The leader of Colombia’s largest rebel group proposed talks with the country’s incoming government while accusing President-elect Juan Manuel Santos of corruption and ties to drug traffickers.
“We should talk,” Alfonso Cano, chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, said in a video posted on an affiliated website. “We are still dedicated to looking for political exits. We hope that the government will reflect, that it won’t deceive the country anymore.”
Cano’s message is his first public reaction to the election of Santos, who as defense minister under President Alvaro Uribe delivered some of the biggest blows against the group known as the FARC, including a 2008 air strike in Ecuador that killed Raul Reyes, the guerillas’ No.2 leader. Cano, who is in hiding, became the group’s chief two years ago following the death of FARC founder Manuel Marulanda.
Colombia’s military, backed by more than $500 million a year in U.S. aid, has been closing in on Cano in recent weeks. Earlier this month, army forces captured a guerrilla fighter who goes by the alias Araceli Guerrero, who was in charge of one of the security perimeters that protect the leader of the half- century insurgency. Two other guerrillas were killed.
Cano, dressed in a brown, long-sleeved shirt and wearing glasses, expressed regret that the insurgency he leads had forced “Colombians to kill each other.”
“We are convinced Colombia can close the doors on the civil war if it finds the right track,” he said. “All the guerrillas know that since 1964 we have said we need to converse in order to find political ways out of the situations that are generating armed confrontations.”
Even as he called for talks, Cano also said Santos’s election was tainted and his government corrupt.
“It is soaked in illegitimacy because it has been profoundly penetrated by drug trafficking, by administrative corruption, by impunity,” Cano said.
Cano didn’t provide any evidence to support the allegations of corruption or drug ties.
Calls to Santos’s press office seeking comment weren’t immediately returned.
The FARC, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union, was founded in 1964 as a rural, peasant, Marxist insurgency. The group a decade ago numbered about 18,000 and has been whittled down to half that since 2002, when Uribe ordered an offensive against the rebels.
The FARC traffics in cocaine to fund its activities, according to the U.S. government. It also stages kidnappings for ransom.
Uribe leaves office on Aug. 7 after enjoying an approval rating of more than 60 percent because of his success in driving the FARC and other guerrilla groups out of Colombia’s urban areas and into its remote jungles and small towns.
Last week, Uribe’s government released evidence that it claims proves that neighbor Venezuela is sheltering rebels in 87 camps. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denied the charges and broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia in response, saying the accusations were a pretext for an invasion by Colombia and its ally the U.S.