Colombia divided over peace talks suspension
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ decision to suspend peace talks with rebel group FARC over the capture of an army general has provoked strong responses within government. While some urge that conditions be imposed on the FARC, others call for a bilateral ceasefire.
Members of congress who have been critical of negotiating peace in the middle of an armed conflict have had plenty to say in the wake of recent events, including the FARC capture of General Ruben Dario Alzate and two civilian murders earlier this month.
While leaders of the Green Alliance, Conservative Party, and the ruling U party continue to back the president in his decision to suspend the peace talks, Santos is facing criticism from both the right and left.
Left calls to consider bilateral ceasefire for duration of talks
The leader of leftist opposition party Democratic Pole, Clara Lopez, and Liberal Party leader Simon Gaviria have both spoken out to voice their disapproval of negotiating without a ceasefire, saying that Santos has “invited” the events of the past few weeks.
“We very much regret that General Alzate has been detained by guerrillas… But when the president of the Republic decided to negotiate in the middle of conflict, he invited these acts, which he is now uses as justification to suspend the negotiations. We need to revise the policy of negotiating in the midst of conflict. It is necessary to make a concrete ceasefire,” Lopez told Colombia Reports.
Simon Gaviria criticized the government’s decision to negotiate with the FARC during conflict, saying that “this is how we to got into this situation, and why we are hurting now. It’s unfortunate. ”
Conservative opposition demands ceasefire
Leader of the opposition party Centro Democratico, Oscar Zuluaga insists the the suspension of peace talks remain “permanent” until a ceasefire has been declared, blaming the government entirely for the current crisis. According to Zuluaga, the government has “remained complacent with the guerillas, who have everything in their favor” at the negotiating table, adding that the suspension is a direct result of the country’s growing distrust in the dialogues.
Senator Alvaro Uribe, who has been a fierce opponent of the peace talks, has called the president a “liar and a traitor,” saying it was a mistake to push for dialogues without a cessation of violence. After news broke of the capture of General Alzate under suspicious circumstances, Uribe called on the international community “who supported these dialogues with terrorists” to demand the return of the hostages.
Uribe would have the government curb the lenience it has shown guerrillas in the event of a peace agreement. “We require guarantees that if agreements are signed with the terrorists,, the benefits remain in reduced sentences. The Government has requested to expand the concept of political crime to include drug trafficking and kidnapping, to give impunity to those responsible for these crimes. The response of the FARC has been kidnapping of civilians and soldiers.”
FARC victims demand conditions be imposed on guerrillas
Senator Sofia Gaviria (Liberal Party), founder of the National Federation of FARC victims, told Colombia Reports that victims are in favor of the suspension, and see it as an opportunity to impose conditions on the negotiations. “We require a promise of peace by the FARC, which we haven’t had–on the contrary, there has been a very troubling increase of acts against Colombian civilians,” said Gaviria, referring to the FARC murders of two indigenous civilians earlier this month.
“In the face of these crimes, there needs to be a clear act in the interest of peace. The first thing that we [FARC victims] have asked is that FARC release all kidnap victims; then, that they hand over maps telling us where to find the graves of people they’ve killed; and maps showing the locations of land mines. This is the minimum that the FARC must start with so that the government, and in particular the victims can begin to believe that the FARC have the will for peace,” said Gaviria.
Against suspension of talks
Leftist Senator Ivan Cepeda (Polo Democratico) is forcefully against suspending negotiations, reminding the president that it was his decision to negotiate without allowing a ceasefire. Cepeda took to the media in the days following the suspension, asking citizens to support and defend the peace process, even organizing marches for peace.
Backing the president
Leaders of the Green Alliance, Conservative Party, and the ruling U Party have all expressed solidarity with the president in his decision, putting the onus on FARC for non-compliance with conditions of the Havana dialogues.
Claudia Lopez (Green Alliance) emphasized FARC’s failure to show “good will” at the negotiating table by continuing to commit acts of war. Lopez has also expressed suspicion of the circumstances surrounding the general’s capture, wondering publicly why the high ranking commander voluntarily walked into a FARC red zone with no safety measures.
David Barguil, leader of the Conservative Party, insists that the the peace talks must not resume until all three hostages are safely returned.
Senator Roy Barreras added that he hoped for the speedy release of the three hostages in order that the negotiations,which save lives, can resume.
Santos confirmed Monday night that he will continue to suspend the peace negotiations until the three FARC hostages have been safely returned to their homes.
“We must be clear: although we are currently negotiating in the middle of a conflict, the FARC have to understand that peace will not come from escalating violent actions and undermining trust,” the president said in a speech broadcast on Monday.
In his address, the president also referred to the recent FARC murder of indigenous civilians and kidnapping of two soldiers in eastern Colombia.
Both President Santos and FARC currently accuse each other of breaching an agreement made in Havana, both citing the same promise by the warring parties not to let acts of war interfere with the negotiations.
Camilo Gomez, Peace Commissioner under former president Andres Pastrana told press that “if the president decides not to continue with the peace talks, it is FARC’s responsibility,” Gomez told Radio W, saying that the kidnapping is the latest in a series of events that have “eroded” the peace talks. He also believes that “[this event] should lead the Government to restructure the methodology of the negotiations and set conditions for the development of the peace process. If the government does not change of pace, the process does not have much of a future. ”
Carlos Lozano of NGO Colombians for Peace argued against the suspension of the negotiations, saying that he disagrees on the basis that the government agreed to carry out negotiations in the midst of war. “That’s why these things are bound to happen,” Lozano told W Radio.
Ana Teresa Bernal, the High Councilor for Victims’ Rights, Peace and Reconciliation called for a bilateral ceasefire.”Continuing dialogues in the middle of conflict is ridiculous. If we want successful peace, we must have a ceasefire”
National Movement of Victims of State Crimes, founded by Senator Ivan Cepeda, called on the government to resume the peace talks.
- A las FARC les exigimos que demuestren su voluntad de paz con acciones y no solo con palabras: Presidente Santos (Presidential web site)
- Gobierno mantendría condición de liberación para reanudar diálogos (El Tiempo)
- Polémica por decisión de suspender los diálogos de paz (W Radio)
- Atención/Comunicado sobre el secuestro del General Alzate (Centro Democratico press release)
- Víctimas de Estado exigen a Gobierno reanudar diálogos de paz con las Farc (El Espectador)
- Centro democrático pide cese unilateral al fuego para retomar los diálogos (Caracol Radio)
- ‘Santos miente y traiciona’ (El Mundo)
- Interview with Clara Lopez
- Interview with Sofia Gaviria