Two secret visits of FARC chief “Timochenko” to ongoing peace talks with his group in Cuba and the apparent division between President Juan Manuel Santos and his defense minister have spurred a variety of reactions in Colombia’s politics.
Santos’ own U Party, the biggest in the congressional coalition, supported the trips.
“It’s a sign of will the FARC has to make peace. It shows that the supreme leader of the guerrillas has confidence in the process, in the government and the negotiators. Because of this he goes there knowing this is serious,” prominent U Party Senator Armando Benedetti said.
Senior Liberal Party Senator Horacio Serpa said that Timochenko’s trip to Cuba “means that they’re negotiating with a united FARC and not some as said by Uribe-loyals.”
The conservative opposition, led by former President and current Senator Alvaro Uribe, condemned the approved trip and stressed the apparent division between the president and his defense minister, Juan Carlos Pinzon, who had made the trips public after finding out about them “through military intelligence” that had told him Timochenko had traveled to Cuba on a plane of the Venezuelan government, one of the guarantors of the peace process.
Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo subsequently clarified that these trips had been authorized by the National Government itself.
Uribe, a staunch opponent of the talks, claimed Santos had been “deceiving” the Colombian military by allowing Timochenko to travel to Colombia without informing the military still fighting the FARC.
“If they haven’t told the defense minister who only finds out about this through military intelligence, I think the minister, if he has pride, should resign,” Senator Ernesto Macias of Uribe’s Democratic Center party told media.
Colombia’s Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez, a political ally of Uribe and in charge of overseeing the administration, called the FARC leader’s tip an “institutional scandal” and said the government had the legal obligation to request the rebel leader’s extradition as he has been convicted for several war crimes.
“If the National Government knows of the presence of Mr. Timochenko in Cuba it should request his extradition because there are convictions and it is without a doubt that the other way we would be delegitimizing institutionality,” said Ordoñez.
According to Interpol’s public database, the FARC leader currently has no pending international arrest warrant in spite of his alleged residency in Venezuela.
Leftist opposition Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo (Democratic Pole party) defended Santos for allowing the convicted terrorist to join his delegation in Cuba.
“Colombia has been in a state of abnormality for half a century. Moreover, the norm is violence. They are trying to have a peace process with those who are outlawed and this generates a situation that is not normal. This generates moments in which the public opinion can get upset and someone might confuse himself,” said Robledo.
However, Robledo said he approved of the trip “if this leads to facilitating the achievement of peace, as in, the disappearing of thousands of weapons and the return to civilian life of those handling them.”
The FARC has been fighting the state since its foundation in 1964. The rebel group and the Santos administration formally initiated talks in Havana in late 2012. These talks, sponsored by Norway, Chile, Venezuela and Cuba, are meant to lead to an end of the armed conflict that has left more than 220,000 Colombians dead.