COHA Research: Colombian Peace Talks Suspended: An Unfolding Story with Many Unanswered Questions

By: Louise Højen, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs 

Colombia’s peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) were suspended Sunday evening (November 16) after the capture of General Rubén Darío Alzáte Mora, another military officer, Captain Jorge Rodríguez Contreras, and civilian Gloria Urrego.[1] Since then a significant number of international voices, including the United Nations and the European Union, as well as Colombia’s major political parties, have shown considerable support for President Juan Manuel Santos’ resolution to stall peace negotiations until the release of General Alzáte and his companions.

The story of the incident is still unfolding. The FARC faction, Bloque Iván Ríos, in the afternoon of November 18, admitted to capturing General Alzáte and his companions.[2] FARC’s leaders first claimed innocence from the kidnappings, though since then, they have maintained that lower ranking FARC members had engaged in normal war operations by capturing a high-ranking officer within a war zone. In 2012, FARC pledged not to kidnap civilians for ransom anymore, but military hostages would still be considered prisoners of wars.[3] Gloria Urrego, as a civilian, should therefore be released immediately. However, all hostages were captured without violence, and Bloque Iván Ríos see this recent incident as a normal consequence of an ongoing war.[4] Additionally, they are willing to negotiate with the government on a peaceful solution and the release of those held in captivity.

Nonetheless, Colombia’s military is still searching for the three abducted figures. The search has received widespread assistance as well as support from the Red Cross and both Cuba and Norway –two crucial supporters and mediators of the Colombian government in the peace talks with FARC.[5]

Furthermore, Santos is still demanding answers from his Defense Minister Juan Carlos Garzón as to why the abducted General Alzáte travelled around unguarded and dressed as a civilian in the much inaccessible Chocó department of Colombia. He was captured in a so-called red zone, notorious for heightened guerrilla activity.[6] Even General Alzáte’s wife has gone public and asked questions, as she finds Alzáte’s behavior highly atypical and points to his usual caution in such situations. Something just does not add up.[7]

Obviously, there are still many questions to be answered. Senator Roy Barreras, a member of Colombia’s reconstituted Peace Commission, sharply criticized General Alzáte’s behavior as irresponsible, though his wife calls it suspiciously atypical. Barreras remarks on the unjustified risk General Alzáte has taken regarding the wellbeing of his companions as well as the immediate danger posed to the peace talks. It is a matter of grave security that needs to be addressed upon General Alzáte’s release.[8]

International and national support for Santos’ suspension of the peace talks appear to have strengthened his political position within Colombia, which is important as his presidential reelection in June this year was far from convincing within the country.[9] The crucial support for his peace campaign came from leftist politician Clara López, and while she too is demanding the immediate release of the FARC hostages, she has denounced the stalled peace talks and has emphasized the importance of their continuation.[10]

Never before has Colombia been so close to terminating the long, bloody war with FARC. Thousands of people wait to see whether justice lies ahead as the Colombian government and FARC have but two critical points left on their agenda, regarding compensating the victims from the 50-year long conflict and FARC’s final disarmament, before peace is achieved. Now its future is in peril. While the entire FARC movement should not be held responsible for a smaller faction opposing the peace talks, Colombia’s population, the government, and the international community still demand immediate action; this is an opportunity for FARC to prove their dedication to achieving peace in Colombia by releasing these hostages.

Despite the fact that Bloque Iván Ríos has admitted to the capture of General Alzáte and his companions, they are still willing to engage in peaceful resolutions and have stated that the peace talks are important and should be continued.[11] It is therefore clear that recent events were not deliberate attacks to jeopardize the peace negotiations. It is also imperative to keep in mind that opposition to the peace talks not solely derives from the rebels. Hard measures by the Colombian government and military have become common when countering the insurgents and in some instances, human rights are neglected, such as during the infamous “false positive” scandal which surfaced in 2008.[12]

At this point, both sides of the peace talks need to display their bona fides on whether they will give peace a chance. The Santos administration must be ready to initiate immediate negotiations with FARC, particularly Bloque Iván Ríos, on releasing the hostages. When a resolution has been reached, the next important step will be to reopen the peace talks with FARC and hopefully end the civil war that has cost the lives of more than 220,000 people.

Photo by: Policía Nacional de los colombianos Inauguración Estación de Policía Soacha Taken From: https://www.flickr.com/photos/policiacolombia/6012168635/in/photolist-aagWgV-aajKzY-aagWJk-aagWSK-aajJNs-aajJzQ-aajK67-aajJDL-aajJJ1-bxnw7k-bxnuTr-bMqQLZ-byw9RE-byw9xh-byw9uo-byw9xS-bMqQSx-byw9TW-byw9Mb-bSocpk-bDttsh-bSoc6r-bSoa9V-bDttuG-nrsbm8-nLnkeW-8PW5xh-9UEXZV-dqiqzs-e9trxu-e9nKfF-e9sGpo-e9tttC-e9mZqt-e9nLTD-e9sqWA-e9mUSD-8PNsNb-9TXwu5-9TXpdb-8PNvjf-9TUHyt-aWEyPV-cEEzG1-aWEQxr-6qZ5a6-9UKBLC-9TXijm-9UHNJ3-9TXmRh

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 References 

[1] Bouvier, Virginia. “Unfolding Story: Temporary Suspension of Colombian Peace Talks in Cuba,” United States Institute of Peace, Nov. 17, 2014. First published in Colombia Calls blog, Nov. 17, 2014. Accessed Nov. 18, 2014: https://vbouvier.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/unfolding-story-temporary-suspension-of-colombian-peace-talks-in-cuba/

[2] Redacción Paz. “Farc Dicen que Secuestro del General Alzate es un Hecho Normal Dentro de la Guerra,” El Espectador, Nov. 18, 2014. Accessed Nov. 18, 2014: http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/paz/farc-dicen-secuestro-del-general-alzate-un-hecho-normal-articulo-528130

[3] The Tico Times. ”Colombia Suspends Peace Talks With FARC After General Kidnapped,” Nov. 17, 2014. Accessed Nov. 18, 2014: http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/11/16/colombia-suspends-peace-talks-with-farc-after-general-kidnapped

[4] Redacción Paz. “Farc Dicen que Secuestro del General Alzate es un Hecho Normal Dentro de la Guerra,” El Espectador, Nov. 18, 2014. Accessed Nov. 18, 2014: http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/paz/farc-dicen-secuestro-del-general-alzate-un-hecho-normal-articulo-528130

[5] Acosta, Nelson and additional report from Acosta, Luis Jaime. “Gobierno Colombiano deja en Suspenso Proceso de Paz, la Guerrilla Prepara Anuncio,” Reuters América Latina, Nov. 18, 2014. Accessed Nov. 18, 2014: http://lta.reuters.com/article/topNews/idLTAKCN0J210020141118

[6] Bouvier, Virginia. “Unfolding Story: Temporary Suspension of Colombian Peace Talks in Cuba,” United States Institute of Peace, Nov. 17, 2014. First published in Colombia Calls blog, Nov. 17, 2014. Accessed Nov. 18, 2014: https://vbouvier.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/unfolding-story-temporary-suspension-of-colombian-peace-talks-in-cuba/

[7] El Universo. “Esposa de General Colombiano Intrigada Porque él iba de Civil y sin Escolta,” Nov. 18, 2014. Accessed Nov. 18, 2014: http://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2014/11/18/nota/4241611/esposa-general-colombiano-intrigada-porque-iba-civil-escolta

[8] Brodzinsky, Sibylla. ”Colombian President Halts Peace Talks with Farc Rebels After General Kidnapped,” The Guardian, Nov.17, 2014. Accessed Nov. 18, 2014: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/17/colombian-president-halts-farc-talks-after-general-kidnapped

[9] Højen, Louise. ”Opportunist or Peace Visionary for Peace: Comprehending Colombia’s President Santos,” Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Nov. 3, 2014. Accessed Nov. 18, 2014: http://www.coha.org/opportunist-or-visionary-for-peace-comprehending-colombias-president-juan-manuel-santos/

[10] Neuman, William. ”President of Colombia Halts Peace Talks With Rebels After General Is Seized,” The Washington Post, Nov. 17, 2014. Accessed Nov. 18, 2014: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/18/world/americas/president-of-colombia-halts-peace-talks-with-rebels-after-general-is-seized.html?_r=0

[11] Redacción Paz. “Farc Dicen que Secuestro del General Alzate es un Hecho Normal Dentro de la Guerra,” El Espectador, Nov. 18, 2014. Accessed Nov. 18, 2014: http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/paz/farc-dicen-secuestro-del-general-alzate-un-hecho-normal-articulo-528130

[12] Højen, Louise. ”Opportunist or Peace Visionary for Peace: Comprehending Colombia’s President Santos,” Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Nov. 3, 2014. Accessed Nov. 18, 2014: http://www.coha.org/opportunist-or-visionary-for-peace-comprehending-colombias-president-juan-manuel-santos/

 

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