FARC peace talks resume

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16 Jan 2019

Colombia’s government and Marxist FARC rebels have resumed negotiations in Cuba, aimed at ending the last major guerilla conflict in Latin America.

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The conflict is considered to be Latin America’s longest-running insurgency, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and more than 4.5 million people displaced.

 

Peggy Giakoumelos reports.

 

The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has been fighting the government in a jungle and urban conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people in the five decades since it began as a peasant movement seeking land reform.

After a three-week break, talks resumed in the 14 month long negotiations with the FARC attacking the government’s refusal to create a so-called “truth commission.”

FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez says a “truth commission” needs to be created to examine the history of the conflict that began in 1964.

“The first thing we want to say to the government is that we have not come to Havana to discuss impunity. No. Therefore, we have proposed the creation of a commission to clarify the truth about the history of the Colombian internal conflict to facilitate jurisdictional action and give satisfaction to the victims. But the government has ignored this knowing that if this commission is not created, it will not be possible to address the issue of the victims and of those responsible.”

Colombians go to the polls in March to elect a new congress and again in May to elect a president.

President Juan Manuel Santos kicks off his campaign for re-election later this month, staking his success on reaching a peace deal in 2014.

He’s continued military pressure on the rebels even as the negotiations proceed.

President Santos’ main opponent, rightist Oscar Ivan Zuloaga, says if elected he will end the talks and defeat the FARC militarily.

FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez says the conflict will not be resolved by force.

“Regarding the elections, we want to put an end to numerous rumours of non-exempt treachery and slander thrown to the wind by paramilitary right of Colombia. No candidate of the right, much less of the extreme right, is an option to achieve peace. Because of this, we call on all Colombians, and their social and political organisations, and the thoughtful people, to seek alternatives that favour our nation. And in this sense, we suggest that the Constitution Assembly pushes for peace in the face of the election of the same, usual candidates that want to turn Colombia into a paradise for transnational companies.”

Andrew Self is a PhD student from La Trobe University’s Department of Latin American Studies.

He doesn’t think the upcoming election will have a huge impact on the state of the conflict.  

“We see probably the centre-right government winning again and even if on the off chance, a pretty slim chance that the centre-left or a centrist gets up, then they will still get the same stance towards the FARC. The FARC are always seen as far left as radicals. Because of the history of violence in Colombia they’re not hugely popular and it’s political suicide to say that you are at least a sympathiser with the FARC. So the relationships won’t change too much. So hopefully these peace talks will continue because they’re the deepest that we’ve seen in the history of the country and they’ve gone the furthest. Both sides are most willing to make some compromises that we’ve ever seen in the nation.”

The FARC declared a unilateral truce over the holidays, while the government refused to reciprocate on the grounds that there could be a ceasefire only after a peace accord was signed.

The talks in 2013 resulted in a general agreement on agrarian reform and rebel participation in politics once they lay down their arms.

Negotiations are currently centred on drug trafficking, with the issues of reparations for war victims and the process of disarmament still to be worked out.

The contentious issue of what happens to the FARC commanders and military personnel accused of various crimes also remains to be seen.

Andrew Self from La Trobe University says while the tactics of the FARC have changed since the 1960s, the group’s influence still remains strong, especially in rural areas.

“Earlier on they had much more strength and they were a much more violent group. They had more terrorist attacks on their behalf. They were much more in the cities rather than rural areas. Now they’re much more in rural areas, more domination, and they’re much less likely to be kidnapping and terror sorts of attacks. So they’re influence is slightly waning that way, but in some regards it’s better for their PR that they’re not seen as quite as violent within the cities. But they’re still very influential in rural areas where they recruit most of their members because of pushing for land reform within Colombia. Pushing for more equal land distribution which is one of the key issues of the really poor in the rural area of the nation.”

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