On Wednesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the resumed bombing of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) after an early morning attack by the rebel group killed at least 10 soldiers and left 17 injured. In the deadliest clash since the FARC announced a unilateral cease fire nearly four months ago, guerillas ambushed the soldiers with grenades and firearms in the rural southwestern province of Cauca.
In a televised press conference, Santos described the attack as “deliberate” and said it “implies a clear rupture of the promise of a unilateral ceasefire.” Santos’ order to resume bombing suspends the truce he made in March in response to the FARC’s adherence to its cease fire.
The killing of the soldiers is a significant setback to the ongoing peace talks between the government and the FARC that, after more than two years, seemed to be making conclusive progress. Since the FARC’s December announcement of a unilateral cease fire and Santos’ subsequent ban on air raids on FARC camps, the FARC had agreed to end its recruitment of child soldiers and the two groups recently agreed to work together on a historic landmine removal project. The group had also reached agreements with the government on land reform, political participation of ex-rebels, and joint cooperation against drug trafficking.
Los entusiastas de los diálogos recibimos con optimismo—y siempre cautela—las noticias de la última semana: la Unión Europea reconoció a Palestina como Estado, Cuba y EEUU restablecieron sus relaciones diplomáticas después de 55 años de “guerra fría,” y las Fuerzas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) declararon un cese al fuego unilateral e indefinido.
Decisiones audaces y polémicas, que siempre necesitan veeduría, pero que envuelven ánimos de ensayar nuevos métodos a la hora de solucionar diferencias. Desde que el gobierno de Colombia se embarcó en los diálogos con las FARC hace casi dos años y medio, muchas decisiones han sido controversiales, comenzando por el proceso de paz mismo—que tiene enconados contradictores, como el senador y ex presidente, Álvaro Uribe. Cada año que comienza—o cerca de cada elección—el presidente Juan Manuel Santos promete una firma de paz inminente. ¿Será que el 2015 le da la razón?
El año pasado también hubo una tregua de las FARC, aunque limitada a un mes durante las fiestas de fin de año. Según la Defensoría del Pueblo, fue entonces violada en tres ocasiones con ataques a la fuerza pública. Y ese es el meollo del asunto: las concesiones de las FARC en el terreno militar se reducen al ataque, no a la posibilidad de “legítima defensa.” Una tregua no es un desarme, ni una concentración de combatientes en una zona desmilitarizada (vieja fórmula de los diálogos del Caguán durante el gobierno del presidente Andrés Pastrana). Si no es decididamente bilateral, no obliga a la otra parte a no usar las armas; y el gobierno colombiano ha sido clarísimo en que nunca renunciará a su deber de defender a los ciudadanos. Y finalmente, necesita verificación, la que también es generalmente implementada en medio de un armisticio.
La víspera de la tregua (19 de diciembre), las FARC mataron a cinco militares en el departamento del Cauca y todavía el Ejército sigue buscando a un soldado desaparecido. Es la vieja táctica de la guerrilla: mostrar poder militar antes de mostrar voluntad de paz. En adelante, si las fuerzas militares aprovechan esa concesión de las FARC para atacarlas, la tregua será violada en instantes, y con ello vendrá toda la crítica de sectores opuestos al diálogo. ¿Hay una fórmula exitosa? Si no hay desarme, el escenario bélico es una bomba de tiempo; un desarme es el fin último de los diálogos—aunque no sabemos qué tan cerca estamos.
In a statement published on one of its official websites Wednesday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) declared an indefinite, unilateral cease fire and end to hostilities in Colombia, on the condition that the rebels are not attacked by government forces. The announcement was made as part of the peace talks with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration in Havana, and it marks the first time the guerrilla group has declared an indefinite halt to the fighting.
However, Santos has so far refused to reciprocate the gesture, saying that a bilateral ceasefire could potentially allow the FARC to regroup and attack, as they did during the failed peace negotiations that took place from 1999-2002. The president’s wariness also stems from an incident this September that nearly foiled accords again, when the FARC took General Ruben Dario Alzate and two of his traveling companions hostage in September, along with two others in a separate incident. All the hostages were released in November in order to continue the peace negotiations.
Currently, the Colombian government and FARC negotiators have reached agreements on three points of the original five-point peace agenda, but have stalled on the fourth point of restitution for victims. The Colombian government and FARC leaders have been engaging in peace talks in Havana since 2012. That same year, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos dismissed a temporary Christmas truce proposed by the FARC by saying, “The sooner we get to a peace agreement, the sooner we will silence the guns.”
Over 200,000 people have been killed since the internal war began between the guerillas and the government began in 1964. The FARC ceasefire will go into effect this Saturday, December 20.
Read more in AQ’s Fall 2014 issue on Cuba and Colombia.
Follow ongoing developments in Cuba here.
Iván Márquez, the chief negotiator for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), accused Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration of negligence on Tuesday for refusing to agree to a bilateral ceasefire. The Santos administration maintains that doing so would provide the FARC with an opportunity to take advantage of the ceasefire to build up their forces, as the FARC has done in the past.
While the peace negotiations have faced criticism, most notably from former President Álvaro Uribe, the Colombian government and the rebels have reached several partial agreements on three points of their agenda—the political participation of the FARC after disarmament, eliminating illicit drug production and implementing agrarian reform. However, due to the lack of a ceasefire, Colombian military forces have continued to clash with the FARC in the Colombian countryside.
Throughout the peace process, which began in Oslo in November 2012 and has since moved to Havana, the FARC has declared four unilateral ceasefires. Victims of both sides of the conflict called for a bilateral ceasefire earlier this month.
Thursday marked the conclusion of the third round of peace talks between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba, with no major progress made toward ending this long-standing conflict as the Colombian government continued to rule out a ceasefire with the FARC to gain greater peace.
Humberto de la Calle, head of the Colombian government’s peace negotiation team, declared in a press conference that he would rule out a ceasefire with the FARC until definitive peace agreements were set. "We want peace, but not at any cost. Not if as a result of the conversations the guerrillas are able to get stronger and continue to wage war." January 20 marked the end of the two-month-long unilateral ceasefire on behalf of the FARC.
He also cited that the round of discussions should be instrumental in avoiding further guerilla operations. "Once the conflict ends and the FARC are reintegrated into society, they are eligible to have physical and legal guarantees, but this will not happen prior to a solid partnership. Politics and weapons should not be combined.”
The FARC, however, are pushing for land reform and social development investments. During this latest round of negotiations, the FARC emphasized the need for greater support for food production to meet basic nutritional needs and proposed that 25 million hectares (62 million acres) of land, more than 20 percent of the country, be handed over to the country's poor.
Progress is likely to be made confidentially during negotiations to facilitate honest and impactful discussion, according to De la Calle. He stated said that peace processes do not come to fruition if facilitated through the media, and that the negotiating team will maintain periodic announcements of progress.
The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) was criticized on Monday for violating the two-month, unilateral ceasefire that the rebel group announced in Cuba last week. In an interview with El Tiempo, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón accused the FARC of targeting energy infrastructure and the local police in the department of Antioquia despite the ceasefire having been in effect since midnight on November 20. The FARC denied intentionally violating the ceasefire and responded by saying that their forces on the ground had not received the order in time, blaming the media for not disseminating the news properly.
The Colombian government has resisted pressure to respond to the ceasefire. “Those who have an obligation to demonstrate credibility and commitment [to the peace process] are the FARC, who have historically lied to Colombia,” said Minister Pinzón referring to the 1987 ceasefire that the rebel group violated and the demilitarized zone that the FARC used to rebuild its numbers and capability during the last attempted peace negotiation (1999-2002). Instead, President Juan Manuel Santos and his negotiating team are focusing on long-term peace and the integration of the rebels’ leadership into the political system. Minister Pinzón emphasized the government’s hope that the negotiations succeed and that the FARC “once and for all declare a ceasefire for the rest of time.”
Despite the controversy surrounding the ceasefire, the Colombian government and the FARC will continue to negotiate the end of the 50-year conflict behind closed doors. The talks are being mediated by Norway and Cuba, while Chile and Venezuela—seen as sympathetic to the Colombian government and the FARC, respectively—provide diplomatic support.
Shortly before resuming peace negotiations with the Colombian government in Havana on Monday, Ivan Marquez—the lead negotiator for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC)—declared a ceasefire, halting all offensive military operations and acts of sabotage against infrastructure.
The ceasefire began at midnight and is expected to last until January 20, 2013, and will “strengthen the climate of understanding necessary so that the parties that are starting the dialogue achieve the purpose desired by all Colombians," says Marquez. The Colombian government has publicly pledged to continue battling the FARC until a peace agreement has been signed and has not commented on Monday’s announcement.
The peace talks, which were postponed for four days due to “technical details,” resumed on Monday, a month after they officially commenced in Oslo. The negotiations will focus primarily on land reform, an issue that the FARC claims has been at the center of the 50-year conflict. The two parties are also set to discuss the formal end to the armed conflict, the political future of the FARC, guarantees for the exercise of political opposition and citizen participation, drug trafficking, and the rights of the victims of the war. Norway and Cuba are mediating the peace talks while Chile and Venezuela act as “acompañantes” to help with logistics and provide diplomatic support.
The end game of the talks is for the FARC to lay down their arms and to negotiate the integration of its troops into Colombia’s mainstream society and political system. The ceasefire is seen as a positive sign that the rebel group is serious about gaining political legitimacy and ending the conflict. Though the Colombian government remains wary of the group’s commitment to peace, analysts believe that this latest move puts pressure on President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration to reciprocate.