Colombia: FARC ends unilateral ceasefire

Colombia’s FARC rebels on Jan. 20 announced the immediate end of a two-month unilateral ceasefire and renewed their call for a bilateral truce to hold peace talks with the government “in a tranquil environment.” The FARC had offered to extend the truce if the Colombian government signed a bilateral ceasefire, but President Juan Manuel Santos rejected that idea from the start. Speaking to press in Havana, the leader of the FARC’s negotiating team, “Ivan Márquez,” said that “with pain in our hearts we must admit that we return to the time of military warfare that nobody wants.” Santos responded at a public event in Padilla, a village in southwestern Cauca department hard hit by fighting: “The armed forces, like our army, air force, navy and police, know exactly what to do come tomorrow.”

Colombia’s rights ombudsman, the DefensorĂ­a del Pueblo, said the FARC had carried out 57 attacks during the 60-day ceasefire. Peace talks are to continue in Havana.  (Colombia Reports, El Tiempo, Al Jazeera, Jan. 20)

Colombia’s naval commander for the Pacific coast meanwhile warned that a profusion of armed gangs are operating in the region, with leftist guerillas and right-wing paramilitaries vying for control of the lucrative cocaine trade.  Rodolfo Amaya told Colombian newspaper El Pais: “In the Pacific operate Los Urabeños, Los Rastrojos, ELN and FARC. These groups are only interested in controlling drug trafficking routes, this is what generates conflicts between them and also alliances. For example, in the north, Rastrojos and FARC have allied to get drugs. FARC produces it and Rastrojos get it out of the country. In the south, there are constant encounters between armed gangs and the guerrillas over the control of routes.”

Other Colombian political figures claim growing cooperation between bacrim—political-speak for criminal bands, usually used to refer to the paramilitaries—and their ostensible enemies in the FARC.  In September, conservative senator Juan Carlos Velez formally demanded that the FARC “publicize” their collaboration with the bacrim. “It is evident in zones of the country,” said the senator, alleging drug-running collaboration between the FARC’s 57th Front and Los Urabeños in the Pacific part of the ChocĂł department.

The claims have been denied by the FARC. “AndrĂ©s Paris,” one of the senior FARC negotiators in Havana, said in an interview with conflict-monitoring website Verdad Abierta that his organization does not cooperate with paramilitaries—with a slight equivocation: “I do not think a FARC guerrilla would ally with a paramilitary and kill peasants, this can simply not be. It is obvious we in some zones have to talk to sectors related to business, where we have a presence and where we take some taxes…but these do not configure alliances.”

In the Pacific part of Cauca department, the FARC’s 8th, 29th and 30th Fronts are said to intersect with several Rastrojos members. Between them, they oversee the coca fields of Timbiqui, Lopes and Guapi, among the continent’s most productive according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. There have definitely been turf wars between the FARC and paras, with violence displacing thousands of residents of these areas in the past four years. Paris, however, virtually admitted to “business” dealings with the para bosses: “It would be necessary to differentiate between organizations and groups of civilians who we do not know if they are [Bacrim] or not. What is known is that they are basically businesses between FARC and traders, they are not alliances with organizations nor compromises with paramilitaries.” (Colombia Reports, Jan. 10)