- Colombians were outraged in 2000 when word got out that the FARC held a farewell party, complete with whisky and dancing, for VÃctor G. Ricardo, the Pastrana government’s outgoing high commissioner for peace.
- Colombians were outraged in 2002 by photos of James LeMoyne, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative in Colombia, happily embracing FARC leaders after narrowly averting a breakdown in peace talks.
- Colombians were outraged in 2004 by leaked recordings from the government’s negotiations with paramilitary groups, in which High Commissioner for Peace Luis Carlos Restrepo assured AUC leaders that they will not be extradited to the United States.
- Colombians were outraged in 2007 by photos of opposition Sen. Piedad CÃ³rdoba, an authorized “facilitator” of hostage-for-prisoner exchange talks with the FARC, donning a beret and accepting flowers as she posed for pictures with FARC leaders in Caracas for talks.
- Colombians are outraged in 2008 by reports of an October 2007 letter from a U.S. citizen to FARC leader RaÃºl Reyes, taken from a FARC computer recovered at the site where RaÃºl Reyes was killed.
The U.S. citizen, development expert and consultant James Jones, offers to serve as a “bridge” to make possible a proposed meeting with members of the U.S. Congress. His note to Reyes quietly conveys a message that Rep. Jim McGovern went on to deliver publicly during a January 2008 trip to BogotÃ¡: “I would be willing to meet with the FARC only if I thought it would achieve something positive and tangible.”
What makes Jones’ letter controversial, as Semana magazine notes, is the “cordial and friendly tone” with which Jones addresses Reyes. Even if it means coming with proofs-of-life or a similar concession in hand, Jones writes, a meeting with a U.S. Congress delegation “would be an ideal way to internationalize the FARC and would give them international recognition (something that [Colombian President Ãlvaro] Uribe doesn’t want). It would also give an opportunity to show the world that one can negotiate with the FARC.” Jones signs off with “a Boliviaran greeting.”
I have known Jim Jones since 2001, when he was carrying out dozens (perhaps hundreds) of interviews for a research project on Colombia’s conflict. It is through some of these interviews that he came to know guerrilla leaders like Reyes. I know that Jim Jones does not support the FARC’s choice to pursue armed struggle, and he doesn’t want Manuel Marulanda to be the next president of Colombia. Jim is working from the best of intentions: he very dearly wants to see the FARC and the Colombian government return to the negotiating table.
Like many before him, Jim Jones is being publicly embarrassed for being revealed to have shown too much softness, friendliness or bonhomie in private communications with an armed group. As Jones’s statement, translated below, indicates, he used the language he did in order to foster a measure of trust, without which his request would have gone nowhere. As he argues, his methods had some impact: his October 2007 suggestion that the FARC provide proofs-of-life made it all the way up to the top of the FARC leadership, and the photos and videos were taken not long afterward.
In a similar situation, a seasoned, trained conflict-resolution expert would not adopt the tone and language that Jim Jones, Victor Ricardo, Piedad CÃ³rdoba and others have used, in what they thought were private efforts to achieve a climate of trust and mutual confidence. But such an expert’s work requires him or her to walk a difficult line.
Political reality and public opinion might reward a confrontational style, one that misses no opportunity to remind the guerrillas that they are murderous monsters. Building a working relationship, however, means adopting a more constructive approach – all the while avoiding behavior that could, if it came to light, be misconstrued as misguided or romantic guerrilla solidarity.
This dilemma makes clear how hard the job of a mediator or facilitator really is.
Here is Jim Jones’s statement in English:
Your article extracts and de-contextualizes parts of my long letter, which had the purpose of moving the humanitarian accord forward, and thus to return the prisoners to their families. It would appear that my letter to Reyes had a positive effect. For one thing, it arrived in the hands of the FARC’s maximum leader, Manuel Marulanda. And for another, some proofs of life were produced soon afterward.
I think the current [Colombian] government is wasting valuable opportunities to return the prisoners to their loved ones – Ãngrid Betancourt, my three compatriots, and the Colombians retained by both sides. To achieve this return was the primordial reason for my letter to Mr. Reyes. For the moment, it is deplorable that the humanitarian accord lies in the ashes of a bombed-out encampment in Ecuador.
Your article highlights the language of my letter to Reyes, which suggests that there was a relation of trust between us. Of course there was one, because without that trust any effective communication would be impossible between two human beings of very different origins and experience. Let’s be clear that I do not agree with the guerrillas’ violent methods, but neither do I agree with the government’s methods of seeking military solutions for a decades-old conflict based on acute political and socio-economic problems. The current mistrust impedes dialogue between the parties to the conflict. I regret having offended some people with my language, but their negative reaction indicates the depth of the hatred and the scarce space available for a constructive dialogue.
By saying in your article that I have “a romantic vision of the FARC,” the intention is to question the credibility of my professional credentials and the role that I was (and mean to continue) playing. In the past 40 years, I have worked in 30 countries from Africa to Asia to the Middle East, without mentioning my extensive relations to Latin America. I have seen firsthand the way that poverty, inequality and violence dehumanize and disfigure communities. Believe me, I am neither that innocent nor that romantic. Blood doesn’t produce romance, just repugnance. My action seeks to confront a serious problem through use of reason.