Salvatore Mancuso, the extradited leader of the now defunct paramilitary organization AUC, wrote a letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos requesting to be a part of the peace process between the government and guerrilla group FARC.
In light of the installation of tables of dialogue between the Colombian government and the country’s largest guerrilla group FARC that officially began in the Norwegian capital Oslo on Thursday, another surprise has arrived in the hands of President Santos.
A letter by Mancuso, the extradited former leader of the umbrella paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), addresses the president, the FARC, and the people of Colombia to revive the negotiation process between the paramilitaries and the government.
“I reiterate emphatically the desire of the AUC to actively participate in the joint process of constructing peace,” said Mancuso, “Bitter and painful lessons of history and personal experiences, has taught us that a peace process that does not include the grand majority of the actors of the conflict will result as insufficient,” wrote Mancuso.
“Why impede the participation of one of the renowned historical actors of the conflict, like the AUC, which have suffered with a good part of the country the mistakes of a half-baked peace process? Why not anticipate and remove the obstacles that could deduct credibility, representativeness and trust to achieve true peace?”
The extradited Mancuso has written from the U.S. where he is currently being held, proposing that it would be a good idea for the AUC to be a part of the same tables of negotiation as the FARC, or to at least have parallel discussions.
“The FARC aspire to transform themselves into a renowned legal political force, as do we, which we have manifested numerous times…the FARC aspire to be a part of the legal social leaders in the different areas where they act, as do we.”
The letter from the former AUC leader comes just in time for the official start of the second phase of the peace talks. Representatives of the president’s administration have been involved in “exploratory talks” with the FARC regarding a negotiated end to Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict for months now, allegedly beginning talks in Cuba in February earlier this year.
“Señor President Santos: we ask that you resume and give continuity to the peace process with the AUC to pursue advancing in a joint manner or simultaneously with the FARC and with the other actors that should have presence in the same or parallel table, to give solidity, consistency and sustainability to the final agreements.”
Manucuso has also demanded that the demobilized paramilitary members be granted political rights and warns that not including the paramilitaries would not end with a true or lasting peace.
“In name of all AUC members as we have willing hearts, we ask forgiveness for the acts of war and for the damage done, the pain and the suffering caused between us, as a product of this confrontation, to all of Colombia, who we also implore for forgiveness. We cry for forgiveness and for the possibility to help construct a society in peace and reconciliation.”
This is the first public request to join the peace negotiations from the paramilitaries, who officially agreed to demobilize on July 15, 2003. Since then, most of the paramilitaries’ blocks demobilized one by one. The last to officially demobilize was in 2006.
In exchange for demobilizing, the paramilitaries became beneficiaries of the Justice and Peace Law, which granted them a maximum eight year prison sentence if they admitted all of their crimes and compensated their victims.
The much anticipated peace talks with the FARC were officially opened Thursday in a hotel 30 miles north of Oslo to commence the second phase in a “serious, dignified and efficient” process that should lead to the end of Colombia’s nearly half a century long armed conflict.
The talks with the administration of President Santos are the first in ten years, after failed talks ended in disaster in 2002. The government has also confirmed that phase three of the negotiations — planned to begin after the implementation of a then-signed peace deal and ceasefire — is set to start on November 15, in the Cuban capital of Havana.