Colombia’s largest rebel group FARC on Tuesday released internal correspondence regarding attempts by former president Alvaro Uribe to begin peace talks and the group’s reasons not to follow up.
In an email sent to the press, Colombia’s largest rebel group weighed in on an ongoing debate about Uribe’s apparent hypocrisy in criticizing the administration of his predecessor Juan Manuel Santos for initiating talks with the rebels and “handing over the country” to extreme leftist forces.
According to the 2008 FARC memos, Uribe approached the rebel commanders “Alfonso Cano” and “Pablo Catatumbo” through a mediator, offering the guerrillas a demilitarized zone in order to start peace negotiations.
“We are interested to have the [peace] commissioner sit down with the both of you or one of you or whoever you designate to talk about peace,” the literal message of the former president was.
According to the FARC, Uribe told the mediator his administration was “not interested in talking about a humanitarian exchange [of captives], but peace.”
The memos confirmed documents released by Semana magazine and allegations made by former Peace Commissioner Frank Pearl that Uribe was willing to demilitarize an area in the southwestern Valle del Cauca state for peace talks to take place.
The FARC subsequently rejected negotiations in Valle del Cauca, arguing that government-aligned paramilitary forces previously had taken advantage of negotiations to try to kill rebel negotiators on their way to the designated area.
Following the rejection, Uribe’s then Peace Commissioner, Frank Pearl, sent the FARC a letter in 2010 offering to hold talks in Brazil, a claim that was made by President Juan Manuel Santos earlier this week.
“This meeting would have an open agenda with the purpose of creating confidence between the parties and can … to a more detailed and in-depth peace agenda in the future,” the peace commissioner wrote the FARC.
Pearl, who is currently Colombia’s environment minister, confirmed the letter, saying he sent it with the authorization of Uribe.
“On March 5, 2010, President Uribe authorized me as High Peace Commissioner to send a letter to ‘Alfono Cano’ and ‘Pablo Catatumbo,’ expressing to them the government’s interest to hold a personal and secret meeting with the FARC in Brazil to explore the possibilities of initiating a peace process,” the minister was quoted as saying by W Radio.
Pearl had already admitted to having opened these exploratory talks to US embassy officials, according to diplomatic cables released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
According to one cable, sent on January 5, 2010, former U.S. ambassador to Bogota William Brownfield said Pearl had told him that the Uribe administration had been “focused on developing communication channels and building confidence with both terrorist organizations.”
The former president on Monday was forced to admit he did offer the FARC a demilitarized zone, but said this was not to start peace talks but to negotiate the release of hostages held by the rebels.
While in office between 2002 and 2010, Uribe led a number of the Colombian state’s most successful military offensives against the FARC, but saw his reputation stained by series of human rights violations.
The former president was elected senator in March and is currently leading almost 40 loyal lawmakers in the House of Representatives and the Senate.