Tuesday, October 16, 2012

State sponsor of peace talks (II)

The peace talks between Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrillas will start in Oslo this week after 31 FARC members, with capture orders against them lifted by the government, flew from Colombia to Havana last weekend, then on to Norway (La Republica).  The FARC was founded 48 years ago and Colombia’s is the longest-running guerrilla war in the Americas.

A press conference is scheduled Wednesday.  The Oslo meetings are to finalize the agenda and ground rules, and negotiations will begin formally next month in Havana (El Colombiano).  There have been contacts between the Colombian government and the ELN guerrillas geared toward getting that group to join peace negotiations too.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has declared that he will not enter a cease fire, will not grant a territorial safe haven to the guerrillas, expects the talks to take “months, not years,” and will end the talks if they appear to be going nowhere.  Last month, Santos thanked the Cuban and Norwegian governments for their support in this process, saying: “Without their presence it would not have been possible to come to this point.”  Cuba and Norway will serve as “hosts and guarantors” in the talks, he said, while Venezuela and Chile will be “companions.”

The FARC has adopted a defiant public tone (see this BBC interview with a timeline of the conflict), although FARC negotiator Marco León Calarcá spoke more seriously in a two-part interview with La Jornada (here and here).  Calar said the FARC position is “realistic,” seeking “possibilities to live and in that context to engage in politics, to be in opposition without this implying necessarily being a military target.” 

In other words, the key for the FARC is to be able to stop fighting and to engage safely in opposition politics.  That implies negotiating a ceasefire, integration of FARC fighters into civilian life, and whatever political and security guarantees are needed to give both parties confidence that the negotiated arrangements will work. 

Success or failure will belong to the Colombians, but Cuba has a key role and has taken on a serious and interesting challenge.  The fact that Havana enjoys the confidence of a very old, faltering Marxist insurgency and a center-right, free-market democracy that is close to Washington is a big vote of confidence in Cuban diplomacy and a sign of its prominence in the hemisphere, even in the post-Fidel era.  One can imagine that Cuba’s key contribution could come when the FARC reaches crunch time and has to decide whether to take the leap into civilian life and politics – which it will surely call a transition to another form of struggle. 

U.S. interests are in play – humanitarian, security, anti-drugs, and anti-terrorism interests in a country where our taxpayers have spent $3.5 billion in aid since 2008.

The U.S. government designates the FARC as a “foreign terrorist organization” whose “tactics include bombings, murder, mortar attacks, kidnapping, extortion, and hijacking, as well as guerrilla and conventional military action against Colombian political, military, and economic targets,” with ties to drug traffickers, and whose operations occur both in Colombia and in “neighboring countries.”

An end to the conflict and the dismantlement of the FARC military capacity would result in the removal of that terrorist designation from the FARC or its successor political organization.  Such an achievement would add one more absurdity to Washington’s continued designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

More: Financial Times puts these issues in a regional context, the Cuban government’s only public statement on the talks last September, and the White House’s September statement welcoming news of the talks.

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