By Luis Fleischman and Nancy Menges
In spite of its geographical proximity to the U.S. homeland, events in Latin America usually get sparse coverage in the American press. Therefore, last week’s visit to Washington by Colombia’s president, Manuel Santos and his meeting with president Obama was hardly noticed.
The main highlight of their visit was president Obama’s reiteration of his support for Colombia’s “peace process”, namely the negotiations with the guerilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
President Obama’s support was not surprising given his inclination to always endorse negotiations. This is particularly relevant when the meeting with Santos took place a little more than a week after the signing of the polemical interim agreement with Iran.
We agree with the president that negotiations should always be the first resort and should be fully exhausted before the next step is taken. However, it is vitally important to check if the other side has undergone an evolution that can make a negotiation successful.
As Fox News journalist K.T Mc Farland recently pointed out “when Nixon reached the historic agreement with China, (and) when Reagan reached the historic agreement with the Soviet Union… what those two breakthroughs had in common was the men at the top in China and Russia, were both willing to change course”.
Can we say that the FARC leadership whom President Santos is now in the process of negotiating with meets these criteria?
It is true that in the past democratic governments in Latin America reached agreements with guerilla groups that later were integrated into the democratic process. This includes Colombia, which negotiated a successful peace deal with the guerilla group “M-19”. However, the difference is that M-19 at the very beginning of the negotiation unilaterally renounced armed struggle. By contrast the FARC has still to do it two years after negotiations began.
Moreover, it is important to stress that the FARC is a narco-guerilla organization that has fought a nearly fifty year armed insurgency against the Colombian government using tactics of asymmetric warfare. The FARC is actively engaged in drug trafficking (its chief source of funding), extortion, kidnapping and generally terrorizing the Colombian population by carrying out massacres and murder of innocent civilians.
Under the leadership and direction of former Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, the ranks of the FARC were reduced by half, its’ landholdings diminished and many of its top commanders were killed.
By substantially weakening the FARC, the Uribe government was able to restore a sense of security and stability to the country, unknown there for decades.
The question is why when the FARC has been considerably weakened does the current president, Manuel Santos want to make a deal with such an organization instead of trying to further decimate their ranks and continue the successful policies of his predecessor.
This question is even more relevant in light of the fact that the FARC has duped the Colombian government in past peace agreements, i.e. with former president Andres Pastrana who gave the group a vast tract of land inside the country that they used to their advantage to further build up their forces.
It is instructive to see how the current negotiations have evolved. The Colombian government and the FARC agreed to negotiate on the following points:
a) Rural development and agrarian reform. Here, the Colombian Government expressed its commitment to allow more access to land and infrastructure to those rural populations that currently do not benefit from quality services and that have been displaced from the land.
b) The disarmament of the FARC. This has been a key demand by the Government of Colombia.
c) Putting an end to the armed conflict. Here the final objective according to President Santos is to guarantee that future conflicts should not be solved via violent means.
d) The termination of the FARC drug trafficking activities- the objective is to reduce drug trafficking and to deprive the FARC of its most important source of funding. The FARC will be requested to eradicate cultivation of cocaine and eliminate labs.
So far the Government and the FARC have come to terms on only three points out of the 27 they agreed to negotiate. After almost two years of negotiations the parties only agreed on the need for agrarian reform. But even on this point the situation remains highly problematic.
As an example, last May 26 President Santos welcomed the agreement with the FARC over agrarian issues. Two days later the FARC assaulted a milk farm, blew the farm’s installations, and murdered its administrator in front of his wife and two children along with one employee. This was one of several incidents in the area aimed at intimidating and terrorizing the population. This puts into question the credibility of the FARC. In addition, their actions do not really benefit the peasants, the group whose interests the FARC claims to protect.
In terms of the other points no agreement of any kind has been reached. Is it conceivable that the FARC would ever agree to disarm itself when it continues to use violence as a means to achieve its objectives or that it would give up its drug business, which constitutes their main source of funding?
Common sense tells us otherwise and the Colombian people seem to know that the Colombian government’s demands will never be met by the FARC. Indeed, Santos’ popularity is at a 30% low. Only 23% of the Colombian people believe that the negotiations will come to fruition and less than 30 percent believe that the FARC will ever abandon their arms.
The FARC is aware of the people’s skepticism. Indeed, last August negotiations entered a crisis because the government said that any agreement reached with the FARC would be subjected to a referendum. Immediately, the FARC rejected that proposal.
Still the Colombian government insists that Colombia needs to negotiate since the country “needs to find a solution to this problem”. According to Humberto De La Calle, Colombia’s chief negotiator, “this is the moment to say that peace should stand above differences”.
This was a weird remark given the difficulties the government faces when trying to make the FARC agree on any minimal demand.
Moreover, as we pointed out in a previous article, the FARC has been part of the Chavez-founded Bolivarian Continental Coordinator or CCB), which later changed its name to the Bolivarian Continental Movement (MCB). The CCB/MCB views violence as a crucial and necessary component to achieve its goals. In one of its statements the CCB pointed out that “The Continental Bolivarian movement is a means to promote the cause of the big nation” envisioned by Simon Bolivar”. Translated this means a country that constitutes both Venezuela and Colombia as part of the Bolivarian state.
Since being weakened and having their numbers reduced by close to half, the FARC has shifted a good deal of their operations to Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Their drug trafficking operations will most likely continue but under the name of a different group. This will give them the funds to finance their political campaigns inside Colombia as well as political outreach in other Latin American nations. What the FARC wants most is political legitimacy in order to run for municipal, state and federal offices and thereby weaken Colombian democracy from within, something they have been unable to accomplish during fifty years of insurgency.
The FARC is also working with other clandestine groups in the region. One of them is the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP). Most recently, the EPP carried out a major attack following the FARC blueprint. They abducted security guards at a ranch, freed a supervisor, who then rushed to inform the authorities, and then they ambushed the police officers when they arrived. Five people were killed.
According to a New York Times Report the EPP “is evolving from a ghostlike irritant for the authorities in Asunción, the capital, into a broader security threat in a backcountry that is already a hub for traffickers of marijuana, defiantly cultivated here on sprawling plantations, and Andean cocaine smuggled into Brazil and Argentina”.
Likewise, the group has intensified its operations, terrorizing the population, and killing peasants accused of collaborating with the authorities. Likewise, like the FARC they are beginning to control more and more territory in Paraguay itself and have managed to elude the Paraguayan government’s efforts to hunt them.
It seems that Santos underestimates the ideology and deep beliefs held by members of the FARC. Does Santos really believe that after fifty years of terrorism against the Colombian state and their close alliance with the late Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution that all of a sudden they will become law abiding citizens sharing the same goals and aspirations of most Colombians?
The fact that the Colombia-FARC negotiations are taking place under the auspices of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the Cuban government makes the entire enterprise even more problematic.
We assume that one of the reasons Santos agreed to negotiate with the FARC under the sponsorship of these rogue states is because their status has been enhanced in the continent. They have more international influence than conservative democratic countries such as Mexico or Colombia itself. In addition, the influence of the U.S in the region is declining. Santos felt that negotiating with the FARC was a way of breaking its isolation in the region. However, the only result of this process will be that the FARC will be given legitimacy, the group will be removed from the terrorist list, will continue to undermine the Colombian government, and serve the expansion of the Bolivarian revolution.
Luis Fleischman is co-editor of The Americas Report and the author of the book, “Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Security Threat to the United States.” Nancy Menges is the editor of The Americas Report.
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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