In My Opinion

Andres Oppenheimer: Why Colombia’s peace talks may fail

After interviewing former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe shortly after the Colombian government announced that it had dismantled a FARC guerrilla plot to kill him last week, I’m more pessimistic than ever about the future of Colombia’s ongoing peace talks with the rebels.

The FARC’s apparent plan to kill Uribe — Colombia’s most popular opposition leader and a candidate for Senator in next year’s elections — raises serious questions about the rebels’ intentions, and about their ability to enforce a potential peace agreement.

According to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ government, the intellectual author of the plan to kill Uribe was “El Paisa,” a former Medellin drug cartel member-turned-guerrilla who now leads the FARC’S Teofilo Forero Front.

But the big question is whether the Teofilo Forero Front was acting on its own, or with the knowledge of the FARC commanders who are holding the peace talks with the Santos government in Cuba.

Asked about it, Uribe, a fierce critic of the peace talks, stopped short of saying that the plot came straight from the FARC leadership — an assertion that would put new pressure on the Colombian government to cancel the talks.

The FARC is a “hierarchical” organization, he told me. He refused to elaborate, saying that he doesn’t like to talk about security issues that relate to him personally.

But Uribe cited other reasons of why he opposes the government’s peace talks with the rebels, who he said are responsible for more than 30,000 kidnappings and thousands of killings.

“Look, the FARC is making headlines in the international press talking about peace, but just last weekend, they kidnapped the passengers of 200 vehicles...and killed four policemen. Which citizenry in the world would accept its government to hold negotiations with terrorists, while during the course of the talks the terrorists are killing soldiers and policemen?” he asked.

Furthermore, Uribe lashed out at what he described as a government offer to allow the FARC rebels to avoid jail and run for Congress.

“Offering impunity is wrong,” Uribe said. “Impunity is the mother of new acts of violence. Colombia’s history has proven that.”

But don’t all peace processes end with some kind of pardon? I asked him. Isn’t that what happened in South Africa, Nicaragua, El Salvador and so many other conflict-ridden countries?

“You can’t compare the FARC’S terrorism in Colombia with what happened in South Africa or Central America,” he said.

Nelson Mandela was fighting against an Apartheid regime in South Africa and the rebels in Central America where fighting against dictatorships or quasi-dictatorships, but “in Colombia, the FARC terrorists are fighting against a respectable democracy,” he argued.

But didn’t Uribe himself offer the FARC rebels clemency and political representation when he was president? I asked.

“I never offered impunity,” he responded, adding that he had offered the rebels reduced sentences, but not immunity. “This (Santos’) government has offered impunity, and has offered political legitimacy to people who committed atrocities. That’s a big difference,” he said.

But hasn’t happened that everywhere?, I insisted. Colombia’s former M-19 guerrillas are now in the Colombian Congress, and the current presidents of Brazil and Uruguay are former guerrillas, I added.

“The current president of Brazil was a guerrilla against a military dictatorship,” and something similar occurred in Uruguay, Uribe responded. “But in Colombia, we’ve had a along all these years a respectable democracy.”

My opinion: While I don’t share Uribe’s all-out opposition to Colombia’s peace talks — there’s a valid argument for exploring a peace deal, and submitting it later to a national referendum — the whole circumstances surrounding the latest FARC plot to kill Uribe makes me skeptical that a meaningful peace agreement will be reached.

If Uribe is right and the FARC is a “hierarchical” organization, and the Teofilo Forero Front was acting with the knowledge of the FARC’s general command, it would mean that the rebels can’t be trusted to be negotiating in good faith.

And if Uribe is wrong and Teofilo Forero Front was acting independently, without the knowledge of the FARC’s general commanders, it would be just as bad. What’s the point of negotiating a peace deal with the FARC leadership, if it can’t control its fighters on the ground?

Most likely, Santos will sign a piece of paper with the FARC that both sides will call a peace agreement. But — I hope I’m wrong about this — it is very unlikely to stop Colombia’s narco-terrorist violence.

Read more Andres Oppenheimer stories from the Miami Herald

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