The FARC & Colombia: Resuming Peace Talks
By admin December 12, 2014


After admitting to breaching security protocols and travelling unauthorised to a remote jungle area in the Choco region, General Ruben Dario Alzate was kidnapped by the FARC along with his two companions on the 16th November 2014. This event lead to the suspension of peace talks between the Colombian government and the leftist guerrilla movement as they attempt to end the 50 year conflict that has ravaged the country and has killed over 200,000 people, and displaced countless more.

The General along with his two companions, were released two weeks later to a humanitarian mission led by the International Red Cross. Mr Alzate is the highest ranking military leader to fall into the hands of the FARC, and at the beginning of December, resigned from his post.

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said that his release ‘’helps to create a favourable atmosphere for the continuation of talks’’ and dispatched negotiators back to Havana to restart peace talks on 10th December, were both sides have agreed to resolve future disputes through Norway and Cuba, the negotiation’s ‘guarantor countries.’

The swift end to the tensions has been regarded as a sign of how much is at stake in the peace process. For his part, Mr Santos wants to end the conflict in order to make it part of his political legacy. He has vehemently pursued the peace talks despite constant attacks and criticisms from politicians especially by former president Alvaro Uribe and his Social Party of National Unity party. Despite the political elite’s opposition to the peace process a poll carried out before the kidnapping found that 55% of Colombians support the peace talks.

On the other hand the FARC is perceived to be involved in a strategic withdrawal as a result of years of increased military and police actions under the so called Democratic Security policy initiated by Alvaro Uribe in 2003. The FARC have been pushed back to more remote and sparsely populated areas of the Colombia with a significantly reduced numbers. It is estimated that the FARC currently has 7,000 combatants, a significant reduction from its 20,000 soldiers they commanded in the early 2000’s. According to The Economist, even though they can fight on and still wound, they can no longer overthrow Colombia’s democracy and free-market economy. Consequently it is seen that at the present time FARC is in effect negotiating the most advantageous terms of its surrender.

Since the beginning of peace talks in 2012 there has been agreement in some of the peace talks political agenda; rural reform(redistribution of land), political participation for former rebels(the right to access political process and direct participation by creating a political party with guaranteed safety from revenge attacks once FARC demobilises), and the fight against drug-trafficking (includes crop substitution and development programs for rural areas).  What remains to be agreed upon is how the guerrillas will disarm, demobilise and reintegrate into society, and who will be punished for the FARC’s crimes.

However, there remains much debate and controversy as to why the FARC is being treated with a heavier hand in contrast to the preferential treatment the paramilitary group AUC received when they demobilised in 2006. There has been several reports that former AUC fighters and leaders have experienced impunity within the Colombian judicial system despite committing the same (if not more) number of human rights violations as the FARC. The Justice and Peace law for example limits the time for investigations into any atrocities, as well as limiting jail sentences that can be served by them.

The Colombian government hopes to end the peace talks by February 2015 so that a referendum on the settlement can be held to coincide with local elections in October 2015. The swift resolution to the kidnapping incident involving the former General Alzate provides possible insights into how much both sides want a resolution to the half a century-long conflict. Nevertheless whether their political will is strong enough to bring about peace and whether future incidents like these will reappear that may damage or even halt the peace process altogether remains to be seen.

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