Colombia’s Minister of Defense, Juan Carlos Pinzon, went on the attack Monday afternoon, criticizing the “arrogance” of FARC leaders depicted on a boat in the Caribbean in a series of photos released Monday morning, and predicting an internal backlash to the “hypocrisy” of the central command of the rebel group, the country’s oldest and largest.
The pictures, published on a political website loyal to ex-President Alvaro Uribe, a vocal opponent of the Havana peace talks, show FARC commanders aliases “Ivan Marquez” and “Jesus Santrich” smoking cigars on a yacht with a woman believed to be fellow FARC leader Tanja Nijmaijer.
Uribe took advantage of the photos to reinforce his repeated accusations that the FARC central command is using ongoing peace talks in Havana as a form of vacation, with no real intention to come to any agreement.
Standing in front of Colombian reporters Monday, the Minister of Defense took a more targeted angle.
“[The picture] is no surprise,” said Pinzon, in the first public response by a high-ranking Colombian official to the pictures, “we have been saying that these men who are out of the country live like kings, live in conditions of riches and opulence, while individual youth that are involved with these armed groups go hungry, go suffering.”
Rather than criticize the peace talks in general, Pinzon aimed his attacks on the FARC’s key figures in the negotiations and attempted to sew discord within the rebel group itself.
“These men are living the good life [in Cubua] and here [in Colombia] a great quantity of people are being hunted by the public forces, many times without food, many times without medicine,” said Pinzon, who called the notion that the FARC are “pursuing equality” in Colombia “laughable.”
Pinzon went on to criticize the “arrogance” of the FARC hierarchy, as well as its “lack of respect for the Colombian people,” predicting that the revelation of the photos will lead to a “mass demobilization” from within the FARC’s own ranks.
FARC leaders addressing the incident yesterday seemed less concerned with its implications.
Rodrigo Granda, a member of the Havana peace delegation, asked reporters not to scandalize such a “trivial issue”, and calling the photo “very pretty” and saying that it “gives a peaceful image of guerrillas who have the right to rest.”
Peace talks in Havana began nearly one year ago between the FARC and the Colombian government. So far, only one of the six points up for negotiation has been settled, heading into the November 19th anniversary of the start of talks.
It’s unclear what, if any, effect the photos will have on ongoing negotiations, the schedule for which was extended Monday in an attempt to reach an agreement on the second discussion topic, political inclusion for the FARC.
But the debate surrounding the peace talks as a whole will likely be dragged increasingly into the political spectrum as national elections approach in Colombia, and President Juan Manuel Santos and his allies will have to defend his signature policy initiative against criticism from opposition political forces such as Uribe’s Democratic Center part.