The administration of former Colombia President Alvaro Uribe tried to convince guerrilla group FARC to agree to peace talks in 2006 by sending $500 thousand to “social projects” in rebel-controlled territory, reported weekly Semana on Sunday.
PROFILE: Alvaro Uribe
According to Daniel Coronell, a columnist at Semana and executive at US television network Univision, Uribe’s own office signed off on at least ten development projects in rebel-controlled areas in 2006.
Sending the money to the FARC
The funds were sent to entities created by economist Henry Acosta, who the government at that moment was trying to convince to mediate with regional FARC commander “Pablo Catatumbo.”
PROFILE: Pablo Catatumbo
Then-Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo was recorded on tape while promising to send the funds to the mediator in order to appease the guerrillas. Additionally, the top government official referred to more funds coming from The Netherlands.
Restrepo ended up on tape because investigators were wiretapping the phone of Acosta, reportedly to investigate the FARC’s civilian support network in the Valle del Cauca state.
The Dutch embassy was not available for comment on Monday, a bank holiday in Colombia commemorating the arrival of Cristopher Columbus to the Americas.
The purpose of the money transfer was to demonstrate to the FARC that the government was serious in attempts to establish direct contact and facilitate the beginning of secret preliminary talks that would lead to a peace process like currently underway in Cuba.
The leaking of Uribe’s attempts to make peace with the FARC come at a time the former president and now senator has assumed the role of Colombia’s primary critic of the ongoing talks initiated by his successor, President Juan Manuel Santos.
Demilitarizing area for talks
While trying to negotiate the talks, Uribe offered to demilitarize an area in the Valle del Cauca department for mediators, rebels and government representatives to hold talks.
Restrepo, now on the run from justice for faking the demobilization of a FARC unit days before the 2006 elections, was put in charge of the talks with the FARC.
However, Uribe was also personally involved in several meetings that were supposed to secure contact between the Presidential Palace and senior FARC commander Pablo Catatumbo, who is currently in Cuba taking part in peace talks with the Santos administration.
The former president met personally on at least two occasions with Henry Acosta, a Cali economist and former local government official, who was put in charge of making physical contact with Catatumbo and delivering government proposals to the FARC.
In 2006, once contact had been established, Restrepo sent the FARC a proposal to demilitarize 868 square kilometers (335 square miles) in the southwestern Valle del Cauca state, less than 20 miles east of Colombia’s third largest city, Cali.
Enter Chavez and Cordoba
Acosta’s mission was suspended in 2007 when the government decided to pursue contact with the FARC leadership using the mediation of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and then-Senator Piedad Cordoba who by then had begun negotiating the release of hostages held by the FARC.
“Frank Pearl, the peace commissioner who replaced Luis Carlos Restrepo himself, as instructed by president Uribe, tried to initiate a peace process with the FARC” again in 2008, according to Santos.
Pearl, who kept his position in 2010 when Santos took over the presidency from Uribe, confirmed last week that Uribe had authorized him to organize a secret and personal meeting with the FARC in Brazil.
The former peace commissioner had already admitted to having opened these exploratory talks to US embassy officials, according to diplomatic cables released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
According to one cable, sent on January 5, 2010, former U.S. ambassador to Bogota William Brownfield said Pearl had told him that the Uribe administration had been “focused on developing communication channels and building confidence with both terrorist organizations.”
The FARC also confirmed this and published internal communication transcripts to prove they had been considering the Uribe proposals.
The rebel leadership eventually turned down the talk proposals due to a lack of confidence in the Uribe administration.
While in office between 2002 and 2010, Uribe led a number of the Colombian state’s most successful military offensives against the FARC, but saw his reputation stained by series of human rights violations.
The former president was elected senator in March and is currently leading almost 40 loyal lawmakers in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
- “…Y traque, Mandrake” (Semana)
- Traque mandrake, mermelada para las Farc (Noticias Uno)
- Se agudiza polémica por acercamiento de gobierno Uribe con las Farc (Colprensa)