Yesterday, from left to right: lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle, President Juan Manuel Santos, and High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo.
With his declaration about the FARC peace talks yesterday, President Juan Manuel Santos took a big step toward de-escalating Colombia’s conflict.
Santos was indirect, but hinted that—as long as current conditions prevail—the government and guerrillas are approaching a sort of undeclared, de facto cease-fire. Or at least, that the government is no longer insisting on total war on the battlefield while talks proceed at the table.
A translation of the key section:
Of course, we have taken very much into consideration the unilateral and indefinite cease-fire that the FARC declared. And on this point we must recognize that the FARC have complied.
We want to invite the ELN to join the initiative of a unilateral cease-fire, as the FARC did.
Until now, we have followed that maxim made famous by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, where he said that we must negotiate as though the war or conflict didn’t exist, and we had to maintain the military offensive as though the peace process didn’t exist.
But the advances in the negotiations indicate to us that there are other circumstances now, and that this disconnect is no longer applicable.
Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper explained:
Sources close to the peace process confirmed to El Tiempo that, while this doesn’t refer directly to a “bilateral cease-fire,” which would imply a halt to the security forces’ offensive actions against the FARC, the message of “de-escalation” will begin to be reinforced so that society may understand that a definitive stage of the negotiations has been entered.
El Tiempo noted that the armed forces’ high command asked for clarification last night from Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón. The response came this afternoon in a tweet from the President: “Instructions to the Armed Forces have not changed. Bilateral cease-fire will be discussed when the appropriate moment arrives.”
If this sounds a bit contradictory, so is the situation on the ground. While not quite a bilateral cease-fire, the de facto battlefield status can be summed up in two events that took place on December 31:
- That day, Colombia’s CERAC think-tank, which monitors conflict activity, reported: “CERAC’s violence monitoring has not registered a single offensive act attributable to the FARC that would violate its cease-fire. Nor have we registered any offensive action against the FARC on the security forces’ part.”
- That evening, Army soldiers, police, and Prosecutors’ Office police captured Carlos Andrés Bustos Cortez, alias “Richard,” identified as the second-in-command of the FARC’s powerful Teófilo Forero Column in the southwestern department of Huila. “Richard” was located by a joint intelligence operation, and captured after a brief firefight in which he was wounded.