Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos and his predecessor Alvaro Uribe met for almost four hours on Wednesday, after which both announced no agreement other than to continue talks to prevent the country’s peace process from collapsing.
The meeting at the presidential palace in Bogota was attended by Uribe, his former Defense Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez, a representative of retired military commanders, and prominent member of Uribe’s Democratic Center party.
Following the meeting, both parties took another hour and a half to prepare their individual statements in which neither announced any substantial concessions to bridge their years-long rift.
In his statement, Santos stressed that Uribe is just one of the parties opposing a recently signed peace deal with the FARC and that he is also talking with Evangelical Christians and businessmen.
Uribe repeated his’ and his allies’ objection to the peace process whose abrupt suspension plunged Colombia in crisis.
The former president reiterated his objections to judicial leniency for drug trafficking FARC guerrillas, while asking for more judicial leniency for alleged state agents accused of war crimes.
According to Uribe, Santos said he was open to renegotiating parts of the deal, but this was not confirmed by the President.
Santos said that in his meetings with pastors and businessmen, there was no need for concessions, but rather clarifications on issues that have caused unrest among their constituencies.
Many Colombian businessmen previously expressed fear the transitional justice system that is expected some 12,500 private persons and businesses for allegedly financing paramilitary groups.
Evangelical Christian pastors opposed the suspended peace process over concerns that gender-specific agreements, for example, for victims of sexual violence, could go against their family values.
According to both Santos and Uribe, they were committed to a national dialogue between opponents and supporters of the peace accord with the FARC, which has polarized the country.
The two leaders, who continued to downplay their opponent’s significance, said that talks between the “Uribistas” and the government would continue.
Santos subsequently attempted to decrease tensions by explaining that the bilateral ceasefire which had been revived immediately after the referendum will end on October 31, but can be extended indefinitely.
While Uribe felt emboldened after having been politically isolated both nationally and internationally for years, Santos was able to divide the opponents of peace deal with the FARC in three groups; dissident elements within the military, concerned businessmen and Christians.
This will allow the president to reduce opposition to the peace deal that on Sunday was rejected only by a tiny margin after a short campaign that was marred by misinformation.
Meanwhile, the situation in Colombia remains tense, particularly in the countryside where the risk of violent turf wars between the FARC and rivals is imminent.
Negotiators of both the FARC and the government remain in Colombia and were accompanied by US Special Envoy Bernie Aronson on Wednesday, after the White House said ending war in Colombia is “within national security interest.”
The FARC did not immediately respond to the meeting, but the group’s guerrillas have been ordered to assume secure positions to evade possible provocations or attacks from rival armed groups.