This Issue | Editorial | E-mail
UNASUR Rejects FARC's Mediation Request

By Odeen Ishmael

Guyana Journal, September 2010

Two weeks after the UNASUR-brokered diplomatic fence-mending meeting on August 10 between the Presidents of Venezuela and Colombia, the political action in the region took another turn when the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on August 23, through an “open letter” to the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) expressed its desire for peace and requested to address the continental body of its vision for the country's internal conflict.

The letter from FARC's “Central Command”, who maintained that the Colombian government had closed the door to any dialogue with the insurgency, affirmed: “We want to reiterate to the UNASUR our unyielding desire to seek a political solution to conflict.”

According to the guerrilla group that has been waging a four-decade-long civil war, “the humanitarian crisis in Colombia demands mobilisation and continental solidarity.” It further added: “Peace with social justice, not war, has been the strategic objective of the FARC since its foundation in 1964.”

In a first reaction to the letter, Ecuador's Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, said he would raise the issue with his Colombian counterpart, Maria Angela Holguin. He said that the only action Ecuador can initiate as pro tempore chairman of UNASUR was to obtain the opinion of Colombia on its views on the letter from FARC, and maintained that it would respect the decision made by the Juan Manuel Santos administration.

In Bogota, Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon demanded that the guerrillas should lay down their weapons before holding direct peace talks with the national government. Soon after - on August 23 - the Ecuadorian government, now preparing to hand over the rotating chair of UNASUR to Guyana, rejected any direct contact with FARC saying that it fully concurred with the Colombian's government's position.

The Brazilian government also weighed in on the issue when on August 25 Marco Aurelio Garcia, Brazil's presidential advisor for international affairs, declared that his government did not consider it appropriate that FARC should discuss Colombia's ongoing conflict before the continental organization. He stated that the problem of the conflict must be resolved within Colombia, and that UNASUR could only “intervene to help if and when it is asked to by the Colombian government.”

This is not the first time that FARC has approached regional bodies to lay out its position on the Colombian conflict. In September 2009 in another “open letter” to UNASUR and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), the guerrilla group asked to be recognized as “a belligerent force” and not a terrorist organization. That letter requested both organizations to place the political solution of the Colombian conflict on their agenda as a permanent source of concern for Latin American countries.

It will be recalled that the recent diplomatic rift in July between Venezuela and Colombia arose after the outgoing Uribe administration accused Venezuela of harboring FARC guerrillas on its territory - an accusation vehemently denied by the Venezuelan government. The subsequent break in diplomatic relations generated a meeting of UNASUR's foreign ministers in Quito on July 29 as part of the regional effort to mend the diplomatic fence.

In the run-up to that meeting, Venezuela's Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro proposed a peace plan aimed at ending the Colombian civil war since, in his view, it was producing negative consequences for the entire South American continent. Explaining this proposal, Gustavo Marquez, Venezuela's ambassador to Colombia, said that the initiative could not be described as interventionist, and stressed that it was logical to present it within UNASUR, given that the Colombian conflict and the serious associated problems, such as drug trafficking, criminality and paramilitary activity, were affecting the entire region.

However, the outgoing Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez rejected Venezuela's talk about a peace process for his country, and termed such a move as unacceptable.

It is obvious that the Colombian conflict has engendered much consternation in South America, and across the entire Latin American region. Just before his recent meeting with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, President Chavez urged FARC to give up its decades-old armed struggle and seek a negotiated solution. “The guerrillas should come out in favour of peace; they should release all their hostages,” he said on August 8. “They have no future by staying armed.”

He added: “The Colombian guerrillas have no future in armed conflict. For us, the guerrilla movement is also a problem. Neither have I approved nor do I approve the presence of any guerrilla forces. Latin America's reality is not the same as it was forty, thirty or ten years ago. . . I am sure that the whole of UNASUR will agree.”

Here again, this was not the first time that Chavez made such a statement. As far back as June 2008, he declared that armed struggle in Latin America was essentially over and called on the FARC guerrillas to lay down their arms and, as a humanitarian gesture, release all hostages “in exchange for nothing.”

This latest “political” move by FARC has generated opinions that the guerrilla movement is seeking a way out of the political quagmire in which it has found itself in the light of the fact that, indeed, the reality in the political landscape of South America - and the entire Latin American and Caribbean region - has changed drastically in the past twenty years.

Up to the end of the 1980s, leftist parties throughout the region, which all generally had no access to state power, expressed various forms of solidarity with one another, and it was not unusual for leftist guerrilla movements to have their share of international admirers. But with the upsurge of leftist and centre-leftist governments in the region, many of those “socialist”, “Marxist”, Marxist-Leninist”, “communist” and other leftist parties now work in alliance with these governments or provide critical support to their polices. As a result, they generally would not support guerrilla movements, civil war against any state, secession of any region in any country, or any disruption of the constitutional order. Thus, these leftist political parties no longer regard guerrilla groups as “national liberation movements.”

The presidency of UNASUR has made a firm pronouncement on the guerrilla's request. Clearly, UNASUR as a continental organization of States, can only act if the Colombian government asks it to do so. The organization had applied this principle when it was invited by the Bolivian government to mediate in the country's political crisis in September 2008.

The ball is now in the guerrilla movement's court to make another move. Will it now decide to lay down its arms and open direct negotiations with the Colombian state authorities and continue to wage its struggle in the political rather than in the military arena? Only time will tell.

But, without any doubt, UNASUR, in due course, will certainly find itself involved in generating practical ideas or even promoting positive actions aimed at ending the long drawn-out conflict in Colombia.

Caracas, 30 August 2010

The writer is Guyana's Ambassador to Venezuela and is currently the Chairman of the Latin American Council of the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA). The views expressed are solely his.