If Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos manages to broker a peace deal with the FARC over the coming months, the agreement will likely ensure his re-election in the 2014 election, said a Colombian affairs specialist Friday.
Since the last formal peace talks between Colombia’s largest guerrilla group FARC and the government ended in failure ten years ago, just prior to the 2002 presidential election, many wonder what would be different in this attempt.
“The critical difference from the last round of talks is that the government has a clear military advantage,” Harvey Kline told Colombia Reports on Friday. Kline, who authored “Chronicles of a Failure Foretold: The Peace Process of Colombian President Andres Pastrana,” said he believes the government is now in a much stronger position than it was a decade ago.
While undisputed statistics on guerrilla numbers are non-existent, Kline estimated the FARC has between 6,000 and 8,000 active combatants, compared to the nearly 20,000 it had ten years ago.
The central source of opposition to the peace talks has come from former president Alvaro Uribe. “How sad that FARC assassins and kidnappers today are political figures talking to the world with their tricks!” Uribe tweeted on September 4.
However, Kline claimed Uribe’s outspoken stance against the negotiations might actually bolster the government’s bargaining position. Uribe’s disapproval of talks “allows the government to say to FARC, ‘if we fail, another hardliner will win in 2014,’” said Kline.
The failed peace process of the Pastrana era (1998-2002) discredited the notion of negotiating with the rebels. It also enabled Uribe to run a highly effective campaign as a conservative hardliner, who held the stance that any settlement with the guerrillas could only happen once they completely ceased all criminal activities.
During his subsequent eight years as head of state, Uribe’s political victories came almost exclusively from successful military campaigns against FARC. The most famous example came on July 2, 2008 when the armed forces rescued 15 FARC hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
According to Kline’s line of thinking, the rebels might be tempted to seek a compromise in 2012 rather than risk emboldening another Uribe-style government in the 2014 election.
The extent of FARC’s commitment to peace will face scrutiny early next month, when phase two of negotiations begin in Oslo.