FARC hostages: “This demands a little reflection” Rolling Stone on “How America Lost the War on Drugs”
Dec 072007

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe announced a few hours ago that he would pull security forces from a 150-square-kilometer zone in order to hold hostage-for-prisoner exchange negotiations with the FARC guerrillas. Based on a proposal by the Catholic Church, this zone would have a presence of international observers, and FARC members participating in the talks “should” be unarmed.

Early news reports are portraying this as a breakthrough, and we hope that it is. We hope that the FARC accepts it, the haggling over pre-conditions ends, and the two sides get to the negotiating table.

However, we note that Uribe’s proposal resembles a plan that the Spanish, Swiss and French governments put forward in late 2005. The European proposal called for a 180-square-kilometer zone, international observers, and neither side carrying any weapons.

The European plan was, and is, a good proposal. President Uribe accepted it at the time, in December 2005. But the FARC never gave its assent. The guerrillas have stuck to their original bargaining position: an 800-square-kilometer zone, the entire area of Florida and Pradera municipalities near Cali, in the southwestern Colombian department of Valle del Cauca. In this zone, the guerrillas have made clear their desire to be the only armed presence.

The Colombian government has treated this guerrilla pre-condition as though it were an initial negotiating position, one that would be softened after a period of back-and-forth bargaining. The FARC, however, has softened its terms only once, in 2004, when it chose Florida and Pradera after initially requesting a larger territory in the department of Caquetá. Since then, it has rigidly clung to its pre-conditions.

Will the FARC seize the opportunity President Uribe offered today? Only if they show flexibility on two points:

  • The size of the zone: Instead of two entire municipalities of 800 square kilometers, complete with small towns, Uribe is offering 150 entirely rural square kilometers.
  • Weapons: The FARC have insisted on appearing at any negotiation with their rifles at the ready. They claim that this is necessary for their own security, though the symbolic value – “this is how much we distrust Colombia’s ruling class” – is also great.

There is some chance that the FARC may accept a smaller zone. If the past is any guide, though, the second condition – their weapons – may pose the greater challenge.

Semana magazine’s coverage of Uribe’s announcement indicates that the president may be prepared to yield a bit on the weapons question.

He indicated that “there would be a presence of international observers, and those present there to define the issue of a humanitarian exchange should not be armed [no deberían estar armados].” The use of the conditional tense for the issue of weapons is important because before, Uribe had always been categorical and unyielding in rejecting the presence of armed guerrillas.

Today’s proposal is cause for modest optimism. But it is not a breakthrough unless the guerrillas break with their custom and give ground on these two points.

22 Responses to “A good step, probably not a breakthrough”

  1. Tambopaxi Says:


    I just went to Revista Semana.com and the version of the article reads as follows:

    “President Alvaro Uribe authorizes zona de encuentro de 150 km para un acuerdo humanitario con las FARC”
    The lead portion of the article then says:
    “Sin embargo, insiste que esta debe estar en un sitio donde no haya que remover fuerza publica y que los guerrilleros que acudan a ella debieran estar desarmados.”

    This reads differently from what I understand you to be saying in your post, in the Semana quote says that security forces “don’t have to be removed from the (neutral) zone” (which doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t be removed, to be clear) and the guerrilleros “should” be disarmed.

    Based on this reading, I don’t see how the FARC will accept Uribe’s terms. Did Semana change its article or did Uribe change his terms?

  2. jcg Says:

    There seem to be two SEMANA articles on the subject, Tambopaxi. Adam seems to be quoting the one which has this:

    “También indicó que “tendría la presencia de observadores internacionales y allí los presentes para definir el tema del intercambio humanitario no deberían estar armados”. Es importante el uso del condicional en el tema de las armas porque anteriormente Uribe siempre había sido categórico y tajante a rechazar la presencia de guerrilleros armados.”


    I’m not sure about how to interpret the use of the word “deberían” in this context, so we’ll have to wait and see if the subject ever comes up.

    While this is more of a wish than anything else, I admit, hopefully FARC is willing to accept this, if necessary with some additional demands but nothing too unreasonable.

  3. Adam Isacson Says:

    What Uribe means is that he doesn’t want to remove soldiers/police from an area that already _has_ soldiers/police, but he will reserve a 150 square km area into which soldiers/police would not be allowed to enter.

    See the relevant parts of his speech at http://web.presidencia.gov.co/sp/2007/diciembre/07/03072007.html.

  4. galactus Says:

    From my point of view, it is pretty obvious the FARC won’t accept. I see this mostly as a good move by Uribe to denounce’s FARC’s intrasigency as he knows they won’t accept.

  5. Tambopaxi Says:

    …This all goes back to the old Pastrana despeje arrangement albeit on a more modest scale but this Uribe’s time, not Pastrana’s, and I can’t see Uribe really ceding Colombian territory to armed FARC; it would be completely counter to type in his case.

    And vice versa, if the FARC were required to lay down their weapons; that won’t happen…..

    I dunno, maybe if the UN and/or OAS could manage some small area where EVERYONE checked their guns at the door, maybe you could get something going, but that’s a big maybe…..

  6. Kyle Says:

    The FARC’s acceptance of this move relies almost completely on the international presence, being who is doing it, what are the security arrangements, where it is, and so on. A big worry for them with any despeje will be how to get their hostages there, and what happens if they have hostages with them and the public forces come across them? Most people here see an outright rejection by the FARC but I do not. The FARC were basking in the attention they were getting with Chavez and Cordoba. This also provides them with a chance to say, look, we are not as bad as everyone thinks. We have been trying to release these hostages, having accepted other despeje proposals, but the president hasn’t budged. (The validity of this statement is moot). It also would give them the best chance to get rid of these hostages, which I imagine they would like to do, just under the right circumstances (including who is president). They have lost a lot of fighters and income lately, so getting some high profile hostages off their hands may not be a bad thing in their eyes. Lastly, we should look at Uribe who after years of negating the possibility, is now proposing to negotiate with the FARC and have a despeje. For whatever reasons he chose this, we can assume that the FARC may do the same. They wanted a despeje, and it’s not perfect, but they got it. With high levels of international pressure, they will at least be open to negotiating the circumstances, land and rules about the despeje, including the guns issue (in a serious manner as well). While I’m not saying get ready for the despeje, I am a little more optimistic. The FARC did respond to pressure and give us some proof of lifes. Maybe they can do something not-atrocious for the first time in a while, if only to try to put themselves in the lime-light again…

  7. Camilla Says:

    I wouldn’t trust FARC for talks without arms nearby. Last time someone tried to go talk with the FARC about peace unarmed, she got kidnapped and has been tied to a tree ever since – creating the very cause of these new talks. FARC has no honorable intentions. It seeks to take over the country by any means necessary, no matter how many peace-making people it holds hostage, no matter how many toddlers it kidnaps, no matter how much cocaine it sells, no matter how many child soldiers it corrupts, no matter how many landmines lays or villagers it maims. It will stop and nothing because it possesses no other moral compass than to take over the country by any means necessary.

  8. Jaime Bustos Says:

    So FARC is kidnapping toddlers according to Camilo. I imagine Sure Shot suckling Mr Camilo’s toddlers, and I can’t but crack up. Now, this one is funny, you are vertiginously becoming this blog’s comedian

  9. Camilla Says:

    Miss Jaime, read the news:


  10. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Camilo, hmmm, I remember deliberately having ignored that news, as false flag, but it might have been true, I give you that.

  11. Camilla Says:

    OK, paz out, Miss Jaime.

    Looking at Adam’s headline, I feel very rueful. The only breakthrough for FARC will be the breakdown of the Colombian government. If the Colombian government will happily surrender itself over to the Marxism of the FARC and allow its ministrations and command and control, then there will be a ‘breakthrough.’ But the price will be too high for freedom-loving Colombians. When you get so dehumanized that you would hold someone hostage for five or ten or 20 years to make a political point, would kidnap someone’s toddler, would blow up a village with gas bombs loaded with dynamite, would rig a donkey with a bomb to kill your fellow human beings randomly … you’ve kind of crossed a line of humanity. Look at the cold, soulless shark eyes of the FARC leadership, they look just like the hand-choppers and ballgown-wearers of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Some sort of light goes out such people. How could they ever compromise and accept a ‘breakthrough’? How could they ever be happy in a political scene after all the blood they’ve drenched themselves in, consciencelessly? Who would ever support them in politics? Without their human sacrifice, they know they have nothing. They can’t even be humanly rehabilitated after all they’ve done. I think the only solution is to kill them.

  12. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Camilin what’s your opinion on the New Herald’s last column by Gerardo Reyes linking once again Mr Uribe with the Medellin Cartel, and furthermore, throwing another clue into who the perpetrators of Mr Lara Bonilla up to now unpunished crime might have been? What’s your opinion Mr Isacson?

  13. Camilla Says:

    I’ll go read it, Jaimilyn.

  14. Kyle Says:

    Camilla’s opinions are not that far off. They are mainstream opinions about the FARC taken to the extreme. So extreme that he earlier refers to the FARC as “it”, as if the organization is some sort of monster hiding in the Colombian jungle, spending its days pondering who to kill next.
    But the biggest issue I have with Camilla’s points is that they (and he) deny the FARC any rationality, which they clearly do have. He surprisingly argues they have some soft of end goal in their war, despite his clear disdain for them. My real wonderings are what his opinion of paramilitaries and the public forces are. This would show if he has any objectivity with his beliefs, or whether he just hates the FARC for their horrible acts while turning away from the others. For example, lately we’ve seen that there has been an increase in extrajudicial executions carried out by the Army. Does that meant that the public forces are murderous killers who only want to kill campesinos all in the name of control or a monopoly of force? Either way, I’m shocked that he thinks they are truly going for a Marxist revolution…
    The main fallacy in his points in #11 is that he argues because they are heartless killers and murderers, they will not compromise or accept a breakthrough. This goes back to my earlier critique that he gives the FARC no rationality. What he should realize is that the FARC do weigh their options, do have a distrust with the government that will affect their decisions and that the atmosphere of impunity (and ability to defend themselves) is what allows them to quickly choose murderous options. They clearly have rationality, albeit self-serving and at times the rationality is so extreme that it hurts their organization. Also, the history of the FARC, government-FARC relations, and various peace talks shows why the FARC act why they do as well. We must remember, that history is very important for Marulanda, and he does not forget things that new administrations don’t even take into account (in fact many things they do not take into account historically are very important to Marulanda). This probably fuels a very revenge-like organization, fighting anyone who has associated themselves with the government in any way, simply because in the past the government has hurt Marulanda devastatingly and shown, to him, that any government in Bogota cannot be trusted.
    Also, I think the FARC’s past actions would have no effect on their “happiness” in the political arena. Frankly, as I have just mentioned, I don’t see them, at least with Tirofijo in charge, entering the political scene. He remembers the UP and does not want to fall into that trap again. Simply put, if the FARC were to enter into the political arena (with peace and DDR or not), their past actions would haunt their activists (not haunt them personally but publically) and pretty much no one would support them. That lack of support will make them unhappy, not their past actions.
    Also, I am assuming that the last section is about only the FARC leadership (about rehabilitation and killing them). If not, this would show a massive misunderstanding of who the FARC is, who comprises the FARC, their reasons for joining, their reasons for killing and would show a great assumption about all FARC fighters that is reckless at best. I also would argue that killing the FARC leaders may not be the best option. Capture, if possible, is the least worst option. The justice system is horrible in Colombia, but showing that they can try a senior FARC leader, or send him to the US, would be the ultimate slap in the face for guerrilla leaders who have spent their lives in the jungle only to be caught by the enemy they had eluded for such a long time. Embarrass them, force them to spend their lives in US or Colombian prisons, and remember that it is the certainty of punishment that prevents crime, not the severity of the punishment. The leaders of the FARC are also treasure-troves of information. Utilize that. As Adam mentioned in an earlier post, any peace talks between the government and FARC would have a high priority for both parties to point out the abuses by the other side; this probably would be the same, but at a lower level, with individual captures as well. Of course, capture is quite difficult. But given the option between death and possible capture, capture is the the better of the two. Countless guerrilla leaders have been killed in the past and with the FARC, it will not be hard for them to find replacements or to continue fighting.
    I hope this post will force some debate that is thought-provoking. I intentionally put some points in here and left some small details out hoping people will pick up on them. Simply bickering about how horrible the FARC is such an irrationally extreme manner, and calling someone the laughing-stock of the comments part or using pedantic one-liners (I know the oxy-moronic nature of saying “pedantic one-liners” or saying pedantic in such a long post) that do not respond to the arguments, do not get us anywhere, at least for me. I am no mediator, nor do I run the blog, but it is just a simple request…

  15. Kyle Says:

    I should re-word part of the last part. Saying that I left out details hoping people would pick up on them sounds arrogant and is not exactly what I did. I simply disregarded some counter-arguments to things I have said in the post or disagreed with them. Either way, I should just assume that Camilla will respond, either with extreme views or sound logic, or a mix in which the latter is made murky by the former. And the article Camilla posted a link to also made it into El Tiempo before the english version, though I haven’t been able to track it down yet…

  16. Camilla Says:

    Kyle: My name is female and I am female. Why are you calling me a guy if you want a serious response?

  17. Kyle Says:

    Because I wrongly assumed, I apologize. Does it truly matter (I’ve been referred as a girl on this forum and others) when it comes to my remarks? If anything, debate is impersonal. You could mention that at the beginning and respond after, instead of using it as an excuse to not respond.

  18. jcg Says:

    Jaime Bustos:

    “Camilin what’s your opinion on the New Herald’s last column by Gerardo Reyes linking once again Mr Uribe with the Medellin Cartel, and furthermore, throwing another clue into who the perpetrators of Mr Lara Bonilla up to now unpunished crime might have been? What’s your opinion Mr Isacson?”

    I’m not Camilla…but after reading the article you might want to consider, if nothing else, that Uribe Sierra, the person who was one of the members of the company who owned the helicopter(s) at one point, was already dead by the time Tranquilandia (including the helicopter found there) was discovered and when Lara Bonilla was subsequently murdered. In fact, a lot of stuff was seized in Tranquilandia too, not just that one helicopter whose previous owner was already dead.

  19. Jaime Bustos Says:

    jcg, it’s a pity that Lara Bonilla be dead too, maybe he could have explained everything better, so you would understand the president of colombia works for the Medellin Cartel.

    As to Mr Uribe’s father being dead or not is the same as Pablo Escobar being dead or not. It makes no difference as far as both of them worked for drug cartels.

  20. jcg Says:

    Jaime Bustos: It’s only a pity that *you* don’t seem to or don’t want to consider my actual point and instead prefer to go off-topic by making additional assumptions in the process, but I suppose that doesn’t matter.

    I do hope you’ll have the honesty and mental flexibility to accept any and all possible scenarios, however, not just those you currently assume to be true.

    You would be a very lucky man indeed if all of your beliefs, about this subject and many others, turn out to be 100% correct with 0% modifications, but I’m not betting on that. Not in your case, not in mine.

    I don’t claim to know any unquestionable truths about the subject, I’m just pointing out a few things based on currently available information and how I interpret it.

    I am still prepared to accept many different scenarios, including but far from limited to those you are proposing or implying. That is what I “understand”, nothing more.

  21. Jaime Bustos Says:

    jfc, with all due respect, I don’t see you making any point to envision any other scenario, as you say that when Mr Uribe’s father’s chopper was seized in tranquilandia he was already dead, which I hope I already showed a feeble argument as to why Mr Uribe’s family may have not been involved in drug trafficking.

    On the other hand you say that was not the only airborne craft seized in the operation, which does not support your “other scenarios” initiative either. ;-)

  22. jcg Says:

    You’re quite wrong on both counts though.

    I’m certainly not arguing that Uribe’s family may not have been involved in drug trafficking *or* with the cartel, one way or another. You’re the one who is sloppily putting those words in my mouth, and probably not paying attention to what I’m actually saying.

    Basically, what I’m talking about has to do, in this context, with the assassination of Lara Bonilla by the Medellín Cartel and the circumstances surrounding it, not with the extent of any relationship Uribe and his family may have had with the drug cartels per se. Try to keep that in mind, for once.

    I’m indeed pointing out the fact that other things were seized in Tranquilandia, considering it was one of the biggest drug complexes in history and not just a place to store helicopters or planes (yes, plural, as in more than one). You could always try to read up on Tranquilandia for more information on what it contained. It’s rather evident that a lot more people than just the ghost of Uribe Sierra would be pissed off by the operation.

    I’m open to considering many scenarios, but not all scenarios are equal. In order to make one scenario stand out, someone would have to establish why it’s superior or why the others are inferior. You haven’t done that, the article hasn’t done that either. If someone else manages to do that successfully, I’d be more than content with the result. Until then…

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