Talk that peace negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas are doomed is premature.
Sure, Colombia’s largest guerrilla group are doing their best to convince us they are not serious about the peace process. This week, the terrorist organization murdered 15 soldiers in an ambush close to the Venezuelan border, and yesterday they promised to send reinforcements, troops and arms to the front line of the protests in troubled Catatumbo, Norte de Santander.
Yes, the FARC are making it easy for former president Alvaro Uribe´s Democratic Centre to argue the talks are a farce, all smoke and mirrors. Would-be presidential candidate Francisco “Pacho” Santos, has used the FARC´s promise to fight in Catatumbo as a pretext to call for a suspension of the discussions. He argues the guerrillas have no intention of signing a peace accord, that they are having us on, and the plug should be pulled.
And ok, I accept it is hardly a source of good cheer that nine months from the start of the talks, we’re limping along with agreement reached on just one of the five points on the agenda.
But despite all this, I don’t accept the premise that we might as well pack up and go home. The course of lasting peace never did run smooth, and in a conflict as bloody and interminable as Colombia’s, finding a way out is a devil’s job.
Last night I took to the television studios to argue against the grain, to put the case that perversely, quite apart from being evidence that the peace talks were a dead duck, the FARC´s recent actions, the attacks and the full frontal with the government, could in fact be real evidence of their committment to the talks.
I’m quite aware it sounds bold, but if we look at the dynamics of any negotiation we can start to see where I’m coming from.
Negotiations are a power struggle where each actor must seek to strengthen his hand at the table.
Remember, we were told the FARC arrived in Havana totally demoralised, exhausted, defeated…on its last legs. Meanwhile, the government bright‐eyed and bushy‐tailed talked victoriously of signing an agreement within months.
Well, that was sadly not true – the FARC had not been defeated. They still have thousands in their ranks, and have an almost endless supply of youngsters to ‘forcibly recruit’ – or kidnap, if the euphemism isn’t to your taste. Not to mention the oodles of dosh that comes their way through narco trading.
Many Colombians, quite rightly given what the government had told them, did not really want a negotiated peace process, what they wanted was a rendition. Tired of close on 50 years of pointless conflict, Colombians wanted the FARC to lay down their arms and give up the fight. This was never going to happen.
So if the FARC are not about to capitulate, it shouldn´t surprise us if they use all the tricks available to secure an agreement that works best for them. That folks, is the nature of negotiation.
I see the events of recent days in this context, as evidence not that the FARC are throwing in the towel on the talks, but that they are exploiting external forces to improve their position in Havana. The FARC want us to believe that, as they are very much alive and kicking, we are going to have to pay a higher price for peace than once we bargained for.
So, however distasteful it might be, it is logical – not illogical as many suggest – that the FARC should pursue their peace goals in Havana by warring at home.
Unfortunately, the FARC are also able to take advantage of a struggling government. Santos ‘ team has failed to end the protests in Catatumbo and the president must now face a month of unrest as miners, coffee farmers, milk farmers, rice farmers, and truck drivers join forces to bring the country to a standstill.
By November, the president must announce whether he will run for re-election next year. By September he might have already lost the race to a nationwide rural uprising.
The FARC scent blood.
I also believe the FARC are not just preparing their hand at the table, they are also planning for what happens after the agreement is signed – another clue that they are serious about these talks.
It looks to me as though the FARC are massing their political troops, projecting forward to a time when they´ll fight at the ballot box, not on the battle field.
Look for a minute at the groups the FARC are proposing to help in Catatumbo. They are peasant farmers, those virtually abandoned by the state over decades. The FARC have always claimed to stand up for and represent “el pueblo”, the people – the lowly, but most of all, the rural. It does not take a genius to see they will seek to mobilise these groups when elections swing into view. And yes, the terrain is being prepared with Piedad Cordoba´s Patriotic March.
What luck for the FARC.
The election message has been handed to them on a plate – “Colombia’s rural poor is in open rebellion against the urban elite of Santos’ oligarchical government “. It´s “us” against “them”.
Maybe I am over optimistic but I hope I sense a hint of a sign the FARC could make a transition from the “people ‘s army” to the “people’s party”. Yes, I know they are nothing of the sort, but this is their world view, not mine.
The FARC top team are no fools, they know how to play the game, and they know how to squeeze as much out of their position as possible.
I might be wrong, these peace talks may yet end in acrimomy. But there is no reason yet to panic.
Negotiating peace while war rages is far from ideal, but what is the alternative?
Pack up? Go home? No chance. Keep going President Santos, we all want to live that dream of a Colombia in peace.
This article was written by the editor for Colombia Reports.