Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos ordered his chief negotiator to continue talks with Congress’ conservative opposition, while other negotiators meet with Marxist FARC rebels in Cuba to revive a peace deal that was rejected in a referendum last month.
The extended talks with former President Alvaro Uribe and his Democratic Center party are a major breakthrough after years of strained relations between the two political rivals and Uribe’s consistent rejections of talks with the FARC.
Uribe was Santos’ leading opponent in during the time of the peace talks and in an October 2 referendum on the peace agreement to which a narrow majority of voters said “No.”
Even following Uribe’s electoral victory in the referendum, Santos tried to avoid his rival to take a lead role in a “national conversation” over a revised deal.
Instead, the president sought the support of other sectors to increase support for peace and put Uribe on the back burner.
But, after weeks of negotiations with civil society, one week of negotiations with the FARC and the mediation of Uribe’s former Defense Minister, Marta Lucia Ramirez, Santos urged his peace negotiators to fully dedicate this week to Uribe and his political allies.
While no agreements were reached on Uribe’s more than 400 proposed amendments to the peace deal, both the government and the Democratic Center spoke surprisingly positive about the meetings after years of mutual snides, but no talks.
“The important thing of this dialogue is that the communication channels, which we will preserve, are open,” Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said Thursday.
Initially, talks between the government negotiators and the Democratic Center were supposed to last from Monday to Wednesday, but were then extended to Thursday.
Then, on Thursday evening Santos asked his chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, to stay in Bogota for continued talks with the opposition while ordering Peace Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo and other negotiators to travel to Havana, where FARC negotiators have been staying since formal peace talks began in 2012.
Santos, who is expected to arrive in Colombia from a state visit in the United Kingdom on Friday evening, said he wants to meet with De la Calle early Saturday morning to hear about possible advances in the talks with Uribe.
The biggest obstacle for the negotiators is that the government and the FARC only want “adjustments and clarifications” of the compromise that took years to achieve, while Uribe has demanded “substantive changes” to the pact.
While focusing his energy on Uribe, Santos is under a lot of pressure to present a revised peace deal as soon as possible in order to prevent the disintegration of the FARC, which could spark a new wave of violence by dissident groups or rivals of the guerrillas.