By Andres Schipani in Lima, Financial Times
Colombia’s government and representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, agreed to begin peace talks during a meeting in communist-led Cuba, local media reported on Monday. President Juan Manuel Santos’ government was to meet with emissaries of the Marxist guerrilla group first in Oslo and then Havana in October to end the Andean country’s 48-year old armed conflict, local radio station RCN reported. Officially confirming part of the speculation, Mr Santos said in a statement on Monday evening that “there have been exploratory talks with the FARC to seek an end to conflict … In the coming days the results will be announced. Colombians can rest assured that the government is acting with prudence, seriousness and firmness.” “The negotiations will start October 5 in Oslo and will then move to Havana where they will discuss justice, demobilisation, impunity, drug-trafficking, agrarian issues, among others,” said Francisco Santos, the president’s cousin and a former vice-president. “It will be a complex agenda.”
Colombia has experienced a dramatic turnround in the past 10 years, but the guerrillas are still a menace. After a recent uptick in violence, senior government representatives have reportedly met in Cuba’s capital with members of the rebel group to negotiate conditions for formal peace. A source familiar with Colombia’s peace process told the Financial Times the deal will happen and will be announced soon. “This will be an exit accord, what the FARC are negotiating is their dignity. Time is running against them, the guerrilla is not eternal any more as we once thought it was,” explained Jorge Restrepo, a security analyst with the Javeriana University in Bogotá. “This is the first time after previous attempts that I see we are moving towards something.”
Since taking office two years ago, Mr Santos has been signaling his willingness to participate in peace talks, yet he had also led some of the most crushing military strikes against the FARC – the region’s longest-running rebel group which still has an estimated force of 8,000 fighters. Its current leader, Timoleón Jiménez – known as ‘Timochenko’ – said in March it was it was “worth breaking the vicious circle and betting on peace.” “This will be an agreement with a very fragmented FARC sitting at one end of the table and a very strong Colombia, military as well as economically, at the other end,” said Mr Restrepo. An anonymous intelligence source cited by Reuters said Colombia’s government has agreed that FARC leaders would not be extradited to another country to stand trial.
Colombia’s second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, said on Monday it would also be willing to hold unconditional peace talks. “We are open; it’s exactly our proposal, to seek room for open dialogue without conditions and start to discuss the nation’s biggest problems,” the group’s leader Nicolás Rodríguez told Reuters. However, he stressed his group refuses to end its practices of kidnapping, bomb attacks and extortion of foreign oil and mining companies before negotiations officially start.
While the majority of political parties in Colombia’s Congress support the possible negotiations, Mr Santos’ predecessor and former ally, Álvaro Uribe, has openly rejected the peace talks. Last Wednesday, in a surprise move, Mr Santos asked for all 16 ministers to resign as part of a cabinet reshuffle to shore up his slumping approval ratings. Analysts believe he is now focused on building “a cabinet for peace” looking at his potential re-election in two years. Local media reports that when Colombia’s president met with his Venezuelan counterpart, leftist Hugo Chávez, in northern Colombia in 2010 Mr Santos requested his assistance to mediate the preliminary talks. “This is good timing for both presidents,” explained Francisco Santos, the former vice-president; “this might also help them securing re-elections, Chávez in October and Santos in two years.”
Editor’s Note: The Castro regime has a long history of using its intelligence services to subvert peace negotiations involving allied guerrilla groups. For a detailed case study of one example, see: Manipulating the Contadora Peace Process