Some unfortunate photos from the talks were posted to the website of a group called the “Bolivarian Press Agency. They depict Piedad CÃ³rdoba, the Colombian opposition senator whom President Uribe had appointed as a mediator for the talks, posing the other day with top FARC leaders in Caracas.
Wearing the same beret as the FARC leaders, including secretariat member IvÃ¡n MÃ¡rquez and so-called “foreign minister” Rodrigo Granda, CÃ³rdoba holds a bouquet of flowers that the guerrillas had just presented her. All are standing in front of a large, colorful FARC banner.
The effect on Colombian public opinion will no doubt be devastating. The images give the impression of Senator CÃ³rdoba enjoying camaraderie with a group that runs drugs while killing and kidnapping thousands of people.
CÃ³rdoba says that the pictures are out of context, that they did not capture a typical moment at the Caracas meetings. She said that the presentation of the bouquet was highly unexpected, and that she had just jokingly taken the beret off of one of the guerrillas’ head and put it on, in an effort to “distensionar el ambiente” (to reduce tensions) after some “discusiones muy fuertes” (very strong words during the talks). She adds that she asked the guerrillas not to share the photos.
Though she is a politician from the left, Piedad CÃ³rdoba is not a FARC sympathizer. She has said that one of her biggest challenges since being named as a facilitator in August has been simply to win the guerrilla leaders’ trust. (Her meetings with FARC leaders in U.S. prisons have been, to some degree, a part of that effort.) A measure of trust and empathy, even on a superficial level, can make an interlocutor more flexible and conciliatory.
Creating an atmosphere of trust may mean an occasional moment of levity when the talks occur. But those moments should take place off camera. This is something that the FARC – in its rush to show the world that it is a legitimate political organization with friends in high places – ignored, with serious consequences for the nascent talks.
As these pictures are shown repeatedly in Colombia’s media, the damage to the process will be great. Though not fatal, they are a setback.
Our opinion is that Piedad CÃ³rdoba is not guilty of being a tool of the FARC. She did, however, commit two errors that a mediator must avoid: don’t be indiscreet, and don’t allow yourself to be used.