President ChÃ¡vez with Colombian facilitator Sen. Piedad CÃ³rdoba.
There is about a week to go before a meeting in Caracas between the FARC, Hugo ChÃ¡vez and who knows whom else (U.S. congresspeople? European officials? Colombian government representatives, even?). Events are moving quickly; if Colombiaâ€™s media offers any indication, the country is approaching them with a shred of hope and a large (and healthy) dose of skepticism about the guerrillasâ€™ motives.
Some excerpts from the weekend:
Sunday September 30, 2007
El Tiempo (Colombia)
Since taking the lid off this â€œPandoraâ€™s box,â€ the international facilitation of a humanitarian accord with the FARC, Alvaro Uribe has been obliged to ride along with his own decisions. First, with the authorization given to Senator Piedad CÃ³rdoba with the most expanded powers ever granted in this area, according to the High Commissioner of Peace [lead government peace negotiator], Luis Carlos Restrepo. Later, with the showy entrance of Hugo ChÃ¡vez onto the scene, including his public message to FARC leader, â€œTirofijo,â€ on his weekly television program â€œAlÃ³ Presidente.â€ Then with the interest of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and later with propositions from presidents Lula da Silva of Brazil and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, to play a role in the accord. Finally, there is the prospect that the U.S. Congress will send a bipartisan commission [to Caracas].
Beyond the good intentions that all involved surely have toward resolving the hostage drama, it is worthwhile to ask if such a diverse ensemble will be able to follow the same tune, or even play in the same orchestra.
The positive response by the relatives of the three U.S. contractors taken hostage by the FARC in 2003 is evidence that the Colombian president advanced a bit [toward supporting an accord]. The visit was also useful as a means to introduce Republican congresspeople to the subject. It presented a great risk that only Democrats, highly critical of Uribe in recent months, had been interested in the issue.
[I]t was important to Uribe that his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, understood [his opposition to a demilitarized zone] during the private meeting between the two in New York, and that he offered his public support for Uribeâ€™s decision to deny a demilitarized zone, were the hostage negotiations to take place in Colombia. This, without a doubt, was the greatest success of Uribeâ€™s three-day visit to New York [last week, to attend the UN General Assembly].
But beyond these specific points, this new period of international movement for a humanitarian exchange has yet to produce any concrete results. Instead, there are certain worrisome by-products. One is the political protagonism and level of international respect that the FARC has earned. It has done so without moving a finger and exactly after â€“ what cruel irony â€“ the massacre of the [eleven Valle del Cauca state legislators in June]. Another indirect result is how Hugo ChÃ¡vezâ€™s popularity in Colombia has surged; today he is seen as a friend and ally. But tomorrow? This all leads many to fear that Uribe will fall victim to the process he started. Or that his audacious games will end in an autogol [in soccer, kicking the ball into your own teamâ€™s net].
It is to be seen just what comes of the October 8 meeting between Hugo ChÃ¡vez and FARC leader RaÃºl Reyes in Caracas. At this meeting, which may include a number of other actors â€“ the French government, family members of the hostages, delegates from other governments in the region, as well as members of the U.S. Congress – it is almost certain that Reyes will once again raise the FARC demand for a demilitarized zone within Colombia. If this occurs, all of the efforts may return to the same dead point where they began, and the enormous international effort in support of the accord will be a new entry on the list of disappointments.
Sunday September 30, 2007
El Tiempo (Colombia)
At first, Hugo ChÃ¡vezâ€™s facilitation would appear to have turned against the Colombian government. International pressure continues to weigh against Alvaro Uribe. After receiving a communication from the FARC, ChÃ¡vez insisted on the demilitarized zone, while the French Foreign Minister [Bernard] Kouchner suggested that Uribe does not support the Venezuelan effort. Could it have been easy for Uribe to accept the planned meeting between ChÃ¡vez and Reyes in Caracas? While both Caracas as well as Paris seem to be reducing their support for a demilitarized zone, they are far from applying pressure over the FARC. What is more, Caracas has granted the FARC the greatest gift -nothing less than a meeting with a head of state – without demanding anything in return.
That was to be expected: none of this should be a surprise to the government. Then, why take these steps? Uribe is neither suicidal nor an idiot, but very audacious. With the addition of ChÃ¡vezâ€™s facilitation, this was demonstrated once again.
Two scenarios can occur during what remains of this presidential term [until 2010]. First, the FARC might negotiate a humanitarian accord, respect the terms of agreement, and free the hostages in acceptable conditions of health. With the resulting political recognition, who could imagine them returning to the jungle and simply continuing the war? This could open the way toward a more extensive agenda, which the FARC are surely already discussing with ChÃ¡vez. This wager, however, carries great risks â€“ of secret pacts between ChÃ¡vez and the FARC, for example. It is not in vain that Uribe seeks the participation of U.S. congresspeople in Caracas. In fact, who does not believe that ChÃ¡vez maintains fluid communications with the FARC? But also, the gains could be immense: the FARC could end up seated at the negotiation table.
In the second scenario, the FARC continue to ignore the responsibilities that the international interlocution carries. They delay and prolong the process, and the hostages remain in the jungle. Without any results, and even with ChÃ¡vez still on board, it is unlikely that the FARCâ€™s political recognition would be maintained for long. International patience will dry up, much as it did long ago domestically.
The FARC appear barely permeable to political stimuli. In the face of new international recognition, they should already have made some goodwill gesture. But they have not even deigned to send a new proof of life. If they are willing to act politically, it is time for them to prove it. If they do not take advantage of this unique opportunity, they will be shouting to the world that dialogue with them is impossible, they will lose what they have gained, and they will open the way for a policy of military rescue attempts, withÂ international support.
Perhaps Uribeâ€™s decision is not so hard to understand after all?
Sunday September 30, 2007
El Tiempo (Colombia)
[Interviewer] Yamid Amat: For what reason are you going to Caracas?
Luis Carlos Restrepo, high commissioner for peace (lead negotiator) for the Colombian government: My decision is to be present, hopefully not long after the meeting between ChÃ¡vez and the FARC, to show the Colombian governmentâ€™s willingness. We believe that this meeting ought to produce the results that country hopes for: a formula to free the hostages. If there are additional problems, I am prepared to meet with the FARC to try to solve them.
YA: What do expect from the Caracas meeting?
LCR: Public opinion would not understand that the FARC went to Caracas and nothing came out of it, but rather that they treated it as a protocol meeting and continued to say what they have said for the last five years: that they will not address the issue of hostages with facilitators and that they need a demilitarized zone in Pradera and Florida; it will be a complete failure if the FARC arrives with that same discourse.
YA: Of all that has happened, nothing has been a surprise to you?
LCR: Yes, there have been movements and surprises, but at no moment have we lost control of the situation.
YA: Movements and surprises, like what?
LCR: For example, the fact that the FARC had agreed to go to Caracas drew our attention, but thatâ€™s not to say that the humanitarian accord is out of our hands, rather that what was agreed with President ChÃ¡vez is being fulfilled. The fact that the FARC received Senator Piedad CÃ³rdoba and are prepared to meet in Caracas is a pleasant surprise, even though we see some risks.
YA: Risks, like what?
LCR: That the FARC go to Caracas simply with the aim of establishing what they call bilateral relations, that is to say, to have protocol type meetings in order to discuss their points of view without advancing the issue of hostage release or without opening the doors for conversation with the Colombian government.
YA: So far the efforts President ChÃ¡vez and Senator Cordoba have advanced successfully. Could your surprise appearance give rise to criticisms that could obstruct the negotiations?
LCR: The ones asking for a face to face meeting with the government are the FARC, not us. What is the scenario that we see? If the FARC meet with President ChÃ¡vez and Senator Cordoba, and from that meeting they come up with a reasonable plan for the liberation of the hostages, we will help move it forward.
If it becomes necessary to have a direct meeting with the government because the FARC demand it and the circumstances call for it, the Colombian government is ready to carry it out. Thatâ€™s to say, my willingness to meet with the FARC seeks only to facilitate the process; we donâ€™t want to stand in the way, impeding its progress.
YA: How do you explain the fact that one of the most wanted men in Colombia, RaÃºl Reyes, is able to casually leave the country and appear in Caracas?
LCR: That question should be asked of the minister of defense. I am not going to go beyond my competence as the high commissioner of peace. But to clarify: we still do not have official information from the Venezuelan government about which members of the FARC will be present at the meeting. No one has required us to suspend military operations, nor is that being considered.
YA: In a communiquÃ©, Mr. Alfonso Cano, member of the FARC secretariat, said that â€œwe must insist on the materialization of the humanitarian exchange as an indispensable step toward the political solution of the serious social conflict that plagues the countryâ€. Is the humanitarian accord the first step toward a peace settlement?
LCR: In October of last year, they sent an official notice stating that if there were a humanitarian agreement they would interested in entering a peace process; the Government responded less in than 12 hours saying that we were prepared to do so. We have never been closed to that possibility, yet we do not want to make too much noise right now, because they [the FARC] could accuse us of trying to hang a peace settlement onto the humanitarian accord. We are aiming for the liberation of the hostages, without taking any wrong steps.
Sunday September 30, 2007
Semana: How do you view President Hugo ChÃ¡vezâ€™s mediation in the humanitarian accord?
William Brownfield: We view positively any effort, from anyone in the world, that contributes to the liberation of the three U.S. hostages, as well as â€“ of course â€“ the other hostages. At this moment we have a new element in this drama, and I hope it produces results. But it is the seÃ±ores of the FARC who are going to decide, and we cannot forget that they are those responsible for the kidnapping and who must resolve it.
S: How do you view the possibility that â€œSoniaâ€ and â€œSimÃ³n Trinidadâ€ [FARC members extradited to the United States] might be included in the exchange?
WB: DoÃ±a â€œSoniaâ€ and Don â€œSimÃ³nâ€ are in a U.S. judicial process that is totally independent of the other branches of government. Our legal system has possibilities and certain options. But your question is speculative and hypothetical. The FARC have to offer something concrete in order to have a concrete conversation.
S: Then you donâ€™t dismiss the possibility of an exchange?
WB: In order to have a conversation one must have people [interlocutors] identified, a channel [of communication] and an idea of what are the concrete things to be discussed. To speculate about what an unidentified person might say about a hypothetical possibility is something for a television drama, but not for a real situation.