Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos officially confirmed rumours concerning substantive peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army (Farc) this week.
Santos announced that six months of direct talks in the Cuban capital Havana, facilitated by the Cuban and Norwegian governments, had opened a road map towards “a definitive peace.”
Participants had maintained silence over the proceedings, although former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe attempted to provoke a negative reaction just over a fortnight ago by “exposing” the involvement of “some generals and civilians,” including the president’s brother Enrique Santos.
President Barack Obama has been kept in the loop by Bogota and is supportive of the peace initiative, but US government officials will play no direct role in the talks.
Former president Jimmy Carter congratulated Santos for agreeing to peace talks as well as building bridges with Colombia’s neighbours Venezuela and Ecuador. He offered his services if required.
“My hope is that not only will you have full support of all nations in this hemisphere, including my own country, the United States, but also that you have full support from all the leaders in your own country because Colombia needs to be behind you as you seek peace for your people,” said Carter.
Santos made clear on Thursday that his administration would have no objection to individuals chosen by Farc as its negotiators in Oslo, when the first formal negotiating session commences on October 8.
However, he stressed that the “process has to be realistic and this is very important for there are things that we can do and others we can’t.”
This comment may well be linked to the Farc announcement that among its first three delegates for talks in Norway would be Ricardo Palmera, who is known as Simon Trinidad.
Trinidad is currently serving a 60-year jail sentence in the US for conspiracy and kidnapping, related to the capture by Farc of three US mercenaries in 2003 after their plane was shot down over the jungle in Caqueta province.
The three were held for five years before being released in a dubious operation by the Colombian military masquerading as the Red Cross.
Bizarrely, a Tampa Bay court awarded the trio $318 million in May, payable from bank accounts confiscated from Colombian drug traffickers, after the judge decided that these could be linked to Farc.
Although employed by defence technology company Northrop Grumman, the three mercenaries were engaged in aerial surveillance missions against Farc as part of Plan Colombia, an ongoing US programme to assist Bogota to defeat the guerilla movement and cocaine-trafficking cartels.
The “war on drugs” charade, shared by the British government, has no chance of success when demand for cocaine in the US and Europe is both escalating and extremely profitable.
And whereas the Colombian military, assisted by US aerial power and technology, has achieved successes in assassinating some Farc leaders, its constant assertions that Farc is on its last legs are baseless, as evidenced by government agreement to peace talks.
Indeed, military activity in August by Farc, as well as the much smaller National Liberation Army (ELN), showed a 35 per cent increase across the entire country over the previous month.
Much of this was directed at targets such as electricity pylons, oil pipelines and power stations, causing economic disruption and losses of millions of dollars to transnational oil and mining companies.
There was a big increase in attacks against Hidrouitango, a $5.5 billion project to build a hydroelectric dam in Antioquia province.
The scale of assaults has, however, dipped since the declaration of peace talks and liberation forces leader Rodrigo Londono, known as Timochenko after the wartime Red Army general, declared that the first proposal by Farc on October 8 would be an immediate ceasefire.
This may be a bridge too far for President Santos and his security apparatus, whose jaundiced memories of the previous ceasefire under president Andres Pastrana recall government agreement to a large demilitarised area of the country that became effectively a Farc-administered liberated zone.
On the contrary, Colombia’s progressive forces remember a concerted murderous assault by death squads, including army units, on the elected officials and candidates of the Patriotic Unity party (UP) set up by Farc and the Colombian Communist Party, which saw about 5,000 slaughtered.
Farc negotiators are willing to take chances for peace, but they will not countenance a replay of the one-sided bloodbath in which UP drowned.
Regional political changes in a progressive direction may make this less likely, with Venezuela and Chile playing a supportive role in the talks scenario.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez congratulated both sides on Tuesday for taking steps to end a war that began half a century ago to defend peasants and rural communities against landowners’ and ranchers’ lawless violence.
“I hope they don’t fail in their commitment to reach peace. It’s enough of war, of 60 years of war. This doesn’t have a military solution, I’ve said it before,” Chavez said.
“It needs a political solution at a discussion table looking for agreement points so the guerilla fighters can lay down their weapons, hopefully with the guarantee and respect of a political life.”
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