By Allan Roberts
More international attention is focused on Colombia’s violence and corruption as opposed to its excellent coffee and numerous emeralds. Since 1964, the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), has been responsible for many of the country’s kidnappings, murders and illegal narcotics. After 50 years, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is taking the unprecedented step of trying to make peace with the rebel group.
Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 25, Pres. Santos discussed the final steps towards peaceful resolution with the FARC. As reported in Colombia Reports, the left-wing group has agreed to three out of five points in a comprehensive peace plan with the Colombian government. Both sides have been meeting in Cuba for nearly two years, discussing such points as ending the illegal drug trade and participating in public politics. The first of these points, Land and Rural Development was finalized on May 27, 2013. The remaining points will be known once both sides come to an agreement.
Pres. Santos’ U.N. announcement comes just months after a reelection victory against Oscar Ivan Zuluaga. The June election saw Santos win 50.9 percent of the vote against Zuluaga’s 45 percent. Despite reelection, the president’s FARC negotiations have received much criticism. Among Santos’ harshest critics is his predecessor, Pres. Álvaro Uribe. Uribe has gone on record calling Santos “a traitor” and “a scoundrel” for the negotiations.
Uribe, whose father was killed by the FARC in a 1983 kidnapping attempt, took a hardline approach in dealing with the guerrilla army. During his administration, the former president appointed Santos as Minister of Defense. As defense minister, Santos oversaw the death of FARC leader Raul Reyes and the rescue of 15 hostages in Operation Jaque, including three Americans and presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
Uribe aggressively campaigned for Santos’ presidency as his successor. After his election in 2010, Santos surprised many by taking a moderate stance against the FARC. Uribe subsequently endorsed Zuluaga during the 2014 elections.
Many Colombians also criticize the Santos connection with El Tiempo, the largest news publication in Colombia. Members of the Santos family (including Pres. Santos, his great-uncle former Pres. Eduardo Santos, and former Vice Pres. Francisco Santos) have been shareholders since 1913. This has raised concerns about the current president’s portrayal in the media, despite his inactivity as a shareholder since 2007.
Despite criticism, Santos said he will not give into a ceasefire with FARC militants until all negotiations are met. At the International Economic Alliance in September in New York, Santos explained, “It is less costly because if you have a ceasefire, you will give a perverse incentive for the guerrillas and never reach a peace agreement.”
The FARC is the oldest and largest left-wing rebel army in Colombia, according to the United Nations. Founded in the aftermath of the country’s civil war (La Violencia), the communist rebels are one of the world’s richest guerrilla armies, with annual earnings of more than $500 million. The U.N. estimates the FARC supplies more than 50 percent of the world’s cocaine, and 60 percent of the cocaine to the United States.