The peace process between Colombia’s government and FARC guerrillas couldn’t have begun more clumsily than they did last week. With the future of the country at stake, the warring parties seem further apart than ever.
The Oslo press conference marking the official beginning of the peace process was highly awkward and, more than progress, showed how massive the gap between the government and guerrillas is despite more than half a year of talks that apparently led to a mutual decision to formalize the peace process.
Nevertheless, even though the decision to hold a press conference on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean was mutual, the government and FARC didn’t seem to agree on much else.
While the representative of the Colombian government, Humberto de la Calle, presented a clear, sensible and even predictable road map on how the talks would continue, FARC representative “Ivan Marquez” presented the process as one that would include rigid socioeconomic reforms demanded by the guerrillas, much to the visible annoyance of De la Calle.
Moreover, the surprising act of Marquez indicated that the FARC does not see socioeconomic reforms as something that is reached through democratic means and in a peaceful manner, but as a positive result of violence.
This was confirmed by leader “Timochenko” who on Saturday published a letter in which he surprisingly expressed his reservations about the success of peace talks, showed clear disdain for the government and showed no apparent lack of motivation to continue the guerrillas’ endless war against the state.
I may be wrong and the FARC could just have used the public stage to show their base back home in Colombia the revolution is still ongoing, but in my perception the rebels used the public formalization of the peace talks to up the stakes and include issues that had not been agreed upon before.
While I have long been in favor of peace talks, I now feel the guerrillas are not taking the process, their opponent and the people of Colombia serious. They fail to acknowledge how much Colombia and its people need to move on and the chapter of armed conflict must be closed.
Now that we are at the crossroads to peace, the current rebel leaders can not be taking unnecessary risks that can plunge the country into a similar wave of violence as occurred after peace talks failed in 2002. Instead they should be generating goodwill that can later open the door to the reintegration of their fighters and supporters in civilian and political life.
At the same time, the government negotiators can not allow the talks to fail because of rebel rancor against the state they have been fighting for generations and must keep its foot down, not allowing the rules of the game to be changed.
Most importantly, guarantor countries Norway and Cuba, and companions Venezuela and Chile, must show their strength, keep the guerrillas in line and the talks from falling apart while civilian society must do all within its power to obligate both parties to not leave the table until a lasting peace deal is signed.