This guest article was written by Richard McColl.
President Santos’ statement last week, that for no instant would the armed forces rein in their campaigns against the FARC guerrillas until a formal declaration of peace is signed, shows that the Colombian government is at no point a hostage to the peace talks and neither are they obliged to kowtow to extravagant and unrealistic rebel demands.
Despite the fact that the Colombian government is on the back foot regarding the FARC’s media campaign of providing selective interviews to various press outlets in the run up to the opening of the next round of peace talks in Cuba from November 15, the Colombian state is clearly approaching the negotiating table in an authoritative and confident mode. For this, we must be thankful.
That the Dutch FARC guerrilla Tanja Nijmeijer has been flown in to Havana to make up part of the negotiating team has just qualified our suspicions that the guerrilla will use any tactic to try and draw international coverage from left leaning EU MPs and similar media to boot. Photogenic, middle class and a believer of 10 years standing in the rank and file of the FARC, Nijmeijer, despite hiding behind a perfectly formed and brilliantly white orthodontic smile, is wanted by the US for involvement in the kidnapping in 2003 of the three US contractors and in turn by the Colombian government for acts of terrorist aggression in Bogota and various other crimes. Despite having, presumably, a social conscience that drew her to the FARC in the first place, Nijmeijer’s behavior is clearly that of a sociopath and the international public has to know of her acts of placing a bomb in a police station in southern Bogota, targeting the capital’s mass transit system in addition to multinational chain stores. That the FARC are willing to use this criminal to further their media reach just shows the type of people the Colombian government is dealing with.
With Humberto de la Calle at the helm of the government’s negotiating team, we have a statesman, a practiced politician and someone who will sit by and permit figures such as the FARC’s Ivan Marquez to spew his archaic rhetoric all the while hammering out an acceptable agreement. If, of course an agreement is to be reached.
One cannot help feeling that this is the FARC’s last chance to survive and to enter the political mainstream. Why? Over the past 50 years of conflict, as mentioned in the Colombian regional newspaper the Vanguardia Liberal, the government has been involved in peace talks on 12 separate occasions with figures from every level and spectrum of the violent conundrum including guerrilla outfits such as the M19 and the rightwing AUC paramilitaries.
My point is the following: the government is well practiced in this conflict, they are winning the war, partially through military means, but, mainly through international recognition of the conflict, international investment, and the inevitable collapse of the FARC as we know it. It would be naïve to think that this can all be ended in a military fashion, but the government is determined and committed to chipping away with significant blows to rebel strongholds, rebel income and more importantly communication between the rebels.
Most FARC divisions are now running almost independently from one another with little or no contact with the ruling secretariat. What has happened is that with the disappearance of their political ideology, FARC groups have been obliged to resort to whatever it takes to secure an income be it kidnapping, extortion, trafficking of narcotics or more commonplace nowadays illegal mining. This has led to the FARC being little more than a convenient umbrella term for dozens of newly emerged criminal groups (BACRIMs). Without a unifying political ideology the FARC are not to be confused with effective cells similar to those employed by militia in the Middle East. The FARC have not used suicide bombing as a terrorist method and here’s hoping this never happens. If the FARC continue to exist only as independent frentes, then they’ll be forced into disarming, disbanding or being continually under attack by the government.
Another element that must be thrown into the mix to alter the dialogues that are due to take place are the recent presidential elections in the United States. President Obama has a great deal on his plate now that the states of Colorado and Washington approved the legalization of marijuana. This hopefully forces President Obama’s hand into addressing President Santos’ call for a greater and more open dialogue on the possible legalization of various illicit substances that have been the main source of funding for illegal groups such as the FARC in Colombia and of course so damaging to the country.
There must be hope for the peace talks in Cuba, but there must be skepticism in the same measure and we have to acknowledge that nothing is going to be agreed in a week or two weeks or even in years. There are very few generations of Colombians living today who have ever known peace and so this is going to take time. The FARC will need to back down from the arrogant stance presented before the world’s cameras in Oslo in October and begin a real period of soul searching to come up with what is needed, the complete cessation of the production of narcotics, of illegal mining, kidnapping, extortion, attacks against the civilian population and then they’ll have to recognize and compensate their victims.
Peace is a long way off, but if both sides are committed, then it can be achieved.
Richard McColl is a British born, Bogotá based freelance journalist and owner of the guest house, La Casa Amarilla in Mompos. Richard has written for the BBC, the Daily Telegraph, CNN, the Huffington Post, Dialogo, as well as for a number of travel guides to Colombia.