Members of the the congressional coalition of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos showed to be divided Tuesday about the possibility of holding peace talks with the country’s largest guerrilla group, the FARC.
Following allegations by former President Alvaro Uribe that the government is holding secret peace talks with the rebels, members of Santos’ “Coalition of National Unity” — consisting of the traditional political powerhouses like the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, the president’s own U Party and Cambio Radical — came forward with divided views on the possibility of talks.
Senate President and U party veteran Roy Barreras told press that he hoped Uribe’s allegations were true and the government in fact had begun talks with the FARC.
“I don’t understand the concerns of former President Uribe, as he tried to do the same with the support of the Brazilian government in 2009 and in 2010 was talking to the ELN. I hope Santos finds the conditions to begin talks,” Barreras said.
The Liberal Party also voiced support for peace talks, while not neglecting to bash Uribe who the Liberals opposed while in office between 2002 and 2010.
“The clear message implemented by Uribe in his government was that you don’t talk to terrorists, but appoint them security chief in the palace,” said Senator Luis Fernando Velasco, referring to the conviction of the former president’s security chief who admitted to collaborating with the AUC, a paramilitary group determined terrorist by the U.S. that demobilized after peace talks with the Uribe administration.
Liberal Party leader Simon Gaviria went as far as saying that “we insist there is a necessity to have a dialogue, that there is the possibility of a negotiated end to the conflict.”
However, Uribe-loyal members of the U Party and the Conservative Party bench warn that premature peace talks could lead to a coalition crisis.
According to the Conservative Party, its lawmakers will leave the coalition if the government proves to be holding pace talks and will use the recently approved “framework for peace” legislation as the legal framework for a demobilization of the FARC. The Conservatives voted against the framework.
“The framework, fortunately, is not in force yet, but when the government is going to present bills to regulate [the framework] … this could deeply fracture the permanence of the Conservatives” and force the party to join the opposition to the right.
From within the U Party — composed of lawmakers loyal to Santos, loyal to Uribe or swinging between the two — contradicting statements came after the allegations of peace talks.
Supporting his colleague Barrera, senior U Party member Armando Benedetti voiced support for peace talks, under the condition that the government does not let its guard down. The senator said “we have to let go of many things in our society” to favor peace in Colombia.
However, Uribe-loyalists within the party warned that peace talks would negatively affect the morale of the Colombian armed forces and weaken the state militarily.
Santos himself has refused to directly respond to Uribe’s allegations and only said to “remember, peace is victory” while accompanying his youngest son on his first day of military service.
The Colombian government has not had open peace talks with the FARC since 2002.