Carlos Lozano is the longtime director of Voz, a weekly newspaper in Colombia with historical ties to the country’s Communist party. Colombia’s right wing accuses Lozano of being a supporter of the FARC guerrillas. While he recognizes that he has had contact with the guerrillas – he has served as a facilitator for past attempts at dialogue – Lozano insists that his goal is to convince them to negotiate, to abandon the armed struggle in favor of practicing politics.
More recently, Lozano has joined Colombian Senator Piedad CÃ³rdoba and other civil-society leaders in “Colombians for Peace,” an ad hoc group that has engaged in a series of public, written exchanges with the FARC. In more recent communications, the Colombians for Peace have called on the FARC to abandon the practice of kidnapping. The guerrillas have so far responded by releasing six hostages in early February, and by telling the group (falsely, most believe) that they currently hold only nine individuals for ransom.
Due to his pro-dialogue stance, which he has held in a high-profile way for decades, Lozano has rarely criticized the guerrillas directly. This in turn has fed accusations that he supports them. Because of that past, it is significant that Lozano has adopted a stronger, more critical tone against the FARC in recent days.
On March 29, Lozano wrote a letter to the editor of El Tiempo, Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, condemning in strong terms a reported FARC plan to assassinate the newspaper’s director, Enrique Santos, and his brother Juan Manuel, the minister of defense.
I reject with indignation any FARC plan against the lives of Enrique Santos or his brother. Such stupidity and absurd behavior go against the effort of Colombians for Peace to open favorable political spaces for the negotiated and peaceful resolution of the conflict. This degraded conflict already has enough horror and barbarism wihout the guerrillas resorting to personal assassinations. Nothing justifies it, and no rational person should accept it. Disagreements must be laid out in the battle of ideas, in peaceful and civilized ideological confrontation. A plan like this does a poor service to the cause of peace. I hope that this is a “false positive” [a fake plan thought up by Colombian intelligence], like so many that we have seen. I raise my voice in protest, and if the echo makes it to the deepest jungle and to the ears of [FARC leader] “Alfonso Cano,” of whom we expect a greater political accent in the FARC’s actions, that they reflect and abandon any violent act against his life and his family. Don’t even try it!
These were important words coming from one of the principal voices of Colombia’s ultra-left. Lozano repeated them in an interview with El Tiempo yesterday.
Q: Why such strong words for the FARC?
Lozano: The political solution of the conflict demands the will of the government and the FARC. We have to make opportune criticisms when the lack of will is most evident. The moment to negotiate has arrived, this can’t go on any longer. To insist on armed confrontation is irrational. We must be very incisive and critical with all parties, including the guerrillas.
Q: Don’t you think this demanding tone should have begun when the number of kidnappings exceeded 3,000 per year?
L: We have always been critical of the guerrillas. For example, on the issue of kidnapping the Communist Party and its directors have been critical and we have distanced ourselves from that. Perhaps we hadn’t done it as strongly and publicly as we do now.
Q: You have asked “Alfonso Cano” to adopt more of a political accent. What are you referring to?
L: The FARC have demonstrated in their most recent pronouncements that there is some interest in a political accent. Reality demands that much more political accent is required of the guerrillas to contribute to a political solution to the conflict. I hope that “Cano” and the whole Secretariat reflect on this.
Q: You said that Colombians for Peace must demand of the FARC a commitment with regard to kidnapping and use of landmines. What would that be?
L: The three letters from Colombians for Peace have in common the issue of the humanitarian exchange [to free FARC hostages], but also the issue of kidnapping. The guerrillas have to understand that the intensity of the conflict must decrease, especially issues that affect the civilian population like kidnapping and mines.
Q: Before any dialogue, should the FARC abandon kidnapping?
L: Of course, and the government should make commitments too. It is required that a peace process begin with commitments from both sides: no more forced disappearance, no more kidnapping, no more “false positives,” no more mines.
Q: President Uribe asks the FARC to cease [hostilities] for 4 months in order to create conditions [for talks]. Does that sound acceptable?
L: A cessation of hostilities on both sides sounds acceptable. We won’t get anything out of it if military operations against them continue. That would make compliance inviable.
The three remarkably new elements in Lozano’s analysis, which had never before been so clearly stated, are:
- Recognition that Colombia’s Communist Party should have been more openly critical of kidnapping in the past.
- The demand that the practice of kidnapping cease before new dialogues begin.
- The tacit acceptance of President Uribe’s proposal for a four-month cessation of hostilities, as long as it is bilateral.
We have no idea whether the FARC will respond positively to any of this, especially as Colombia enters another election season and the issue of peace becomes very politically charged. But Lozano’s words – both because of their content and because of their messenger – are very welcome and a source of hope.