President Juan Manuel Santos’s re-election sends a “clear message” that Colombia has moved away from hardline militaristic politics, according to the FARC rebel group, the country’s largest.
Santos beat right-wing candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga in runoff elections on June 15. The campaign revolved largely around the issue of ongoing peace talks with the FARC rebels that were initiated by Santos and staunchly opposed by Zuluaga, who ran with the strong backing of former President and Democratic Center party leader Alvaro Uribe.
“Ultimately, there is a clear message for Santos: Disconnect yourself from everything that Uribe represents and opt for social justice and change,” said alias “Pablo Catatumbo,” a FARC leader and one of the delegates to negotiations, which began in November 2012 and are being held in Havana, Cuba.
In an interview published on the FARC’s website, Catatumbo went on to characterize Santos’ victory as a recognition of “the structural changes needed by the country in order to take the step towards reconciliation,” and to argue that his re-election confirms a popular mandate for a negotiated end to Colombia’s 50-year armed conflict.
“The Colombian people voted for a political solution to the armed conflict. This was the issue that was imposed as a central point of discussion above any other electoral-political aspect in Colombia,” said Catatumbo.
The significance of the Santos win, said Catatumbo, was also strengthened by his opponents involvement in a wiretapping scandal that threatened to subvert peace talks. One week before first round elections, Zuluaga was shown on a recording to have coordinated with an alleged hacker suspected of coordinating with members of the Armed Forces to access privilidged military intelligence and the communications of peace talks delegates.
“This is evidence of the fact that strong militaristic sectors still exist within the officer corps, strengthened and influenced by Uribe’s fascist ideas,” Catatumbo stated. “They are the ones who have opposed and still strongly oppose the search for a political solution to the conflict, putting their personal interests above the Nation’s interest. But that option has gradually been defeated by a national opinion that wants peace.”
According to Catatumbo, however, there are still significant differences separating the parties’ approach to peace talks. Broader participation, said Catatumbo, is a necessary prerequisite for “an inclusive peace, with changes and with social justice.”
“There has been a huge and justified public outcry for people’s participation in the diaogue, to make their voices heard and their demands met. This is positive, because the enhancement of public debate and social mobilization are always good signs for a society that is moving towards peace and towards change,” he said.
While Santos has said that his electoral victory implied “an obligation for the guerrillas to achieve peace,” moreover, the FARC sees the Colombian government’s responsibility is equally significant, according to Catatumbo.”The mandate of the Nation is to achieve peace with social justice, which should be qualitatively different from everything that the current undemocratic and unjust political regime represents, and to leave behind the reactionary and warmongering defeated option, ie, the militarist option of the extreme ‘Uribe’ right,” he said.
“[Santos] will have to open his eyes to a different political spectrum and realize that peace cannot be derived from technocratic movies, but from a real commitment to the changes in the country’s structures,” added Catatumbo.”The challenge is on the government: if it persists in its unilateral, unpopular and immobile positions, then public opinion and social organization will change that dearly.”
When asked about a formal recognition of the victims of the armed conflict, Catatumbo stated that the FARC’s position on the subject of victims “is consistent with our principles: there is nothing more revolutionary than the truth. But the real, contextualized and complete truth, not with the manipulation and distortion that it has been presented with by individuals and institutions.”
The FARC made history recently when it acknowledged its role in human rights violations stemming from the armed conflict. The FARC has repeatedly lobbied for the creation of a truth commission to chronicle conflict-related crimes, and maintained that the government must also admit to wrongdoing.
Ultimately, the FARC is in agreement with Santos on the essential necessity of bringing peace talks to a lasting conclusion.
“Nations fail when they do not solve the problems of society,” Catatumbo remarked. “And the big problem of the Colombian nation, as well as the great failure of the ones who have led the destiny of our country, is that it has been unable to resolve its violence and inequality, which has been increasing during the last 60 years. This is the challenge we face.”
- Según las FARC, los votos exigen a Santos que se deslinde de ‘todo lo que representa a Uribe’ (Infobae America)
- Pablo Catatumbo Speaks on Santo’s Re-election (FARC-EP Colombia)