The brother of FARC leader “Alfonso Cano” has appealed for him to leave his jungle hideout, present his political proposals and bring a peaceful end to nearly five decades of war in the Andean nation.
Although Roberto Saenz is running for a third term as a Bogota city councillor this month and served as Colombia’s representative to the United Nations, he is maybe better known for his older sibling, the Marxist rebel chief.
Guillermo Saenz, known by the war alias “Alfonso Cano”, disappeared three decades ago into the mountains to join the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the country’s largest rebel group.
“Come back, present your political proposal; I know you have one,” Saenz, 55, told Reuters in a rare interview about his brother this week at his Bogota campaign headquarters.
“Man, the short life you have left could be so good … You should dedicate your life to building a peace process based on a different social model,” said Saenz.
Over the last decade, Colombia’s U.S.-funded military offensive against leftist guerrillas has killed some of the FARC’s key commanders and whittled down its ranks by half to about 8,000 fighters. The United States has a bounty of up to $5 million for Cano’s capture for murder and drug trafficking.
The FARC, which began in 1964 as a peasant insurgency, is considered a terrorist group by the United States and Europe, and is strongly linked to the drug trade, its principal source of funding. Cano replaced its founder Manuel Marulanda in 2008 when the 77-year-old rebel died of a heart attack.
Since then, Cano, a former anthropology teacher, has sought to keep the group relevant by holding back Colombian military advances with landmines, sniper fire and bombings.
Cano, whose middle-class roots differ from the FARC’s peasant base, narrowly escaped being killed or captured in July, fleeing just 12 hours before special forces bombed and surrounded his lodgings under Colombia’s thick jungle canopy.
“I’ve been told 50 times he’s been killed,” said Saenz, one of seven siblings. “I think he’s prepared for a fatal end.”
Saenz — whose first stint as a Bogota councilor in the 1980s was for a party linked to the FARC — has not seen his brother since failed peace talks in Venezuela in 1991.
“It makes me so sad because I knew Guillermo before he became Alfonso Cano … We were a happy family; he didn’t go to the guerrillas because of resentment, it was an intellectual evolution,” Saenz said.
He urged his brother to change “boring revolutionary rhetoric” and build a modern political movement.
“We weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor either,” said Saenz, who describes himself as a social democrat. “We went out drinking, played football, went out dancing — what anyone from the middle class would do.”
The bearded and bespectacled Cano has said he is prepared to negotiate with the government but will not give up weapons as a condition. President Juan Manuel Santos refuses to talk unless the FARC first ends it attacks and releases hostages.
Most Colombian leaders have tried peace talks, but the tide of the war changed in 2002 when former President Alvaro Uribe dealt some of the heaviest blows to the rebels, attracting billions of dollars of investment as security improved.
Santos, who succeeded Uribe last year, is trying to slash poverty and turn over to peasants swathes of land seized by right-wing paramilitaries — a mainstay of FARC discourse.
Saenz says he believes Cano could be persuaded to end the guerrilla war as part of a peace deal. “Even if he is at the end of his life, he wouldn’t give up and turn in his men. That would never happen …. But a negotiation? Yes!”