That the FARC guerrillas actually responded publicly and positively to a communication should hardly be news. Except that it hasn’t happened in a very long time.
On Tuesday the FARC’s top leadership, or Secretariat, made public an October 16 response to a large group of Colombian intellectuals and politicians, most of them left-of-center politically, who had written a September 11 letter calling on them to engage in an “epistolary exchange” – a public written correspondence.
The purpose of this exchange would be to discuss how to move toward a “humanitarian accord” to free guerrilla hostages, as well as a renewed peace negotiation. (Or, as the letter’s incredibly indirect language put it, to “identify elements to allow the definition of an agenda that can clarify the routes by which it would be possible to reach an understanding that could lead to the long-desired humanitarian accord.”)
The guerrillas’ response, and the likelihood of an exchange of public correspondence on these topics, is cause for faint hope. This is so if only because talks between the FARC and the Colombian government are such a distant possibility, and no interlocutors acceptable to both sides have emerged to facilitate communications through any other channels. (In fact, many who served as interlocutors in the past are now under government investigation for alleged guerrilla ties.)
Faint hope is also warranted because this is the first direct FARC reaction in a very long time to what could be considered an expression of public opinion. Analysts have used the word “autistic” to describe the guerrillas’ years of unresponsiveness to regular governmental, non-governmental and international appeals. That they have responded now could be an indication of a course change – however slight – under the leadership of Alfonso Cano, who replaced Manuel Marulanda as the group’s maximum leader in March. Another factor increasing their responsiveness, meanwhile, may be the increased military pressure the FARC is feeling.
The FARC response was written before, but released after, the guerrillas’ latest humiliation: Sunday’s escape of Oscar Tulio Lizcano, a former congressman whom the group had held hostage since 2000 – an escape that was aided and abetted by his FARC captor. Lizcano’s account of beyond-inhuman suffering during his captivity – forbidden to speak to anyone, he whiled away time teaching imaginary classes to sticks -Â has further hardened public opinion against the FARC, but has also underlined the need to try any available means to win the remaining twenty-eight political hostages’ freedom.
A public exchange of correspondence is an unusual way to get a serious conflict-resolution effort started. But if no other options exist – and they do not appear to – it should be pursued.
Surely there will be voices in Colombia condemning those who participate in this “pen pal” arrangement as useful idiots, appeasers, or naive individuals helping the FARC to buy time, improve its public image, or achieve an undeserved political status. The Colombian government, however, would do well to let this exchange go forward without attacking it, as long as it continues to take place publicly and transparently. Drawing the guerrilla leadership into a political discussion, including clarity about its conditions for talks, can do little harm and quite a bit of good.
Here are the letters translated into English, presented in reverse chronological order. Both are heavy on run-on sentences and indirect phrasing; key parts are highlighted.
Mountains of Colombia, October 16, 2008
With satisfaction we have received your September missive which invites a collective exploration of pathways to peace, far from the current government’s direction of perpetual war and persisting in the impossibility of a military solution to political, economic and social problems that underlie the bloody conflict that shocks the country.
We greet the flourishing of a current of opinion that diverges from false triumphalism, and from the parameters of a warlike solution to large national problems. We have no doubt that your effort will succeed because it coincides with the majority’s feeling and desire for peace.
This letter is now the beginning of the Epistolary Exchange that you propose to us to discuss a political solution to the conflict, the humanitarian exchange, and peace. We will participate, in the people’s full view, in a wide-ranging and frank dialogue, without dogmatism, without sectarianism and without disqualifications of the issues that you suggest. It is necessary to work to achieve the participation of the greatest possible number of political and social organizations, and independent people.
Our willingness to explore possibilities toward the humanitarian exchange, and the peace with social justice that is the demand and the most urgent and felt need of the whole nation, will continue without variation. The unilateral liberation of six ex-congresspeople in the recent past, turned over to President Hugo ChÃ¡vez and Senator Piedad CÃ³rdoba, sought to create conditions and a helpful atmosphere for the exchange of prisoners in power of the parties to the conflict. This deed is an authentic testimony to our political will.
We very respectfully suggest, to strengthen this new first step, to take into account the expressed willingness of the great majority of Latin American presidents to contribute their efforts to the process of humanitarian exchange and peace.
The immense banner of peace with social justice should wave definitively, free, below Colombia’s sky. The eternal war against the people that they want to impose on us to perpetuate injustice should not be the fatherland’s destiny.
Receive our cordial greeting.
Secretariat of the Central General Staff of the FARC-EP
BogotÃ¡, September 11, 2008
The solution to the multiple crises that afflict Colombia’s state and society demands a judicious reflection, as well as the participation of different sectors of civil society and of actors implicated in the country’s armed, social and political internal conflict, with the object of avoiding damage to institutions and encouraging the building of a full democracy, with social justice and peace, in which we all have a place.
In that sense, our aspiration is to work to unblock the pathways leading to the completion of a Humanitarian Accord that would allow the freedom of kidnap victims and prisoners in the power of the FARC armed insurgency and, at the same time, the freedom of this guerrilla group’s prisoners under the state’s jurisdiction.
We understand that any alternative other than a political understanding to arrive at a Humanitarian Accord and to facilitate a negotiated exit from the conflict would lead to the suffering of important sectors of the population, imminent danger to the lives of captives in the jungle, degradation of the war, and a stimulus to the militarization, authoritarianism, and institutional weakening of the national political process.
The confrontation’s escalation has spilled beyond the national geography, and impacts the territory of brother countries with diverse acts of institutional violence, which have placed our country’s diplomatic relations in difficulty.
Nonetheless, we have the certainty that the presidents and chiefs of state of brother countries in the hemisphere, and of several friendly European countries, will act together in solidarity to support the dialogue processes that we are proposing.
For the reasons given here, and with the desire to begin now the search for solutions in favor of peace in Colombia and the comforting of the human beings affected by the conflict, we cordially invite you to develop a public epistolary dialogue, through which you, we, and in general Colombian society, can identify elements to allow the definition of an agenda that can clarify the routes by which it would be possible to reach an understanding that could lead to the long-desired humanitarian accord.
We believe that a notable current of opinion already exists in favor of the promotion of factors contrary to the armed solution, and that it is ready to lay the appropriate groundwork to generate a democratic debate about issues of war and peace in Colombia, with the goal of encouraging peaceful coexistence within a new social ethic.
Piedad CÃ³rdoba RuÃz, MedÃ³filo Medina, Fabio MorÃ³n DÃaz, JosÃ© Gregorio HernÃ¡ndez, VÃctor Manuel Moncayo, Alfredo BeltrÃ¡n Sierra, Jaime Angulo Bossa, Daniel Pecaut, Consuelo GonzÃ¡lez de Perdomo, LuÃs Eladio PÃ©rez, Orlando BeltrÃ¡n Cuellar, Alfredo Molano B, Javier DarÃo Restrepo, Daniel Samper Pizano, Gustavo Ãlvarez Gardeazabal, Alberto Rojas Puyo, Francisco Leal Buitrago, Hernando GÃ³mez BuendÃa, IvÃ¡n Cepeda Castro, RaÃºl Alameda O, Florence Thomas, Alpher Rojas Carvajal, Rocio LondoÃ±o Botero, LeÃ³n Valencia A, Jorge Enrique Botero, Consuelo Ahumada, Marleny Orjuela, Fabiola Perdomo E, Deyanira Ortiz Cuenca, Martha Arango de Lizcano, Claudia Rujeles FlÃ³rez, Ãngela de PÃ©rez, Yolanda Polanco P, Marc Chernick, Gabriel Izquierdo S.J., Gloria Cuartas, FernÃ¡n GonzÃ¡lez S.J., JosÃ© GutiÃ©rrez, Juanita Barreto G, Padre Henry RamÃrez Soler cmf, Juan SebastiÃ¡n Lozada P, Ãlvaro Camacho Guisado, Apolinar DÃaz-Callejas, Lisandro Duque Naranjo, Alberto Cienfuegos, Ricardo Bonilla G, Leopoldo MÃºnera RuÃz, RenÃ¡n Vega Cantor, Ciro Quiroz, Carlos Lozano Guillen, Jairo Maya Betancur, Ricardo GarcÃa Duarte, Jorge Gantiva S, Carlos Villalba Bustillo, Constanza Vieira, Gloria Polanco, Apecidez Ãlviz F, Carlos A. RodrÃguez DÃaz, Venus Albeiro Silva, AndrÃ©s Felipe Villamizar, Arlene B. Tickner, Santiago GarcÃa, Pepe SÃ¡nchez, Patricia Ariza, Carlos Ãlvarez NuÃ±ez, VÃctor Gaviria, Jennifer Steffens, Bruno DÃaz, Zulia Mena, Gustavo Duncan, Lilia Solano, Julio Silva Colmenares, Oscar MejÃa Quintana, Arturo Escobar, Rafael BallÃ©n, William GarcÃa RodrÃguez, CÃ©sar Augusto Ayala Diago, Carlos Medina Gallego, Diego Otero Prada, RubÃ©n DarÃo Florez, DarÃo Villamizar H, LuÃs Fernando Medina, Santiago Araoz F, Fabian Acosta, Alonso Ojeda Awad, Jimmy Viera, EfraÃn Viveros, Mauricio Rojas RodrÃguez, Eduardo GÃ³mez, Carlos Villamil Chaux, Fernando Estrada G, Moritz Akerman, Ricardo Montenegro V, Santiago VÃ¡squez L, Enrique Santos Molano, Libardo Sarmiento Anzola, Hollman Morris, Reinaldo Ramirez GarcÃa, Jairo E. GÃ³mez, Daniel Libreros C, Jaime Caicedo T, HÃ©ctor Moreno Galviz, Mauricio Archila Neira, Dora Lucy Arias, LuÃs Alberto Ãvila A, Olga Amparo SÃ¡nchez, Norma EnrÃquez R, Orsinia Polanco, Caterina Heyck, Guillermo Silva, LuÃs Enrique Escobar, Eduardo LÃ³pez Hooker, Eduardo CarreÃ±o, Alexandra BermÃºdez, Pilar Rueda, Fernando Arellano, Gabriel Awad, Cristo Rafael GarcÃa Tapias, Alfonso Santos C, Jorge Lara Bonilla, Miguel Eduardo CÃ¡rdenas, AndrÃ©s A. VÃ¡squez M, Jaime CalderÃ³n Herrera, Ãlvaro Bejarano, Ãlvaro Delgado, Ãlvaro Villarraga, Armando Palau, Juan de Dios Alfonso, DarÃo MorÃ³n DÃaz, Carlos Rosero T, Maria Eugencia LiÃ©vano, Gonzalo Uribe Aristizabal, Edgar MartÃnez C, Esperanza MÃ¡rquez M, DÃdima Rico Chavarro, Danilo Rueda R, Eduardo Franco Isaza, Evelio RamÃrez, Fructuoso Arias, Gabriel GarcÃa B, Gabriel Ruiz O, GermÃ¡n Arias Ospina, Gustavo Puyo A, Gustavo GarcÃa, HernÃ¡n CortÃ©z A, Ivonne GonzÃ¡lez, Jaime Pulido Sierra, Jaime Vasco A, Juanita BazÃ¡n A, LuÃs Eduardo Salcedo, LuÃs Jairo RamÃrez H, Mario Santana, RenÃ© Antonio Florez C, Sara Leukos, VÃctor JosÃ© Pardo, Pepe SÃ¡nchez, Claudia Rujeles de Jara, Marta Arango de Lizcano, MarÃa Teresa de Mendieta, Silvia Patricia Nieto, and others.