Kevin Howlett argues that while peace can only be achieved through negotiation, Colombians shouldn’t be castigated for wanting their president to shock and awe the guerrillas. Whether Colombians believe in peace or not, it is not they, but only the FARC, who can stop this nihilist war. The blame lies at the feet of the FARC (yes, and other actors too), not their victims.
Colombians are not to blame for the landmines, or the thousands kidnapped, the 6 million displaced, or those killed in brutal attacks.
Nor are Colombians to blame for the billions of dollars armed guerrillas make through trafficking drugs through Venezuela, Central America and Africa to reach the US and Europe.
Yet there is a temptation in public discourse to transpose culpability. A pernicious argument has developed over the last two years, suggesting Colombians “do not want peace”, or are not “ready for peace”. Too many politicians see the public as wrong, or ignorant for disbelieving the Santos government’s rhetoric.
Orwell would wince at the phrase Mr Santos has used about his countrymen; “enemies of the peace”.
The president has just decreed that all schools and all universities will teach “peace studies”. The belief is that Colombians must be taught how to be peaceful. Perhaps you could argue there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that. Yet, unless the FARC, the ELN and others really want to make peace, it is entirely irrelevant what 47 million Colombians think or feel about pacifism.
The war is sustained not by ordinary citizens, but by the guerrillas. And before you say “ah but…”, I’m well aware there are other actors in this war, like the paramilitaries, BACRIM, and corrupt state officials.
So I side with the average Colombian.
If I were Colombian my blood would boil reading that FARC foot soldiers had placed landmines outside a school in Cauca. And I would recoil at the news last weekend 400,000 citizens of the impoverished city of Buenaventura were without electricity following yet another attack by the FARC.
If I lived in Tumaco and the FARC told me I couldn’t leave, that I were a prisoner within the walls of my home town, what would I think?
If I were a campesino in Huila, or Cauca, or Putumayo and I were struggling to find the money to pay the regular “vacuna” (extortion, much like the mafia who charge for protection), what would I think?
If I lived in Cordoba, Uraba, Nariño, or the Magdalena Medio, and I saw the FARC team up with the narco-paramilitaries the Urabeños, (now the Usuga Clan), how would I feel?
I would feel the same as a growing number of Colombians; I would be sceptical the Havana dialogues are anything more than an excuse for the FARC to regroup, strengthen, and to gain international support for their cause.
After the duplicity and failure of Caguan, Caracas, Tlaxcala, and Casa Verde, (previous peace initiatives) I would struggle to believe a single word of the FARC’s vague and non-committal “promises”.
Regular readers will know I have always supported the peace talks in Cuba. A negotiated end to the war trumps military annihilation, anytime. Yet my confidence in the Santos government’s ability to move the discussions towards a successful conclusion is diminishing.
I haven’t given up hope yet. But if I were Colombian, if I had lived through the past, I would throw in the towel and ask the government to shock and awe the guerrilla; to “smoke em out” as George W Bush inelegantly put it.
I would be wrong of course.
But it would be entirely understandable for me to think this way.
Colombians should be given a break. They are doing remarkably well in giving the FARC and the government time to negotiate. Of course the polls suggest Colombians’ patience is running out. If you’d grown up with the FARC you wouldn’t trust them either.
51 years ago last week the FARC were born.
Last June President Santos won the election in on a single promise to deliver an end to this pointless and nihilistic conflict. But even he admits there has been no progress on the substantial points of the agenda since then.
Despite the guerrilla’s claim to be “the people’s army” as little as 3% of the population support the FARC. If they really want to lay down their arms and enter politics they should do so before it is too late.
The FARC should stop forcibly recruiting children, laying land mines, attacking the civilian population, and extorting the poor. The FARC should accept their part of the blame for the conflict. The government should stop blaming the victim.
Get on with it. Sign the peace agreement, disarm and let Colombians get on with life.
Kevin is a political consultant and lobbyist who cut his teeth working in the UK Parliament. He is a regular panelist on Colombian television, a political communication strategist and a university lecturer. Kevin is the founder and editor of Colombia Politics.