Thursday, April 16, 2015

Are the FARC Capable of Peace?

Soldiers carry the corpse of one of their companions killed by the FARC in El Cauca this week.
(Photo: BBC)
The FARC's killing 11 soldiers in El Cauca this week makes little sense strategically, and none politically.

The soldiers, part of anti-drug trafficking unit, were resting at the time and killed using long-range weapons.

The FARC leaders clearly want the peace talks in Havana to succeed, which is one reason why they declared a unilateral cease fire last December. But this apparently unprovoked ambush imperils the talks' progress. Pres. Santos already ordered a resumption of air attacks on the guerrillas, altho, surprisingly, he did not suspend the peace talks.

Buenos Aires, in El Cauca Department.
(Image from Wikipedia)
But the soldiers' killings will harden public sentiment against the guerrillas, including that of hard-liners within the military, and will give ex-Pres. Alvaro Uribe and other right-wingers more ammunition against the peace talks. And the guerrilla leaders' number one goal doesn't appear to be social justice or land redistribution, but soft terms for themselves in any peace deal, despite their innumerable human rights violation. This latest massacre puts that further out of reach.

I can think of only two possible reasons for this action:

One, that the FARC disastrously misread national sentiment following the April 9 pro-peace marches, in which some guerrilla sympathizers called for a bilateral ceasefire. Perhaps the guerrillas hoped that committing an atrocity like this one would motivate more Colombians to support the ceasefire to stop the killing.

Instead, in the same way that Japan's 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor even while Japanese-U.S. negotiations were being held rallied Americans behind FDR's declaration of war, these latest killings seems to have only generated more anti-guerrilla anger.

Could the guerrilla leadership have read public sentiment so incorrectly? I doubt it.

The more likely and even more worrying explanation is that the guerrillas have lost control of some of their 'fronts,' whose leaders may aim to sabotage the peace talks. The attack occurred in the municipality of Buenos Aires, in El Cauca Department, located near the Pacific coast and the Ecuadorean border. The region is valuable because of illegal mining and cocaine exportation routes.

Could it be that local FARC leaders, aware that a peace deal would extinguish their huge illicit incomes, have made this their way of trying to kill the talks - in defiance of the guerrillas' top leadership?

If my second hypothesis is correct, it bodes badly for the negotiations, since many local guerrilla leaders have their own motives for wanting to preserve the conflict and its illegal incomes.

If the guerrilla leadership cannot pull those far-flung units into line, then a peace deal may not be merely far away, but impossible.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

12 comments:

Faye Griffiths said...

It wasn´t a unilateral ceasfire - that is a misnomer. It was a suspension of air attacks on the FARC in return for a ceasefire on their behalf. The killing of the soldiers doesn´t have to make strategic sense. There was some evidence that it was a unilateral attack and that no assistance was given to help the soldiers when they came under attack . Maybe they were used as sitting ducks. But either way, nobody seems to be asking why the soldiers were using the sports centre of a town - if they were resting, they were resting using the townspeople as human shields and contravening international law. The full details of this story are unlikely to ever be known, but it´s an over simplification to just say that the FARC ´massacred´ soldiers. It´s an act of war, but they are still at war, so the word massacre is incorrectly used here.

Miguel said...

Hi Faye - It was the FARC who declared a unilateral ceasefire. The military had just suspended bombings.

I'm not sure why resting in a sports center constitutes using villagers as 'human shields'. If no other evidence is needed, there's the fact that the guerrillas killed and injured all these soldiers without civilian casualties.

Yes, there's still a conflict going on. But even in war, some things are not acceptable, and this seems like one of them.

Mike

Faye Griffiths said...

Hi Mike,
So if the FARC broke their ceasefire they should be deemed more responsible? Even though the govt hadn't complied with a ceasefire anyway. A one sided ceasefire was only ever going to be short lived. With regards to human shields, it's because there is an international law about armies setting up camp within a certain proximity to where civilians live or work or farm etc. So the sports centre was in use by the local community and should not have been a base for the army. Some reports say it was only a few metres from the nearest home in the village. Unfortunately, what makes war horrible is that killing your enemy is acceptable in war. There were civilian casualties, as there nearly always are. What happened to the soldiers was horrible,of course, but if it was an unilateral attack then really why would the guerilla not kill them? That's what war permits, and the only way to prevent that is to move to a full throttle unilateral ceasefire, but so far the government hasn't stepped up to that. It's a risk, of course, but at some point it's a risk that will have to be taken because peace cannot come without the army stopping its attacks too. People distrust the guerilla, but there is no reason to trust the army any more with their track record.

Miguel said...

Hi Faye - Perhaps the military assumed there existed no threat to civilians because they trusted the guerrillas unilateral cease fire declaration. I haven't heard of any civilian casualties here, and I suppose that the lack of civilian casualties here does demonstrate that there was no real threat.

On the other hand, if a threat did exist, then most of the blame would fall on the guerrillas, for firing at the soldiers while they were in town (and resting and defenseless), rather than waiting until they left town for patrol.

To me, it seems like a distorted logic to blame the people who were resting and defenseless, rather than the people who fired at defenseless soldiers.

Mike

Faye Griffiths said...

Hi Mike,
My logic would not absolve the guerilla of wrong doing in killin the soldiers. They still killed them. But if my logic is somewhat distored, isn´t yours somewhat idealistic about the military? They might have been resting, but they were not defenceless. It doesn´t matter if they believed they were safe there in the polideportivo of that town or not; it´s an international law that you cannot use civilian areas as military bases. That doesn´t change due to conditions at the time. The townspeople had asked them to leave and they´d stayed. I feel that the soldiers killed are victims of this war as much as others, but I would feel much more sorry for the civilians being dragged into it by their actions such as this. And you really think that that is what a trained guerilla army would do - wait until they were in a different spot to then attack? Even in the most noble of wars, nobody behaves like that. All this case demonstrates is that war is horrendous and it´s dirty. We can´t rely on the mainstream media or the army to give an honest account of what happened. All we can take from it is another example of why the peace talks need to be moved forward and a bilateral ceasefire implemented as soon as possible.

Faye Griffiths said...

It might be worth considering what some of the witnesses in this report say about the events of April 15th. Surely common sense would also tell us that if two guerilla were also killed, then the soldiers could not have been entirely defenceless. It smacks very much of them being sitting ducks put there to provoke (or instigate attacks, who really knows). Either way, no details of the event have been ratified by an independent body yet. http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Witnesses-Contradict-Official-Story-on-Military-Clash-with-FARC-20150418-0001.html

Miguel said...

Hi Faye,

well, I don't consider either the Broad Front or Telesur as being very objective sources

But even accepting all of their 'facts', and acknowledging that the soldiers should not have been camping out close to town, none of that justifies the guerrillas' attacking them this way.

Sure, it is true that attacking your enemies by surprise while they're at rest and vulnerable near civilian homes is a long tradition in war - but not when you're in peace negotiations with your enemy and you've declared a unilateral cease-fire.

Mike

Faye Griffiths said...

Ok, both are very left-wing sources with a possible bias against the government, that´s true. Nonetheless, that doesn´t mean their evidence should be disregarded. There is, after all, hardly any objective source of information in Colombia, which is why it doesn´t serve to trust the mainstream media outlets alone.
I would agree that breaking a ceasefire isn´t justified, and it´s a setback for the process. However, with the lack of verification or international or objective supervision of a this ceasefire, and given that it was only one-sided, some questions will probably always go unanswered. The first of those is who attacked first. We have only the account of the military and the guerilla to go on and reasons not to believe both of them. But if I were a relative of one of the dead solidiers, I´d have other questions too. Such as, why were they told to set up camp in a football stadium open on all sides to attack. If the battle went on for some five or so hours, why didn´t any support arrive? Why were they even in this red zone iniitally, especially under supposed ceasefire conditions? Were they used as sitting ducks to provoke an offensive and therefore justify resuming aerial attacks? I think the soldiers were vulnerable because of the position they were ordered to maintain, not, as you say because they were near to (or really just in) the town. I think they made the civilians of the town more vulnerable, but their own vulnerability was a result of either incompetence or something more untoward. This latest event is just being used by the media as an example of how the FARC cannot be trusted. But not enough is asked about the trustworthiness of the army - an army with an extensive record of human rights abuses. A bi-lateral ceasefire, all-in, is the only hope of really de-escalating the ceasefire. A one-sided one in a climate of great uncertainty was always going to come to an end. The hope is that perhaps these unfortunate soldiers will be some of the last victims of this dirty war, and that one day there may be some answers to the many hanging questions around theirs and so many other deaths.

Miguel said...

Hi Faye,

I think you're using inverted reasoning. Maybe the soldiers were foolhardy or irresponsible, or even trying to provoke an attack - of which there's no evidence - that only emphasizes the fact that they were sitting ducks for the guerrillas (whose own leaders don't dispute that they attacked first).

And certainly the military has committed human rights violations, and some, if too few, military officials are in prison for that. However, the guerrillas have made human rights violations there modus operandi, by recruiting children, planting land mines, abuses against women, massacres, etc etc., and I don't think they prosecute their fighters for that.

Mike

Faye Griffiths said...

Sorry, I don´t really understand what you mean by my inverted reasoning (genuinely, not sarcastically!). However, the FARC leadership, as far as I have read or seen, vehemently deny that they attacked the soliders. We do not have any evidence that the soldiers provoked the attack, but we also have no evidence that they didn´t. We could look at circumstancial evidence, though. a) The soldiers were a battalion of Contra-Guerilla, trained to do one thing only. b) No ground cease-fire had been declared by the army, so there was no reason why they would abstain from attacking. In fact, the military´s own website implies that they were there for that purpose.
So what I meant in the first place when I commented on your post, is why isn´t anybody (or you!) also asking whether the military and the government is capable of peace? Considering the big business that war is, considering that all the terrible atrocities the FARC have committed, the army and the state have too, why is the question one-sided?

Miguel said...

Hi Faye,

By 'inverted reasoning' I refer to placing blame on the military, who may have been irresponsible or unethical for resting near town, but it was the FARC who were the attackers.

The idea that the military were the aggressors seems untenable. It would require a wide conspiracy, of soldiers, residents, military officials and investigators. Also, common sense: If the military had attacked the guerrillas, would they have lost 11 soldiers and killed only two guerrillas? And if they had, you can be sure the FARC would be crowing about their great victory.

On previous occasions, military cover-ups have been exposed.

And even on the FARC's own website http://farc-ep.co/?p=4450 they don't accuse the military of attacking them.

There are legitimate questions about whether the military is capable of peace, because of all the vested interests in war. Which is why, I believe, Pres. Santos has made so many concessions to the military on human rights violations and other matters - which have been criticized by human rights NGOs.

Still, there is a double standard here, and a valid one, since the military represents the legitimate - if imperfect - democratic state, and the FARC are an outlawed terrorist organization.

Mike

Faye Griffiths said...

Hi again!

OK, I wouldn´t say I was placing blame on the military; I´m just not discounting the high-ranking decisions taken as being in part responsible for soldiers being killed, or that we might not be getting the whole truth. Yes, the FARC take the blame for being the attackers, but that does not mean that blame has to extend solely to them being responsible for a possible breakdown in the peace process.
It may seem we´re going round in circles here, but I don´t see it as untenable that the military did attack. In short, I could believe that that was the case, or that it was the FARC, or that the truth falls somewhere in between. But what seems to have come through in some reports is that many local residents´accounts do not concur with the official military version of events - that creates enough room for doubt in my mind. I could also quite believe that a wide conspiracy between soldiers and officials was possible. It wouldn´t be the first time. Some cover ups have been exposed, but they´re just the ones that we get to find out about.
Perhaps you´re right about Santos giving concessions to the military for that reason. A more cynical person would think that for all it´s great that he is engaging in talks, he wasn´t a pacifist when he was Uribe´s MoD, and some heinous things happened during his time in that position. For all his engagement and persistence with the peace talks is great, he´s a hardliner at heart, and that´s something which was evident when he immediately said they´d resume aerial attacks, despite the fact that violence had de-escalated remarkably this year and it would really benefit the peace process if that could continue.
But to come back to the original point in question - the soldiers weren´t defenceless, they were Contra-Guerilla sent into a high risk zone, they took refuge in a strategically risky place and in doing so were also breaking international law. It is sad that more lives have been lost so close to what could be the end of the conflict, but to omit important details about this setback to the peace process is dangerous too. The closer people get to the truth and understanding what really goes on in war, the more chance there is that people will work for a lasting peace.