Colombia Reports editor Adriaan Alsema recently asked “Does the Colombian Government even care if we live in peace or not?“
Inevitably there was no one simple answer, although a number of persons felt it may be in the government’s interest to focus the public’s attention on a “convenient enemy (the FARC/ELN)” rather than allowing it to center on redressing the nation’s social issues.
What a terrible thing I thought that a section of the population could suspect its government of side tracking vital issues with a view to preserving the privileges of a minority. Could it be true?
The more I thought about it the more I became convinced that we could never really know the government’s true intentions until we really understood about the government’s freedom of choice. Can the Colombian Government really press on with improving social equality at the same time as engaging a “war” with revolutionary insurgents? Is it possible to do both given the limited resources available?
Although it is not clear to me what latitude of freedom the government possesses it certainly makes sense to me that the path to pursuing social improvements will be much improved if the FARC/ELN problems are removed. So what is it that proves such an obstacle to a negotiated peace? Is it that the FARC & ELN are so intractable that they cannot see reason? In short, until the way is open for the government to engage in social improvements we will never be able to know how serious they are about it.
But oddly enough history gives us several examples of how such impasses have played out.
Way back in June 4th, 1961 John Kennedy felt he was presented with only two choices, war or appeasement.
His summit meeting with Khrushchev had just finished and he feared there was no area of accommodation between them. He had arranged for a model of the USS Constitution to be placed on the table between them and pointed out the ship’s cannons had been able to fire only a half a mile and perhaps kill a few people whereas if he and Khrushchev failed to negotiate peace, the two of them could kill many millions of people in the opening exchange of a nuclear war. To Kennedy’s dismay Khrushchev appeared indifferent to the deepening threat of nuclear war.
A short while after the same two adversaries were in confrontation once again after the Russian nuclear silos were discovered in Cuba, only this time Kennedy was hard pressed by his military command and other interests to make the “first strike” and get it over with. To his eternal credit Kennedy saw things otherwise and rejected the “Red is dead” notion as a false alternative, arguing it was a false dilemma and “a curious fact that each of these extreme opposites resembles the other … each convinced there were only the two choices … appeasement or war.”
The result of course was that after 10days of high drama whilst the world held it’s breathe a third choice was found because Khrushchev and Kennedy surprised each other with flexibility unsuspected until then. Discussions and negotiations were possible despite their separate preconceived notions.
So using this example, how sure can we be there remains “no area of accommodation” between the present Colombian Government and their guerrilla nemesis. Kennedy was convinced Khrushchev would prove intractable and was pleasantly surprised when push came to shove. Surely it similarly behooves President Santos to verify there can be no accommodation between him and the FARC/ELN before THEY BOTH continue the same destructive paths? Only then can the government take the moral high ground and sleep tight with the comfort they did everything within their power.
Take the conditions off the table and present the FARC/ELN with the challenge of face to face negotiation with guarantee of safe conduct throughout the talks. No frills, no FARC/ELN safe territories, just the possibility of honest, honorable discussion. If either side cannot accept such an offer they are undeserving of further consideration.
Take the extra mile, Mr. Santos. The loss of a single extra life or the opportunity to accelerate social equality obligates you to verify periodically that peace cannot be negotiated. It is unacceptable to argue it did not work last time.