Colombian President Juan Santos said that the liberation of 10 members of the security forces two days ago was ‘a step in the right direction,’ but that it was ‘insufficient.’ Although Santos has not made it clear what the exact conditions for the start of a peace process would be, it appears that they are the following: the liberation of all other prisoners, the cessation of attacks against the civilian population, the removal of land mines, and the abandonment of the use of child soldiers. The conditions that Santos have laid down appear to be reasonable, and, most importantly, the FARC could comply with them without seriously compromising itself. There are, however, still serious obstacles to successful negotiations.
The first major problem is that neither side appears to be especially keen to start the process. The Colombian congress has authorised the deployment of government representatives to start dialogues with the FARC (and also the ELN), but Santos is yet to send a single representative to talk with the FARC. The FARC itself has been very active militarily in the past few weeks, and probably sees little reason to rush to the negotiation table, especially while Santos is still gloating about the 10 members of the security forces that have recently been freed.
The second major problem is that the aims of the FARC are ill defined and perhaps unrealistic. On 9th January, the FARC leader Rodrigo ‘Timochenko’ Londoño commented that, ‘we are open to negotiations in front of the country. We must call into question privatisations, deregulation, the absolute liberty of business and investment, the plundering of natural resources, the rule of the market, and the military’s strategy.’ Since those are all key components of Santos’s political philosophy, negotiations might break down extremely quickly.
The third major problem is that the process of demilitarisation could be particularly problematic. Because Colombia signed up to the Treaty of Rome in 1998, Santos cannot offer amnesties to those that have committed crimes against humanity. What the Colombian Government is considering at the moment is the possibility of giving former guerrillas an alternative sentence that would probably amount to 8 years in prison on the condition that they lay down their arms, reveal the full extent of their involvement in the conflict, and compensate victims. Whether that would be sufficient to tempt the FARC into laying down its aims is unclear.
Santos must make it clear what the exact conditions for peace talks would be, and then it is imperative that the Colombian Government enters the talks with realistic and achievable goals; something that has not happened previously.
The following video from Al-Jazeera discusses some of the issues surrounding potential peace talks: