Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Long, Long Way to Go for Peace

Lots to say: Government and rebel negotiators at the table in Oslo. 
One thing was made clear by press conference by government and FARC guerrilla negotiators today in Oslo, Norway: the two sides are starting off far apart.

The guerrillas' mindset, it seems, has remained back in the 'Marquetalia Republic,' where their movement began in 1964 as a struggle for landless peasants.

Today, the guerrillas announced that they want to negotiate Colombia's fundamental nature: its economic system and its relationship to its people: Foreign investment, mining, private property. In other words, they want to use negotiations to achieve the Marxist revolution they couldn't win by arms. In contrast, lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle insisted that the government would discuss only specific topics agreed to in Havana, Cuba: rural development, compensating the conflict's victims and a political role for the guerrillas, narcotrafficking and ending the conflict.

The guerrillas' rhetoric about the Colombian people being the protagonists at the talks revealed to me their continued delusion about their being the Colombian peoples' representatives (They still title themselves 'The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - Army of the People') altho they have only about 3% public support.

The guerrillas also made clear that they consider their violent armed struggle against Colombia's government "a universal right.

"We are the response to the state's violence," said a guerrilla spokesmen.

That attitude will make it difficult for the guerrillas to agree to any sort of punishment for their countless crimes. Many Colombians seem to have accepted the possibility of the guerrillas participating in politics. But imagining an organization which has committed atrocities against civilians, including car-bombing, kidnapping, murdering hostages, recruitment of child soldiers, driving peasants out of their homes, planting land mines and on and on, would walk away scot-free seems unthinkable. And it's not as tho there's no precedent. Some members of the right-wing paramilitaries - albeit far too few - are in Colombian and United States prisons, as are a number of Colombian politicians convicted of collaborating with illegal armed organizations.

On human rights, the guerrillas also came off looking cynical, by declaring themselves "open to humanizing the war; reducing the impacts on civilians." This, from an organization which routinely terrorizes, injures and murders civilians, which in recent months has invaded rural schools and taken away children to use them as fighters. 'Humanizing the conflict' is a step which the guerrillas should take immediately, by ceasing attacks on or near civilians, freeing all remaining hostages and sending home the underage soldiers in their ranks.

Still, most every negotiation begins with the sides far apart. Colombians are fed up with this war, which has caused tremendous suffering and bld away resources from education, health and other uses. And the guerrillas are beleagured and weakened. Hopefully, those interests will push the two sides to compromise.

The talks, which began in secret more than a year ago, still have a long way to go. After the meetings in Oslo, the two sides are supposed to finally begin formal negotiations in Havana in mid-November. Meanwhile, fighting back in Colombia will likely, and tragically, continue.

Only time will tell.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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