A less-than-expected turnout for Tuesday’s march in support of peace talks between Colombia’s government and the country’s largest rebel group FARC has shown a lack of popular support for these talks, said Senator Juan Carlos Velez.
“This was a failure. This sent out a clear message … that the people do not agree with the way the peace process advances,” Velez, one of the most loyal supporters of former President Alvaro Uribe, told Colombia Reports.
Tuesday’s march “may have participated — and let’s exaggerate — 500 thousand [people] throughout the country. This is very little,” the lawmaker said. “Because as a comparison we have the march against the FARC in February 2008 during which they calculated 14 million Colombians” took part.
This “low” turnout demonstrates the lack of support for the peace talks in general, said Velez, who blamed Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 rebel and supporter of the talks, of upping the turnout by obligating public officials to take part in the march.
“Practically, this is a symptom of us entering an authoritarian leftist system like those of [late Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez and [Cuban dictator Raul] Castro where people are obligated to march.”
While opposing the march and the peace talks, Velez insists that he, Uribe, and his Pure Democratic Center movement do support peace with the FARC, but under different conditions.
“We do want peace, but also that those who have been in the FARC and have committed atrocities, who have recruited minors, who have assassinated children — because those commanders have ordered the execution of children who tried to desert their ranks — who have laid anti-personnel mines, that they face some kind of justice,” said Velez.
Additionally, the Uribe-loyalists demand the FARC end hostilities before talking about reaching a peace agreement.
“During all peace processes in the world, also in Colombia, those that proved successful had a ceasefire. In Colombia there have been seven successful peace processes. These processes were successful because there was a cease of hostilities. And there were six processes, three with the FARC and three with the ELN, in the middle of hostilities and not one succeeded,” said Velez.
The senator is a lone critic in Congress, he admits. “There are five or six of us who think like this, that’s it.”
However, according to the senator, the majority of Colombians agree with him. “The polls say that 75% do not agree that impunity is granted and 75% do not agree that they can be elected into public office.”
“What we are telling the government is, look, solve this problem. Confront the FARC with this issue and tell those FARC commanders they are going to prison just like they told the paramilitaries” whose umbrella organization AUC demobilized between 2003 and 2006.