|Jan. 1999, Pres. Andrés Pastrana waits in vain for FARC leader Manuel Marulanda to occupy his seat.|
Ten years ago, Colombia's most ambitious experiment in peacemaking ended in failure.
|The FARC's territory: |
larger than Switzerland.
But even during the supposed peace process, the guerrillas continued kidnapping and killing and used the region to cache weapons and drugs and hold hostages. In late 2002, Pastrana declared the negotiations over and sent the military in to occupy the demilitarized zone.
|Pastrana and Marulanda finally meet.|
When the government declared Caguan a failure and sent in the military, the FARC just melted back into the jungle. For the FARC's hostages, life became more difficult, because the guerrillas now marched them constantly thru the jungle to evade army pursuit.
Hopes for a negotiated peace have never recovered from the demilitarized zone experiment. Each time a new peace initiative is suggested, critics cry out 'Not another Caguan!' The name has become shorthand for weakness, failure and useless concessions.
Colombia continues living the consequences of El Caguan in the succeeding governments' aggressive militaristic strategies against the guerillas.
|Guerrilla and government leaders pose together, |
when peace appeared possible.
The image of the 'silla vacia', or 'empty chair', when FARC founder Manuel Marulanda no-showed for a negotiation session, leaving Pres. Pastrana seated alone, became the most enduring symbol of the negotiations' futility and the guerrillas' lack of sincerity.
It's hard to conceive today of Colombia's severe crisis at that time, when some observers were calling it a failed state and even talking about it fragmenting into three separate regions, controlled by the guerrillas, central government and right-wing paramilitaries.
Today, Colombia is much better off, violence and drug production slashed - but still suffering from guerrillas' and other groups' drug-fueled violence. Despite billions of dollars in military and other assisstance from Washington and a beefed-up military, the guerrillas struggle on in the jungles and mountains, as well as in the old El Caguan region.
Even a weakened guerrilla force is difficult to defeat - especially when it receives a huge income from the drug trade. That's why decriminalizing drugs, as Pres. Santos and other Latin American leaders have recently suggested, is the best hope for finally ending Colombia's long conflict.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours