FARC`s PR war a threat to Colombian peace talks?

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos is fighting a public relations war with FARC guerrillas who in days will fly to Norway to start negotiations to end five decades of conflict.

Peace depends on the will of the FARC to negotiate, and the ability of the government to provide the terrorists an alternative to armed combat.

The government has done its part.

Since coming to power in 2010, the president has rushed through a new legal framework of transitional justice that will permit integration of demobilised guerrillas into civilian life; offering a route to legitimate political representation through the power of the ballot box.

But the key question is whether the FARC have done enough to show they too are serious about peace.

Those loyal to ex-president Alvaro Uribe suggest not; pointing to the rebels’ press conference held last week in the safe-house of the Cuban capital, Havana, as evidence the FARC are playing a huge confidence trick.

Hearing the mendacious words of the groups’ high command, it is tempting to agree with the Uribistas.

After months of preliminary talks between the FARC and the Santos government, the two sides had agreed a tight agenda for negotiations. But in Havana the FARC took advantage of the worldwide media attention to rip this accord apart.

Appearing to enjoy their moment in the sun these civilian and smartly dressed commanders announced they were placing new demands on the Colombian government. Now they would `fight’ for a bilateral cease-fire and for the inclusion of Simon Trindad in the process.

Santos had previously promised that the army would not cede a millimetre of territory to the FARC and Trinidad is a prisoner in the US and is subject to the will of that country´s judiciary.

The FARC appeared to be constructing barriers, excuses to pull out of the talks and pass blame to the government.

All of a sudden the President was forced to negotiate with the FARC in public, no, he would not pull out troops he confirmed, and Trinidad, well that was out of his hands.

Echoes of the last, failed, talks in Caguan were being heard in the media, and Uribistas took to the airwaves to attack the inauspicious beginnings of this complicated process. Their argument is clear – if the FARC are willing to negotiate, why are they going back on their word before the talks have even started?

For these sceptics the peace talks are in danger of becoming nothing more than a platform for the FARC to launch a public relations campaign, an opportunity to enjoy the oxygen of global media attention.

The fear is that, far from avoiding the errors of previous peace talks, President Santos is in fact falling into the FARC’s trap even before he has reached the table.

If it is true then that the FARC are setting the agenda in the media and that we are now engaged in a public relations war, surely we shouldn´t worry unduly – no sensible thinking person will take any notice of these criminals?

Unfortunately we shouldn`t be so complacent. As incredible and depressing as it may seem for those who have lived through the pain and suffering of the FARC’s nihilistic campaign of terror, there is a persistent level of support for the group’s ’struggle’; particularly in Europe.

For years the FARC has enjoyed financial and moral assistance from hard left groups across the Atlantic. The computers of Raul Reyes, killed by the Colombian military in 2008, showed us that the FARC is active in Holland, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium, Turkey, and Norway (as well as Libya and Australia outside Europe).

NGOs, student movements and Marxist political parties are all implicated in this web of terrorism. We must remember too, that the Irish Republican Army provided training for the FARC.

Lamentably, this hypocrisy is still alive and kicking. Take the case of French journalist Romeo Langois who was ’abducted’ by the FARC earlier this summer. When released, Langois inexplicably claimed that there were ’neither good nor bad’ in Colombia’s conflict. Moral relativism must have clouded his view, perhaps allowing him to overlook the fact the FARC recruit hundreds of young children to fight their war.

Langois is not the problem but he is a symptom of the willingness of those untouched by the tragedy of the conflict to view the politics with frivolity.

So for Uribe, quite rightly, the thought of the FARC once again using the peace talks to lobby for their ’cause’ is a pill impossible to swallow. For the families of the FARC’s victims and for the majority of the 46 million Colombians who have never known peace it is equally sickening.

We must hope, however understandable that Uribe´s concern is, that it is misplaced.

The FARC might enjoy some level of international sympathy but it is difficult for them to disguise the fact they are a spent force. The grandstanding of last week`s press conference speaks more of desperation to arrive at the negotiating table ready to play the best hand available, than of a group that seriously believes it can fool the people it continues to kill.

I draw hope from the fact the FARC are rumoured to have begun talks with Santos almost as soon as he took over from Uribe in 2010. So, despite the strikes against the group, the deaths of Mono Jojoy and supreme leader, Alfonso Cano, the FARC have not broken off these talks. The evidence suggests they are serious looking for a way out, a way of saving face.

What is more, Timochenko is evidently a man with political ambition. He today opened a Twitter account and circulated through his aides the idea that the FARC could run a candidate for the 2014 Presidential elections. He appears to understand like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness before him, that the vote must replace the bullet.

We would be naïve to think the FARC won`t continue try to trick us between now and if and when there is an agreement (and of course afterwards) but we should not despair for the talks because of this.

Yes it is gut-wrenching to watch the narco-terrorists deny their involvement in drug-trafficking, and to claim innocently not to hold hostages in their power, but it may be that we will have to live with this if we want to give peace a chance.

Posted by Kevin Howlett from colombia-politics.com

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