During the peace negotiations with the FARC ten years ago, the media did not report with a balanced view, and this is likely one of the reasons the current negotiations are being held in Havana, Cuba, which is not easily accessible to the media. Further, holding the negotiations in Havana means there will not be a repeat of the herds of Colombians and foreigners who came to the demilitarized zone to appease their curiosity about the FARC and to have their photo taken with the now-deceased FARC founder, Manuel Marulanda, alias Sureshot.
But this time around, the news — or more like the lack of news — about the peace process is confusing. Perhaps the headlines are an x-ray that depicts the mood of the behind-closed-doors negotiations. The government’s negotiators do appear tired, gloomy, disenchanted.
Here is why the peace talks seem to not be on the right track:
On February 27, 2012, the FARC said they would “forbid the practice of” kidnapping.
Nine months later, on November 22, the FARC released four Chinese hostages who had been held for 17 months.
Moreover, on November 23, El Pais, a newspaper in Cali, reported that the Spaniard Rafael Molina Correa had been released; the FARC had kidnapped him 23 days earlier. However, other sources were less quick to say it was the FARC’s responsibility.
On December 3, Sandra Ramírez, Sureshot’s widow, said, “Yes, we hold political prisoners and we will hand them in, but the state has to give ours back, those who are in prisons.” She added the soldiers they hold hostage are not kidnapped. She said, “They are prisoners of war because they were captured in combat. Their physical integrity, their beliefs, and their human rights are respected.” She suggested the kidnapped soldiers be swapped for imprisoned guerrillas, and hence revived the topic of a humanitarian exchange.
Almost immediately, alias Rodrigo Granda, the FARC’s chancellor, said Sandra was misinformed. He said, “At this moment, we can guarantee the country, and we have said it, that we are not holding prisoners of war.” He added no one is retained or kidnapped.
However, a group of mothers of kidnapped estimates there are still 8,000 people kidnapped. According to Pais Libre, the FARC hold 27 hostages.
Sandra’s words gave hope to the mothers and family members whose sons are still missing. Blanca Flórez, the mother of Jesús Antonio Rodríguez and the spokesperson for the group of mothers of kidnapped, said, “These talks in Cuba have started very badly, saying they do not hold anyone hostage when I have more than 2,000 ways to prove since the decade of the ‘90s, and the families know and can prove the FARC have our children.”
A group of these mothers planned to travel to Havana to personally ask commanders the fate of their loved ones.
Then, there are the mixed signals about the ceasefire:
On November 19, 2012, the FARC declared a ceasefire amid the peace talks. The FARC said it would halt all offensive military operations and acts of sabotage against infrastructure beginning at midnight on November 20 and running through January 20, 2013. The government responded that military operations would continue so as to maintain security, and because the government does not trust the FARC’s word.
Six days after the FARC’s ceasefire announcement, on November 25, the FARC attacked two energy towers in Antioquia, and claimed this particular front did not know about the ceasefire. The government’s military reported that, in fact, the FARC have maintained hostilities in most of southwest Colombia.
Moreover, in mid-November, Colombia’s army seized a surface-to-air missile from alleged FARC, which it was was planning to use against airplanes and helicopters employed in security-force operations against them. Caracol TV said the FARC reportedly acquired the missile on the black market in a Central American country. El Tiempo newspaper reported the missile may have come from illegal groups in Afghanistan.
On November 20, in a communiqué from Havana, the FARC accused the military of carrying out a simulacrum, and then presenting it as a combat with the FARC.
On November 27, the FARC announced to reporters that the talks were going well. Huh? The FARC’s alias Jesus Santrich said, “Up until now we have had good results. .. There has been agreement. We are on the same wavelength.”
While the FARC have spoken to the press nearly every morning, Colombian government negotiators have not said anything; there is only the voice of Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzón calling the FARC “liars and traitors.”
President Santos is going through his lowest popularity level since he took over the presidency on August 7, 2010. A poll, which was paid for by several media groups, revealed Santos went from a 73 percent approval rating in November 2010 to a 58 percent approval rating nowadays. The same poll revealed 54 percent (a 20 percent drop from three months ago) of Colombians believe the negotiations will be a failure; on the other hand, 56 percent are in favor of the government’s complete silence regarding what’s happening in Havana.
The polls say Colombians are asking to hear from the government negotiators; to have that distrust in the peace process lifted.
The negotiators are scheduled to take a break for Christmas and to reconvene in January in Havana. President Santos said the peace talks have an expiration date of November 2013.