FARC Rebels Engage in Peace Talks with Colombian Government as Both Sides Amass Weaponry

Helen Murphy
Reuters
January 17, 2013

 

President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos

President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos
PHOTO: Reuters

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday opened the door to a popular vote on any peace accord negotiated and signed with FARC rebels, but rejected a guerrilla demand to change the constitution if a deal is clinched.

Talks to bring an end to Latin America’s longest-running insurgency began in Cuba in November, when the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, sat down for the first round of talks.

Ivan Marquez, head of the Marxist FARC negotiating team, has called for a national assembly to change Colombia’s constitution and ensure any agreements would be set in stone.

The drug-funded group, which has fought a dozen governments during a half-century conflict that killed tens of thousands, reiterated their demand on Tuesday. But Santos rejected the idea.

“It’s very possible that we could find a way to seek popular approval for any accord,” Santos said during an address in the Norte de Santander province. “That’s still to be discussed. But I want it to be very clear that we will not end these agreements with a national assembly.”

Santos has ruled out discussing major changes to Colombia’s economic or political model, saying that if the guerrillas want to modify the system, they should run for election.

More than 20 years ago Colombia held a nationwide assembly to rewrite the 1886 constitution. Demobilized rebels from smaller groups participated, but not the FARC or the National Liberation Army, another left-wing group.

CEASEFIRE TO BE LIFTED

Harvard-educated Santos urged the FARC on Wednesday to keep discussions between negotiators strictly confidential until the accords are reached.

“The dialogue has to be serious. It has to be a discreet dialogue,” said Santos, 61. “Only when there are agreements, important advances … only when those advances exist will we inform the public, the national and international community.”

The FARC was angered by a recent newspaper column written by Santos’ brother, who detailed the background of his involvement in the secret negotiations to bring the two sides to the table. The FARC threatened to ignore a confidentiality agreement during the negotiations.

Read the full article— Colombian president opens door to popular vote on FARC peace deal

Traces of Reality:  I wonder whether these negotiations are as amiable as the face-to-face meeting FARC deputy commander Raul Reyes had with New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso back in 1999 to discuss investing some of that cocaine cash on Wall Street (see the photo here).  According to Ecuadorian Army General Fernando Proaño Daza, the FARC rebels have been quietly stockpiling arms amid the peace talks while the Colombian government has done the same, as reported by InSight Crime.  Some ceasefire!  -DB