December 2014        

Colombia:
Tragedies often contain elements of comedy

Seán Edwards

Tragedies often contain elements of comedy; but the recent adventures of General Rubén Alzate of the Colombian army belong more to the theatre of the absurd. The general was captured by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dressed in civilian clothes, along with his lawyer and three other soldiers, an officer and two privates. Why he was not taking the normal precautions has not been credibly explained.
     The press went into a fit, saying the general had been kidnapped—hardly the right word for a prisoner of war. The president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, jumped In with both feet, ordering the suspension of the talks in Havana between the FARC and the government unless the general was immediately released. This was in breach of the agreement setting up the talks in the first place.
     The capture of General Alzate was presented as a great crime—this from the man who ordered the murder of Commandant Alfonso Cana of FARC when he was captured and wounded.
     In a measured reply, Commandant Timoleón Jiménez of FARC said:
     “The president always repeated the Israeli slogan ‘Talk as if there were no war and make war as if there were no dialogue.’ Negotiate in the midst of the conflict has been his permanent position from the first approaches on. His ‘rules of the game’ were that nothing that happened in the battlefield should affect the course of the talks. He even imposed that the talks in Havana would be uninterrupted.
     “This way the possibilities of freezing or suspending the talks were excluded from the start in the General Agreement. So there was nothing he could say about the FARC military action against units of the National Army. But he decided to do so, ordering the suspension of the process, breaking the terms of the General Agreement. The war is applauded if it is waged by the state, but it is reprehensible when performed by the adversary. A one-sided law . . .
     Be serious, Santos.”

     With the participation of the guarantor countries, Cuba and Norway, the release of the general and his companions was arranged. Even then it had to be postponed because of military activity in the area.
     Some days later the release was accomplished, and the general promptly resigned his position. The president said that the talks could recommence, but the FARC delegation insists that the rules of the debate must be clarified first. This has now been agreed.
     Let us be serious. However farcical and absurd this extraordinary incident may be, it clearly illustrates how fragile the Colombian peace process is. As long as hostilities continue, the discussions are operating under a threat. To ensure the continuation of the process and facilitate a more productive environment for its success, a bilateral ceasefire is necessary.
     This demand has been articulated especially by the Patriotic March and the Broad Front for Peace, and has been taken up by many organisations. It is becoming clearer by the day that the achievement of a just and lasting peace in Colombia depends on a great popular mobilisation. The expression of international solidarity on a large scale is also essential.

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