FARC guerrillas ´promise´ to disarm

Colombia´s FARC leader Timochenko today confirmed the guerrillas´ intention to disarm if next month´s peace talks with President Santos´ government are successful.
In an interview with the Communist weekly publication Voz, Timochenko admitted that without a ´true farewell to arms´ any agreement would be worthless.

Colombia´s FARC leader Timochenko today confirmed the guerrillas´ intention to disarm if next month´s peace talks with President Santos´ government are successful.
In an interview with the Communist weekly publication Voz, Timochenko admitted that without a ´true farewell to arms´ any agreement would be worthless.
The interview is a clear response to critics – principally those loyal to ex-president Uribe – who question the will of the rebel group to put an end to 48 years of conflict. But the Voz is far from a neutral media outlet, and Timochenko´s words should not to be taken at face value.
Nevertheless, the conciliatory tone and openness of the FARC leader to discuss the issues for which agreement are a prerequisite for peace, does offer us cause for a degree of optimism.

Scepticial, cautious optimism, that is.
Why?

In a previous article I set out nine reasons to believe a different outcome to previous negotiations is possible. I highlighted the balance in the talks´ agenda – neither side will be able to argue that their areas of greevance were absent from the table – so often a reason for talks breaking down (think particularly in the case of the Isreal Palestinian conflict).

What is clear is that during the preliminary talks an agreement was reached between the government and the FARC, both on the hoped-for-outcome of the process, and, crucially, the route map to get there. This is something that plainly did not happen in Caguán (the previous talks, during the Pastrana years).

How did this work for both sides?

Government negotiators secured victory by forcing the FARC – for the first time – to accept the inclusion of disarmament on the agenda. Previous talks have focused on cease-fires but never disarmament.

And for the FARC team the ´red lines´ were the inclusion of land reform and political participation.

The serious of the agenda allowed Timochenko to draw a distinction with past talks when, as he say it, the major mistake was the government´s lack of ´real desire to address and find solutions to the causes that gave rise, and continue to feed, the conflict´. This time they will have the opportunity to push their world view.

Whatever you think of the FARC´s war, they were never going to give it up unless they could point to some success, some reflection of their view in government policy.

The FARC might now be considered as nothing much more than a narco-trafficking cartel, but their origins are based in political struggle, and Timochenko belongs to this ´philosophical wing´. Listen to him speak and it is impossible to avoid the rhetoric of the far-left; the paranoid anti-capitalist rage against a system that allegedly makes victims of us all.

Those who stand firm against the talks should be reminded that conflicts end either through obliteration of the enemy or through a form of negotiated quid pro quo. So long as the FARC can make money from selling drugs it is impossible to see how this war can end without compromise, unappealing as that may be.

So to expect capitulation from the guerrillas in return for jam tomorrow is naive. The guerrillas have to save face. They know the battle is lost and they cannot impose their brand of Marxism on the country. But they have to ´acheive´ something to be able to justify (to themselves and their sympathisers) laying down their arms.

A message to Uribe?

Uribistas have appeared on television and radio arguing that the FARC have no will, that this is a huge confidence trick. They might be right.

But for now it seems prudent to allow the president to get on with the serious task of convincing Timochenko to deliver on his promise ´the abolition of the use of force – of appeal to any kind of violence – to achieve economic or political purposes´.

Because for the moment the alternative to these talks is clear, as prophesied by Timochenko,´the continuation of the conflict, more death and destruction, more grief and tears, more poverty and misery for some and greater wealth for others`.

If this proves to be a smokescreen then the FARC will have lost their last chance to pursue their ends through political means. Their slow death will continue, and tragically for Colombia it will take innocent lives with them.

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