A recent deal between Colombia’s government and FARC rebels about the guerrillas’ future participation in politics “is changing the history” of the country’s half-a-century armed conflict, said Antonio Navarro, a former rebel and one of Colombia’s most senior political figures.
Navarro, once a commander of the demobilized M-19 guerrilla group, is an expert on peace talks, having been heavily involved in those that disbanded his own rebel group; the workings of Colombian politics, having had a hand in constructing the country’s current constitution; and challenges facing opposition political groups, having essentially been a member of the opposition for his entire political career. Navarro unsuccessfully ran for Colombia’s presidency in 1990, 1994 and 2006, and is currently one of the front runner pre-candidates to represent the liberal ticket in 2014.
Navarro asserted that a deal recently reached on political participation two weeks ago was particularly important because “it is changing the history of the armed conflict that is more than 60 years old,” he told Colombia Reports.
The career politician explained that times have changed since the 1980s when the FARC helped create a political party called the Patriotic Union (UP). Leading up to the 1990 presidential elections, thousands of members of this leftist party were murdered by many with suspected ties to the government.
“It seems to me that we are in a different period than that of the UP…I would say that [mass assassinations] is not what would happen if a [final] agreement with the FARC were signed,” Navarro claimed, though he did acknowledge that the FARC and the government still have an upward battle to getting to an approved deal.
He outlined four challenges that face the FARC’s peace talks’ today against those of his own party’s movement in the 1990s.
“First, there are some new circumstances,” began the leftist politician, citing the existence of international laws and penal systems that did not exist when guerrillas demobilized twenty years ago.
“One of the main obstacles will be to find a way for the heads of the guerrillas to participate in politics without going to jail while being in accordance with international law,” said Navarro.
“Second, for the first time in history, in the last 100 years of Colombia, there is not unanimity on the necessity of peace talks to [solve this problem],” the progressive said pointing to ex-president Alvaro Uribe who has been incredible outspoken on abandoning these current peace talks.
The former guerrilla himself said that these sectors speaking out against the dialogues manipulate public perception and make it hard for such processes to progress.
“This generates a division of public opinion and makes having faith [in the talks] very difficult.”
Interestingly enough his third point talked about the authority of current guerrilla leaders in contrast to those who have died.
“The third difficulty is that the historic leaders of the FARC are dead, and this generation of current leaders don’t have the same authority of those that have already died. Even though they technically have control over the FARC, they do not really have the same ability to make audacious decisions for the whole organization,” Navarro explained.
The doctor said that in fact, one of the reasons why the process is taking longer than expected is because these leaders in the public light need to clear many decisions with other members of the guerrilla group before agreeing to anything.
“Digesting issues within the FARC takes time,” explained the former rebel.
This segued into the fourth challenge facing the FARC, the prolonged nature of the talks.
“If [the FARC] prolong much more of the process, the fourth difficulty will present itself as public opinion doubts, influenced by those who oppose the talks. If they don’t have public opinion support, it’s going to be very hard to pass an agreement,” Navarro emphasized.
Regardless of if the FARC and the government are able to pass a peace agreement in the coming months, public perception and the attitudes of Colombians toward the guerrillas are going to take time to adapt, according to the politician.
“It will probably take at least a generation [to change the mentality and attitudes of the Colombian people about the FARC]. The FARC have to sign a viable peace deal…and regain trust…and fulfill promises…but then it will likely take a generation.”
But the former rebel group commander expressed that there aren’t many options other than dialogues at this point.
“This is the last armed conflict in Latin America. In Colombia only one of three things can happen: the government wins, the insurgents win, or a peace agreement is reached,” laid out Navarro.
“Yes, I believe [that these talks can achieve peace], concluded the presidential pre-candidate.
- Interview with Antonio Navarro