The Colombia FTA meets the presidential campaign LAWGEF: “So far to go” on human rights in Colombia
Apr 072008

The business suits worn by FARC leaders in this 2000 picture were put to the torch shortly afterward, says Jan Egeland (fourth from left).

I spent the day at Beloit College in Wisconsin on Saturday, where I spoke on a panel whose star attraction was Jan Egeland, until recently the United Nations’ coordinator for humanitarian affairs.

Before that, from 2000 to 2002, the Norwegian diplomat was Kofi Annan’s special representative for Colombia’s ongoing peace talks with guerrilla groups. That position put Egeland in more frequent contact with FARC and ELN leaders – including “Manuel Marulanda,” “Mono Jojoy” and “Gabino” – than nearly any other foreign citizen has ever had.

Egeland told a story from those years that I had never heard before; it appears in his newly published memoir, and he discussed it several days ago on “Democracy Now.”

He recalled the month-long tour of Europe that he organized for FARC and government negotiators at the beginning of 2000. Six guerrilla leaders, dressed in business suits instead of camouflage, went to Norway, Sweden, Spain, France and the Vatican. They were forced to share close quarters, and many meals, with Colombian business and government representatives. They hosted a parade of European politicians of all ideologies who explained to them that the Cold War was over and armed struggle made no sense.

As they went from city to city, the FARC leaders made public statements that sounded ever more moderate, conciliatory, and supportive of peace.

(Today, three of the six FARC leaders who took that trip to Europe are no longer with the organization. Two – FARC Secretariat members Raúl Reyes and Iván Ríos – were killed in March. The third – Simón Trinidad – was captured in Ecuador and is now serving a sixty-year sentence in a U.S. prison.)

Then, Egeland explains, the six FARC negotiators returned to the demilitarized zone that was granted to them at the time, where they faced Marulanda, Jojoy and other senior guerrilla leaders.

“The people went back, I think, pretty converted. They met their old comrades there, and they were asked to put all their clothing, all their belongings from Europe in a pile, and they—it was torched to avoid tracking devices. And then they were made to retort [renounce] all the conciliatory statements of Scandinavia.”

That’s right – they made them burn their business suits. And then, to recant any moderate sentiments they had expressed.

I found that story to be discouragingly instructive as we watch France’s audacious, last-ditch efforts to save FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt hit a brick wall of guerrilla intransigence. The French government sent a planeload of doctors from Paris last week to provide emergency medical care to Betancourt, who is believed to be near death from hepatitis and other ailments after six years in captivity.

But that plane and its medical team are still in Bogotá, as the FARC have not responded to entreaties to allow them to visit their hostage. (My guess is that the guerrillas – ever paranoid about military intelligence following any outside visitors to the site of captivity – will not grant this access.)

On Thursday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, believed to be the outside actor with the most fluid communications with the FARC, lamented that he could do nothing to help Betancourt. As if in answer to the appeal we posted on Tuesday, Chávez offered support to the French mission in a televised address, but added, “I can’t do anything more. I’ve lost all contact with the FARC.” If the FARC are not even talking to Chávez, they may truly not be talking to anyone on the outside right now.

But they are, unfortunately, issuing communiqués like the one released Friday by Rodrigo Granda, the group’s so-called “foreign minister,” along with mid-level commander Jesús Santrich. Disregarding world opinion and Betancourt’s physical condition, the guerrilla leaders angrily refuse to release her or any other hostages unilaterally.

“Only as a consequence of a prisoner exchange will those held captive in our camps be set free. It is not acceptable that more peace gestures be asked of us.”

The FARC leaders who ordered the bonfire of business attire eight years ago – and who, more recently, rebuked “Raul Reyes” by email for having agreed to a hostage-exchange discussion in Venezuela last October – are plainly in the driver’s seat. While we must not abandon hope, it is very hard to be optimistic about the fate of those hostages whose health is failing.

We remind the FARC once more that the martyrdom of Íngrid Betancourt or any of the other hostages will bring a wave of national and international rejection far greater than any that has came before. While the group may believe itself impervious to public opinion, this rejection will cement its international pariah status, marginalize all who consider it necessary to negotiate with them, and hand an enormous political victory to the hard line of their sworn enemy, Álvaro Uribe.

If there is any glimmer of hope at all right now for Betancourt, it can be gained by carefully parsing Granda and Santrich’s statement. While the FARC leaders rule out a hostage release without a prisoner exchange, they do not specify whether this exchange would require FARC and government representatives to meet in a demilitarized zone.

The statement does call for a demilitarized zone if any talks take place, but perhaps it leaves open the possibility of an exchange without talks. This is what the French government and freed hostage Luis Eladio Pérez have been proposing, and what President Uribe made possible with a prisoner-release decree issued a week and a half ago.

Or perhaps the FARC mean to say “no” to that possibility as well. Their statement could just be poorly written.

2 Responses to “Intransigence”

  1. Camilla Says:

    FARC isn’t going to release Ingrid no matter how many free tours of Europe they get. Granda, Reyes and the other FARC chiefs are not rubes, they are rich well-educated radical-chic elites who chose to be terrorists throwing their comfortable bourgeois lives away to pursue that romantic mountain-guerrilla dream. Didn’t you read the weirdness of the Granda letter? He sounded like a 60s leftist from the flower-power you-say-you-wanna-revolution era – it was all full Lenin, the babbling of streams, the twitter of birds, the poetry of life, and Sun Tzu. FARC is full of such freaks. Granda made it clear that Ingrid was just one out of 40,000 they’ve already killed off, and she makes no difference to them from a human standpoint, and they’ll let her die too – as payback for the death of Reyes. As for them having or getting international pariah status, all I can say is that for some of us, that happened already.

    Meanwhile, the Colombian army is circling their hostage encampments and may well end up being the true rescuers of Ingrid. What’s are leftist appeasers on the outside, the ones who still aren’t quite sure that FARC is a pariah just yet, going to say to that – ’sorry, we insist on appeasement negotiations, throw her back?’ I know they will complain.

    FARC will never release that woman willingly. They are inhuman.

  2. Chris Colbow Says:

    STATEMENT FROM THE WHITE HOUSE

    President Bush Signs Letter To Send The United States-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementing Legislation To Congress. Agreement Will Advance National Security And Open Markets For U.S. Workers —

    President Bush signed a letter to send Congress legislation that implements the United States’ free trade agreement with Colombia. The U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement will advance America’s national security interests in a critical region, strengthen a courageous ally in our hemisphere, and help boost our economy at a vital time. During the 16 months since the Colombia free trade agreement was signed, the Administration has worked closely with Congress to seek a bipartisan path for considering the agreement. President Bush and his Administration have worked with Congressional leaders to set a schedule for the consideration of the Colombia free trade agreement. The need for this trade agreement is too urgent and the stakes for national security are too high to allow this year to end without a vote. Congress needs to move forward with the Colombia free trade agreement and approve it as quickly as possible.

    Ø The Colombia free trade agreement will advance our national security by strengthening a key democratic ally and sending a clear message to the region. The agreement with Colombia will bring increased economic opportunity to the people of Colombia through sustained economic growth, new employment opportunities, and increased investment. This trade agreement will reinforce democracy by helping in the fight against corruption, and encouraging transparency, accountability, and the rule of law. Approval of the agreement will bolster one of our closest friends in the hemisphere and rebut those in Latin America who say the United States cannot be trusted to keep its word.

    Ø The U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement will level the playing field for U.S. businesses and workers. Over 90 percent of imports from Colombia now enter our country duty-free, but U.S. industrial and consumer exports to Colombia face tariffs up to 35 percent, and many U.S. agricultural products face much higher tariffs. Once implemented, the agreement will eliminate tariffs on more than 80 percent of American exports of industrial and consumer goods immediately and 100 percent of American exports over time. This agreement will provide U.S. companies and farmers that export to Colombia with duty-free access to this large and growing market.

    Approving This Free Trade Agreement Is The Best Way To Show Our Support For Colombia

    President Uribe and the Colombian government have directly addressed concerns over the situation in Colombia that have been raised by some Members of Congress. He has:

    Demobilized tens of thousands of members of paramilitary groups;
    Established an independent prosecutors unit and created a special program that protects labor activists; and
    Revised the free trade agreement to include some of the most rigorous labor and environmental protections of any trade agreement in history.

    Under the leadership of President Uribe, Colombia has been a strong and capable partner in fighting drugs, crime, and terror. Since 2002, kidnappings, terrorist attacks, and murders have all dropped substantially. With Colombia’s commitment, our rule of law and counterdrug assistance will continue to help make a difference.

    Colombia has vastly expanded its police presence as part of an effort to bring security and stability to all of its territory. Colombia has established a police presence in each of its 1,099 municipalities, which has secured 187 primary and secondary roads throughout the country, freeing Colombians to use these roads. As a result, traffic along these roads has doubled since 2002, and commerce is flowing between areas that were once virtually cut off due to violence.

    Colombia’s economy is rebounding, and its citizens’ lives are improving. Since 2002, the poverty rate has decreased by almost 20 percent, and unemployment is at its lowest level in a decade. Roads are now open, displaced farmers are returning to their lands, and economic growth in Colombia topped seven percent in 2007.

    The Colombian government is continuing to battle narcotics trafficking, which provides the funding base for illegal armed groups. These efforts took 500 metric tons of cocaine off the market in 2006 alone, depriving terrorist groups of hundreds of millions in funds to buy arms and mount attacks. In addition, the Colombian government has extradited more than 600 narcotics traffickers and terrorists to the United States over the past five years.

    The United States has been a vital partner in Colombia’s efforts through Plan Colombia, an effort launched by the Clinton Administration that has enjoyed strong bipartisan support. The more than $5 billion the United States has provided to the program has helped to defeat narco terrorists and reduce violence and crime. It is also providing developmental and humanitarian assistance. This partnership can only succeed in the long run, however, if Colombia can create jobs for the tens of thousands of combatants who have demobilized and the hundreds of thousands of citizens who have been displaced by armed groups. The free trade agreement can help Colombia create those jobs and bolster continued success.

    Colombia has laid the foundation for bringing government services to areas retaken from illegal armed groups and increased investment in alternative development, human rights protection, and social services. Mayors have returned to their towns, and public school enrollment has increased to 92 percent. The child mortality rate has decreased dramatically thanks to economic growth and increasing wages that enable more people to provide adequate health and nutritional care for their children. The number of tourists visiting Colombia has more than doubled in the last five years.

    The Administration Is Committed To Helping Workers Affected By Global Trade Adapt To The Changing Economy, Learn New Skills, And Find New Jobs

    President Bush is committed to working with Congress to improve and reauthorize Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to help trade-affected workers obtain the training they need to transition into a new career. The President believes the Federal Government has a responsibility to help workers displaced by trade. A strong TAA program plays an important role in helping workers obtain the skills and assistance they need to transition to good jobs.

Leave a Reply