In Colombia, Peace Is a Three-Way Street

Study the image above. What do you see? If you’re a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, then apparently you see one would-be peacemaker and a pair of nobodies.

The man on the left is Juan Manuel Santos, the current president of Colombia and, as of this morning, this year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. On the right, with the beard, is Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, who goes by the nom de guerre “Timochenko.” In the middle, bringing the two former enemies together with a handshake and smiling proudly into the camera, is Raúl Castro, and if you don’t know who he is, you better ask somebody.

This year’s prize was awarded to President Santos “for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end, a war that has cost the lives of at least 220,000 Colombians and displaced close to six million people,” says the Nobel Committee. “President Santos initiated the negotiations that culminated in the peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, and he has consistently sought to move the peace process forward.”

I’m willing to ignore the fact that the initial seed of the peace agreement was planted in 2010 by Santos’s predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, the man who, incidentally, now leads the opposition against it. Uribe was clearly hoping to tame the FARC, not make peace with them. Santos had been Uribe’s defense minister before resigning in 2009 to avail himself for a presidential run should his boss not seek a third term, which he didn’t.

In case you missed that, I’ll repeat it: the former head of Colombia’s armed forces has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

That’s not to say Santos doesn’t deserve it. But if he does, then certainly he should share the prize with Timochenko, his collaborator for the past four years. Peace, after all, is at least a two-way street, and the rebel commander has offered numerous concessions to see peace return to Colombia, even at the risk of angering more entrenched factions of the FARC. The guerrilleros and guerrilleras may not be as popular in the Bogotá or Medellín, whose citizens never see the rebels and only know what they read in El Tiempo, but, in the countryside, especially the jungle areas under its control, and along the Caribbean coast, the FARC maintains the support of most people. Given the FARC’s popularity in remote regions, Timochenko and his forces, hobbled admittedly by the Colombian government’s mano dura approach since 1999, could’ve kept the fight going for at least another 10 years, if not longer, considering such strategies only fan the flames of civil strife and strengthen the rebels’ resolve.

The FARC, to be sure, hasn’t merely been on the defensive. It’s kidnapped innocents and cooperated with narcotraffickers in an effort to fund its revolutionary campaign a right-wing government that has acted as a U.S. neocolony since the Kennedy administration. Plus the FARC’s Marxist-Leninist agenda isn’t what Colombia needs, no more than Santos’s neoliberal plans are what Colombia needs. But the FARC has less to gain from a peace accord, and less reasons to believe one can be achieved. Remember, they’ve been here before. A 1984 peace agreement allowed the FARC to form a political party, the Union Patriótica, with which the rebels hoped to effect lasting changes in the halls of Bogotá. What followed was one of the darkest, most violent periods in Colombia’s long, dark and violent history, as upwards of 6,000 UP members, candidates and other leftists were murdered during the 1986 presidential elections, including the UP’s presidential candidate, Jaime Pardo Leal. An April 1988 report by Amnesty International charged the Colombian government and the military with carrying out “a deliberate policy of political murder” against the UP and other leftists. Even still, the FARC would once again try for peace in 1999 under the conservative administration of Andrés Pastrana, though those talks eventually stalled as well, with Pastrana teaming up with President Bill Clinton to implement the sanguinary Plan Colombia.

Then there’s Raúl, the man in the middle. He shares a couple things in common with both Santos and Timochenko, as not only a president and the former head of armed forces (Cuba’s, for 49 years), but as a former commander of rebel forces, during the Cuban Revolution. (In fact, in his younger years, Raúl was the most radical of the comandantes, an already radical bunch which included “Che” Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and, of course, Raúl’s older brother, Fidel.) Peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels would be unimaginable without Cuba and both Castros’ guiding presence. It was Fidel who wrote a book in 2008 on how Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarians gained power through the electoral process in Venezuela, which meant to serve as counsel to other leftist movements across Latin America. “Fidel famously wrote that book as an argument to the FARC that [armed struggle] isn’t how you gain power in the Americas anymore,” Dan Restrepo, a former advisor to President Obama on Latin America, has said. Every Latino and Latin American knows what Cuba and the Castros mean to Latin America, the immense influence they have on leftists and revolutionaries from Chiapas to São Paulo. So, perhaps more than Santos’ and Timochenko’s willingness to engage each other in dialogue, Cuba acting as a guarantor country for the peace talks is what made them even possible.

Now that Colombian voters rejected the peace agreement in a referendum last weekend, the two sides are heading back to Havana, vowing to preserve the peace and continue talks until they settle on a new deal. Meanwhile, Raúl is also negotiating another thaw, this one with its main rival for the past half century, the United States.

All of which begs the question: What’s a guy gotta do to win a Peace Prize?


Featured image: Luis Acosta/AFP