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The Man Blocking Peace in Colombia

A history book about Colombia's recent past would rightly credit former President Álvaro Uribe, who governed from 2002 to 2010, with setting the stage for peace negotiations with guerrilla groups by leading a crackdown on insurgents that drove them to the negotiating table. Yet, confoundingly, Mr. Uribe has emerged as the chief obstacle to a negotiated end to Colombia's 52-year armed conflict.

It is not too late for Mr. Uribe, who remains popular among many Colombians, to begin behaving like a statesman rather than a spoiler. The choices he makes in the weeks ahead may well determine whether the peace deal his successor, Juan Manuel Santos hammered out with the country's largest guerrilla group will end the bloodshed permanently or be another missed opportunity. Failure would be a tragedy, and would most likely ruin Mr. Uribe's legacy, particularly since he has not offered a viable alternative.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, agreed in August to give up arms and join the political process after more than four years of negotiations with the Santos administration.

Colombian voters narrowly rejected that agreement in a plebiscite early this month, many of them swayed by a hyperbolic and misleading campaign led by Mr. Uribe. He and his allies accused Mr. Santos of offering blanket amnesty to Marxist war criminals whom he warned could end up taking power in the country. He also asserted, without evidence, that the deal would hurt the private sector. The politician who oversaw Mr. Uribe's No campaign, Juan Carlos Vélez, even admitted in an interview that they had steered clear of explaining the content of the agreement and instead "focused on a message of indignation."

This week, Mr. Santos announced that his government would soon formally start peace talks with the second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, in Ecuador.

In order for the FARC deal to get back on track, and for talks with the ELN to succeed, Mr. Uribe will need to play a constructive role. After the referendum, Mr. Uribe made a series of unrealistic demands on the peace deal with the FARC, including scrapping the transitional justice system with a special tribunal that was at the heart of the deal. That tribunal would offer amnesty to most rank-and-file fighters and leniently punish guerrilla members who confess to grave crimes.

If Mr. Uribe has a better, workable idea, he should dispatch a delegation to Havana, where the FARC leaders are currently based, to seek compromises on issues involving justice and political participation. If all sides are willing to negotiate in good faith, a final peace agreement could be reached before the end of the year. In recent days, thousands of Colombians who support the peace agreement have taken to the streets to call on the political establishment to work together toward a prompt resolution.

If the fight drags on beyond this year, international aid pledged for the implementation of the peace deal will very likely start to fizzle. The United Nations, for instance, has already sent teams of observers, who will monitor compliance with the agreement and take custody of the weapons of the rebel fighters. Those teams cannot be expected to wait around indefinitely for a political breakthrough.

While the Santos government and the FARC have said they are committed to observing a cease-fire that has held for over a year, fresh outbreaks of violence will become more likely the longer the impasse lasts. A return to fighting, which can't be ruled out, would be catastrophic. If that were to happen, Mr. Uribe would be chiefly to blame.

[Source: By The Editorial Board, The New York Times, 14Oct16]

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small logoThis document has been published on 17Oct16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.