criticized Santos’s attitude toward a negotiated solution to the armed conflict, as well as the constitutional reform for future peace talks.