Nov. 23 — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos shocked the world when he announced on Nov. 16 the unilateral suspension of peace negotiations of the past two years between his government and the FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army) in Havana, Cuba.
That day, it was revealed that the FARC-EP had captured Colombian Army Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate with a lawyer and a soldier on the Atrato River in the Chocó, a jungle region in western Colombia.
To move the negotiations forward, the FARC have stated that they will release these three and two other soldiers captured in the eastern Arauca region. The peace process now is at an impasse, awaiting developments.
Though in the ongoing war many guerrillas have been killed and/or captured, the FARC has stayed at the negotiating table. Santos has unfairly accused the insurgency of not wanting to reach peace. The tense situation that led to the general’s capture is the result of the government’s refusal to declare a bilateral ceasefire, as both the FARC and the Colombian popular movements have requested.
Obedient to Washington, Santos has repeated as a mantra, “We are going to negotiate as if there was no war and are going to wage war as if there was no negotiation.” The result is a climate of belligerency, making the the road toward peace almost impossible.
The peace negotiations have broad support from the population, but also powerful enemies who are trying to prevent their success at every step. The most notorious enemy is ex-president Alvaro Uribe and his allies, who have intercepted confidential conversations from both sides of the negotiating teams in Havana and used the information to sabotage the process.
Though Santos is seen as the “good guy” compared to Uribe, Santos was once Uribe’s defense minister and directed the attack on the FARC encampment that killed revolutionary leader Raúl Reyes. Whatever their relations with each other, both oppose a true peace accord with social and economic justice.
Santos wants the “peace of the cemetery,” where the insurgency lays down its arms so he can attract businesses, many from the U.S. He pushes this kind of peace at all levels. This the FARC has consistently refused.
What is Chocó’s relation to Alzate?
The Chocó region is home to a sizable Afro-Colombian population that is extremely poor, lacks basic services and has been ignored by the national government. Yet the people are standing on rich soil that many corporations want to exploit with huge projects, such as constructing an interoceanic channel to compete with the Panamá Canal.
The insurgency’s activity in these areas has prevented the region’s complete takeover by transnational corporations. Santos’ real interest then is to “clean up” the area of guerrillas and hand it over to transnational finance capital.
In January 2014, Santos named Alzate head of a new counterinsurgency unit, the Titan Task Force, with 2,500 soldiers and marines to “clean up” the Chocó region. The U.S.-trained Alzate “was taking a leadership course at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 2005 when he was promoted to colonel. Presiding over the promotion ceremony was the base’s then-commander, the now retired [Gen. David] Petraeus,” who led the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. (bigstory.ap.org, Nov. 20)
Alzate also got a master’s degree in 2010 at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania.
Release operation at risk
On Nov. 22, Santos announced that he had received information from the FARC about the location for the release of those captured and that he would make sure the place would be safe for the arrival of the International Red Cross and representatives from Cuba and Norway, the peace negotiation guarantor countries that would accompany the IRC.
The following day, the FARC sent an urgent message that “the Atrato and its major tributaries have been taken over militarily with landings of troops and bombing, intelligence aircraft overflights, and the establishment of measures that restrict the movement of the civilian population that consists predominantly of Indigenous peoples and Afro communities [which] have practically been besieged by the army,” and this could hold up Alzate’s release. (anncol.eu, Nov. 23)
It is expected that after the release, peace negotiations will resume. However, these military maneuvers greatly threaten that possibility.
Colombian people demand peace, need international support
Santos has faced popular pressure against rigidly suspending the negotiations. Demonstrations were held in many places with the message, “We want peace.” Santos himself was reelected to carry out the peace process.
The formation of the Broad Front for Peace immediately after the June 2014 elections brought all left forces in Colombia behind the unitary demand to build peace with social justice. The First National Meeting of the Broad Front for Peace, Democracy and Social Justice took place Nov. 14-15, as 300 delegates from different organizations and left political parties met together with international guests who shared their experiences of building unity in their countries, including representatives from Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Progressive people can help to urge peace on Colombia’s regime. More than ever the solidarity of the international community is needed to expose the Colombian government’s hypocrisy and U.S. pressure, and support the FARC-EP and the people’s demand for peace with social and economic justice.