EspañolThousands of people took the the streets across Colombia on Saturday, December 13, to protest possible impunity for Marxist rebel group the FARC for crimes committed in a 50-year conflict currently the subject of peace talks in Havana.
Protesters, many of them supporters of former President Alvaro Uribe (2002-10), braved heavy rain to assemble in Bogota’s central Plaza de Bolívar and chanted “paz sin impunidad” (peace without impunity).
At issue is the amnesty currently being offered by the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos in return for rebel demobilization.
Bogotá, Plaza de Bolívar. pic.twitter.com/G5cL1Ftp7C
— Álvaro Uribe Vélez (@AlvaroUribeVel) December 13, 2014
Of particular concern is the prospect of FARC fighters — whose decades-long guerilla war against the state has been largely financed by drug trafficking and kidnapping — escaping prosecution and creating formal political parties. The details of the prospective amnesty are being discussed this week by negotiators in Cuba.
Uribe addressed crowds in Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city, and scene to the biggest demonstration on Saturday.
“The nation wants peace, but not with [FARC] impunity, which will only give birth to more violence,” he told protesters.
“We call on the army to support us by fighting and defeating the guerillas, whether the government wants it or not.”
As well as the marches, opponents and backers of the government-led peace process clashed on social media, under the hashtags #PazSinImpunidad (Peace without impunity) and #YoApoyoelProcesodePaz (I support the peace process).
The online confrontations were led by the former president, his Democratic Center party, and elements of the Santos administration itself. While Uribe tweeted that it was “better to protest than let them hand the country over to terrorism,” Martin Santos, son of the current president, called on his opponent not to “murder” the country’s “yearning for peace.”
Peace Talks Hit Roadblock
Some further alluded to alleged links between Uribe and pro-government paramilitary groups created by successive administrations to combat FARC. A previous Uribe-led peace process held between 2003 and 2006 with one such group, the AUC, has been criticized for failing to provide substantive justice for victims of violence.
The day after the protests, rebel negotiators rejected the possibility of any imprisonment of guerilla fighters as part of a peace deal, unless those accused of violence and “political crime” among Colombia’s political class and military also faced punishment. FARC delegates in Havana also argued that the 1991 Constitution contained provisions for offering amnesty to rebel groups.
In a parallel movement, opponents of the peace process collected some 1,500 signatures over two days in a petition demanding that Santos punished FARC rather than facilitate its integration into formal politics.
As an end to the decades-long conflict — which has claimed tens of thousands of lives, left thousands displaced, and seen widespread human rights abuses — comes in sight, the sensitive issue of disarmament and political integration is proving a sticking point.
In a December 11 report, the International Crisis Group argued that both the government and FARC would have to act and negotiate in good faith, and invite robust international monitoring, to bring talks to a successful conclusion.
The NGO called on FARC to cease attacks and end child recruitment, and for the government to guarantee the safety of former FARC members and a coherent plan for long-term reintegration.
Cuba Paying Close Attention
Meanwhile, sources from Cuban intelligence services suggested that Havana is observing the peace process with close interest, and stepping up a long-standing operational presence in Colombia.
“The Colombian [Cuban intelligence] Center has become one of Cuba’s most important ones in Latin America in the last few years since President Uribe’s exit,” said former spy Enrique García.
“For Cuba, the consolidation of everything that Santos has done, knowingly or unknowingly, is highly important … They’re planning to bring FARC to the presidency using narcotrafficking money,” he said.
García — who has just released his memoirs of his 11 years as a Cuban intelligence operative — asserted that Cuba hoped to use the prospective impunity to catapult former FARC combatants into senior political offices as part of a regional bid for control.
“Through the Peace Accords, the impunity will allow all the FARC terrorists to reintegrate without paying anything for the crimes they committed against the country’s political life, so they can afterwards become senators, congressmen and mayors, and aspire to the presidency,” García added.
The active presence of Cuban intelligence officials in Colombia was further supported this weekend by independent Cuban media sources. Reporter Luis Domínguez echoed García’s claims that Juan Roberto Loforte, known to Colombian authorities as a high-ranking diplomatic official, in fact directs Cuban intelligence activities in Colombia and Venezuela under the alias Ramón.