Colombia: will government answer FARC ceasefire?

Negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC rebels will resume Jan. 26 in Havana, as the guerillas maintain an indefinite unilateral ceasefire. Three weeks into the ceasefire on Jan. 9, Bogotá’s Resource Center for Conflict Analysis (CERAC) reported that violence had dropped to its lowest level in 30 years. It found no ceasefire violations attributable to the FARC. (Prensa Latina, Jan. 13; EFE, Jan. 9) A FARC communiqué that day acknowledged military actions of a “defensive character” in response to army operations against the guerillas’ 15th Front and Teófilo Forero Column in Huila, and 26th Front in Caquetá. The Caquetá clashes left six army troops dead, the statement said. (El Colombiano, Jan. 10) On Dec. 31, the FARC reported “offensive” actions by the army against the 6th Front in Cauca and 34th Front in Antioquia. (El Colombiano, Dec. 31) Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said counter-guerilla operations would not be abated: “We are going to use all available means and capacities to enforce the law…and protect Colombians.” FARC negotiator Iván Márquez on his Twitter account charged that Pinzón is “disparaging a peace gesture.” (El Colombiano, Jan. 9; El Tiempo, Jan. 8) President Juan Manuel Santos asserted: “Instructions to the armed forces have not changed. A bilateral ceasefire will be discussed at the adequate moment.” (El Tiempo, Jan. 6)

In a year-end communiqué, the FARC said that the coming year would be “decisive for peace in Colombia.” (El Tiempo, Dec. 25) Ex-president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, a harsh critic of the negotiations, responded by warning that the “seduction of peace” is a ruse by the FARC to seize power by 2018 and have a “totalitarian government” in place by 2022. Uribe made the charge in an open letter to his own former peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo, who remains exiled in Canada. Arms trafficking charges against Restrepo were formally dropped by Colombia’s justice department in 2013, but he only recently re-entered public life to help craft the platform of Uribe’s Centro Democrático party. (El Colombiano, Dec. 29; Semana, Dec. 22)

Although not answering the FARC ceasefire, Santos appealed to the ELN guerillas to join it. “We want to invite the ELN to join the ceasefire initiative that has been taken by the FARC,” Santos said at a meeting on the peace process with international experts in Cartagena. “We also want to invite them to arrive at an accord as soon as possible over agenda points that we have been discussing for some time.” The statement appeared to confirm that the government has established feelers for a dialogue with the ELN. (El Espectador, Jan. 5)

ELN leader Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista AKA “Gabino” replied in a communiqué noting the 50th anniversary of the guerilla group’s founding: “We will particiapte in this dialogue to examine the good will of the government and Colombian state; if in this examination we conclude that arms are no longer necessary, we would consider laying them down.” (El Espectador, El Espectador, Jan. 7)