The second of July 2008 the Colombian army released from the hands of Farc fifteen hostages including three North Americans and the half French Ingrid Betancourt. In many opportunities the government of Colombia has shown its willingness to talk to Farc in order to make an agreement of peace. Nevertheless to the actual government to give the first big step in a negotiated peace has been hard, since the revolutionary group has a first request which consist in the demilitarization of Florida and Pradera, two towns in the south west of Colombia.
Once these places are demilitarized the legislative body of Farc will go there to talk about a ‘prisoner’s exchange’ and Colombian peace.On the other hand the president of Colombia Alvaro Uribe, who is especially famous for his ‘inflexibility’ against Farc, has a list of ‘immovable facts’ including the no demilitarization of the two mentioned towns. What Uribe calls ‘the immovable’ became also immovable for Farc reducing the possibility of a negotiated peace as well as the ‘prisoner’s exchange’. This policy paper addresses only one question.
Should Colombian government reconsider the demilitarization of Florida and Pradera to give the first step to the process of peace? In the first part the paper will give a historical background about the appearance of Farc. The second part will provide information about the process of peace under the government of President Pastrana, the third will describe the changes under the government of Uribe and will analyze the pros and the cons of having a demilitarize zone. At the end the policy recommendation is to maintain the immovable.
After the proclamation of independence of Colombia from Spain in 1810, many wars have been fought in the territory from basically two different groups looking forward to be in the power. For that reason Spain had the possibility to reconquer the territory which was finally able to get the total independence in 1824 (Castro G 1986), nevertheless things were not very different than after the first call for independence, as in many other Latin American countries, the differences within classes started from the early foundation of the nations and have extended until now.
In 1948 with the dead of the liberal leader (running for president) Jorge Eliecer Gaitan exploited in Colombia what was called ‘the violence period’ in which the only two ‘legal’ political parties ‘Conservatives and Liberals’ were fighting without rest for holding the power of the country and also to give and end to the incipient Communist party. While both of the parties were fighting for more land, more money and more power of decision, hundreds of rural poor found themselves in the middle of the battle that they were neither fighting nor wanted to join.
Sympathisers of both parties decided that many of the rural poor where either conservatives or liberals and as the regions were divided by for political believes, those that were thought to be sympathisers of the other political party were cruelly assassinated. In other words, farmers living in areas full of conservatives needed to either join the conservatism or at least to pretend to be part of it, otherwise they were accused of being ‘traitors’ and were executed (Barrios L 1984) During this period the rural area of Colombia lived the worse violence ever seen.
As a consequence of the continuous assassinations and the inability of the government to solve not only that problem but also the condition of misery and inequality in Colombia, a group of people decided to arm themselves with all the possible tools to show resistance to such an unfair treatment from the government and their supporters. Some years later, in 1994, this group will become an organization under the name of Farc (revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) with Manuel Marulanda Velez as its leader.
In its initial process, Farc were not a Marxist guerrilla force, instead, as just described, they were a group of poor people with no better chances of protecting their lives than using the force, in other words they were a ‘self defence group’. But it was not very hard for them to find compatibility with some of the Marxist ideas and motivated by the example of Fidel Castro in Cuba and the every day more popular ideas of Che Guevara, they also became a political force looking forward to taking the power in order to make of Colombia another communist republic under the Farc regimen.
Eventually Farc started to gain power on the country and the more power they had, the more they forgot about their ideas. In a documentary made on 1982, when someone implied ‘extortion and kidnapping’ as a way of financing Farc, Marulanda said “Our financing comes from the contribution of the people, we are enemies of extortion and kidnapping because we are a political party”.
Nevertheless the government of Colombia has been able to prove that they not only are financing their war kidnapping innocent people out of the conflict, but also they charge a fee to the farmers of the area where they operate, if the farmers refuse to pay they kill them without any hesitation or they plunder the farms until the farmers decide to ‘cooperate’. In addition, after the heads of the two biggest drug-cartels in Colombia were out of their way , the guerrilla forces started running the drug traffic business and this has represented an incredible income with which they have been able to better their guns and their forces.
II.The process of peace In 1998 and with the same speech of ‘peace through negotiation with the guerrilla forces’ Andres Pastrana Arango is elected president of the Republic of Colombia. In 1999 as promised, president Pastrana starts the process of negotiation with Farc. The guerrilla forces had asked for a demilitarized zone in the south of Colombia. A year later 42.000 squared kilometers of land was demilitarized for the Farc to initiate the process of peace with the government.
A delegated from the United Nations as well as 10 different ambassadors in Colombia from countries like France and Canada, also made part of this process and were witness of the wish of the government for finding an agreement with Farc. In the first programmed meeting of both of the leaders, Marulanda for Farc and Pastrana as the head of state, Marulanda did not come to the place, standing up not only president Pastrana, the world media, all the representations of the many ‘friend countries’ that wanted to help both parts to make an agreement of peace but especially the 44 million of Colombians looking forward to having a peaceful country.
The absence of Marulanda was not a reason for the government to give up the process of peace, quite on the contrary, they manifested their willingness to try again to meet with Marulanda and start the negotiation. Marulanda went to the second meeting and for the first time of the history of the country, both leaders were on the same table trying to find the best way to bring peace to the people. The process did not last too long, while the government was working hard on fixing the proposal for Farc, the guerrilla was taking advantages of the demilitarized zone to improve their drug business and to prepare terrorist attacks to power stations. At the same time Pastrana alerted by the military forces, authorized to increase security around the zone, which prompted the indignity of Farc who immediately canceled the negotiations.
On January 2002 government and Farc meet again, despite the hard efforts to consolidate an agreement, both of the parts are not willing to give up important points and the process looks hopeless. Some days later, the president of Colombia decided to bring the negotiations to an end and announced a period of 30 days for the revolutionary forces to leave the demilitarized area. On the day 29 a guerrilla kidnapped Senator Luis Eduardo Guechem, a liberal leader who had actively participated in the negotiation for peace. After this event, president Pastrana authorized to bomb the distention zone (ANSA 2002)
At this point of history most of the population in Colombia was against Farc but at the same time they were unhappy with the decision of president Pastrana of abandon the negotiations for peace. After the announcement the situation in Colombia deteriorated even further and killing and bombing were on the every day’s news as well as the kidnappings, which became part of their way of pressuring the government (Guardian weekly 2006).
It suddenly looked to the population that the demilitarized area had helped the guerrilla of Farc to become stronger and more powerful. Colombians became scare of leaving their towns because anyone could be kidnapped since they were not longer making any differentiation; they just wanted money and mechanism of pressure to gain eve more power and more territory.
Every Colombian can declare himself as a victim because it does not matter how wealthy or poor, how well educated or ignorant, the war was almost everywhere, reaching every corner and taking away not only lives but for many taking away a decent way to live. Those who used to make a living out of tourism, did not have earnings anymore since there were not too many foreigners going to Colombia, neither Colombians willing to travel in the country.
The poor popularity of Farc in the international community went down when in February 23rd 2002 they kidnapped the presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt who besides the Colombian nationality is also French. Ever since France has tried to mediate in bringing together Farc and government but with the election of Uribe, this task has been very difficult.
III.Alvaro Uribe president. For the first time in the years of history of Colombia, a presidential candidate out of the political traditional parties wins the presidency with a total majority of the votes. This time the people are tired of the same speech of peace and decided to support the candidate that promoted despite of a big heart, a very strong hand against the guerrilla.
Uribe initiated a campaign to recuperate the territory and to corner Farc to the forest where they can finally be defeated. The principal obstacle that the actual president has had to face, is the Farc using hostages as their human shield. Many territories of Colombia can not be penetrated for the military forces since many civilians would be in death risk if there was a confrontation within Farc and the army.
The actual government has also been working in programs to offer opportunities for Farc members to give the guns up and reintegrate to the civilian life. “About 1,600 fighters have deserted since January 2008. the killing in March of two Farc leaders, one betrayed and dismembered by a bodyguard seeking a government reward, ended 40 years of government failure to hit the guerrillas’ leadership” (The Guardian weekly).
In the four years of presidency, Uribe had shown the results that his predecessors were not able to achieve. Therefore many Colombians supported the idea of modifying the constitution in order to allow a second consecutive government of a president. Uribe easily won the elections of 2006 and kept the same speech of ‘strong hand but a big heart’.
When the government of Uribe showed more flexibility than ever and was willing to give up some of its immovable, Farc in a terrorist attack to the military university in Bogota hurt 23 military(El Pais 2006). In addition, one year later Farc announce that “the provincial lawmakers, abducted in Cali in 2002, were killed in ‘crossfire’ during an attack by an ‘unidentified military group” (Guardian weekly 2007).The military forces confirmed that it has not been any movement from them in the area where the murder was committed. Later on, military intelligence announced that the murder had been the result of a cross fire from Farc against Farc.
The constant pressure that Uribe has maintained against the revolutionary group has increased the confidence of the people. In the last years the tourism has improved as well as the employment rate (Dane 2008)“I love my military forces, I just feel so secure when travelling by car or by bus through my country” (Quintero 2008).In addition, many of the reinserted from Farc have admitted that Farc is loosing communication, they are not able to talk to each other very often since the military forces are in alert all the time trying to find signs or ways to finally defeat them.
The biggest prove of the weaker situation of the group was when through an inflitration “ilitary intelligence agents freed 15 Farc-held hostages including Betancourt by posing as aid workers on a humanitarian mission which rebels were told would ferry the captives by helicopter to another camp for talks on a prisoner swap” (Guardian Weekly 2008).
The true is that the guerrilla forces have been debilitating during the past years and while their popularity decreases more and more due to their abuses and crimes against society, the support and popularity of Uribe increases, which only shows the wish of a country to live in peace but without oppression and terror Colombians want to have a peaceful country for themselves, for that reason more than 3 demonstrations have been organized, the first one after the murder of the lawmakers of Cali.
In that opportunity Colombians demanded the release of thousands of captives kidnapped by leftist rebels, some of whom have been in the Colombian forest for years. The second manifestation was in February 2008, more than 65 countries joined the cause of protesting against Farc (El Tiempo 2008) and finally the last one was the 20th of July, which commemorates the call for independence in Colombia. The demonstration was simultaneous in France and Colombia, and as in the other two cases, brought more than a million people together.
IV.Advantages and disadvantages In this order of ideas, the advantage of demilitarizing Florida and Pradera would be the release of the hostages that Farc still keeps. This would demonstrate the humanity of the government and Farc would not have an excuse to break their word. It is important to emphasize that although the ‘political prisoners’ that still remain under Farc are only 25, the military and policemen are 22 and the civilians are 2, according toOlga Lucía Gómez, shift director of “País Libre”, a foundation which principal aim is to keep alive the memory of all the citizens who are kidnapped, assures that Farc is keeping other 700 people for economical reasons, some of them have been captive for more than 12 years under the worse conditions” (La Vanguardia 2008)
On the other hand, the experience of the previous president Andres Pastrana has shown that demilitarizing a zone can be very dangerous since this can help the Farc to strengthen, especially now that their communication system is not working efficiency and they are not able to coordinate as the used to.
V.Policy recommendation To give a recommendation for the question: Should the government demilitarize the area of Florida and Pradera, three important factors have been considered. The first one was the responsibility on history that the different governments have had in the creation of Farc. The second one was the experience of President Andres Pastrana and the demilitarize zone and the third one, the politic of Uribe and the actual situation of farc.
Therefore my recommendation is not to give up the immovable of the government, which means no to the demilitarization of Florida and Pradera. President Uribe was elected because of his strong character against Farc, which shows the wish of the Colombians. If Farc really wants to negotiate peace, first they need to realize the hostages and only then, when they really show their willingness to cooperate, they can talk about peace.
As for the government, there are other ways to keep fighting, not only the force is helpful in this country, not only the infiltration of Farc is worth it in this conflict because even if the hostages are realized, Colombians have hunger of peace but also huger of food. More opportunities, more education and more equity are other facts that government should not ignore, instead they have to concentrate forces to solve these problems and as a consequence less people will joining Farc