The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, opened peace talks in Oslo by denouncing oil and mining companies that it says are looting the Andean nation’s wealth, and said the country needs a new national army without U.S. influence.
A FARC commander, known by his alias Ivan Marquez, named billionaires Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo and Alejandro Santo Domingo as examples of the country’s super rich he says are “sinking their claws” into Colombia’s oil, gold and coltan resources. Marquez, one of the group’s seven-member ruling council, spoke at a news conference outside Oslo today.
“The locomotive of energy and mining is like a demon of social and environmental destruction,” Marquez, whose real name is Luciano Marin Arango, said. “Let’s put a stop to BHP Billiton, Xstrata and Anglo American.”
Marquez also attacked Drummond Co. and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. (ANG) and called Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp. (PRE) a “transnational vampire.” The talks come after the FARC stepped up attacks on oil workers, pipelines and energy towers this year to try to derail what President Juan Manuel Santos says is one of the country’s growth “locomotives.”
“One of the factors that most impacts negatively the Colombian population is the signing of the free-trade agreements,” including one with the U.S. which came into effect in May, Marquez said. “This is a theme that definitely has to be addressed.”
Sharing a platform with Colombian government representatives, Marquez called for a transformation of Colombia’s economic and financial structures.
“Though Marquez’s rhetoric was bellicose -- and it will continue to be, no doubt -- the launch of the talks was carried out with seriousness and discipline,” wrote Adam Isacson, a Colombia specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America, in reply to an e-mailed question. Isacson said he had been concerned that FARC would announce “some new obstacle” to talks, or that the event would take on a “circus atmosphere.”
The benchmark Colcap index rose 1.1 percent today in Bogota. The peso gained 0.1 percent to 1796.41 per dollar.
“For the markets, investor confidence is not being affected,” said Daniel Lozano, the head analyst at brokerage Serfinco SA in Bogota.
Attacks on oil pipelines more than quadrupled to 88 in the first seven months of the year, from 20 in the same period in 2011, according to government statistics, even after the government tracked down and killed the FARC’s top two commanders.
The Marxist guerrilla movement is not negotiating from a point of weakness, said Marquez, who is accused by the U.S. government of setting the FARC’s policies on cocaine and managing production and distribution of the drug.
The Colombian government’s lead negotiator Humberto De La Calle said the talks are focused on five key points, including rural development, an end to armed conflict and ensuring political participation. De La Calle said that confidentiality is key for the peace talks.
“The economic model is not a topic of discussion here, nor is foreign investment,” De La Calle said. The negotiator said he had not been surprised by the tone of Marquez’ remarks.
The negotiations will continue in Havana next month, starting with agrarian development, Abel Garcia, a Cuban representative at the talks, told the news conference.
Tanja Nijmeijer, a Dutch citizen who joined the Marxist guerrilla movement a decade ago, could take part in the talks in Havana, Marquez said. He also wants FARC militant Simon Trinidad, who is imprisoned in the U.S., to participate in the negotiations.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s government, which the U.S. has accused of harboring FARC leaders, is participating in the process along with Chile, whose billionaire president, Sebastian Pinera, is an ally of Santos.
Peace talks failed in 2002 after rebel strength surged following President Andres Pastrana’s decision four years earlier to cede guerrillas a Switzerland-sized demilitarized zone that critics saw as the staging ground for drug trafficking and military operations.
Colombia’s government will grant no such demilitarized zone this time and at this stage of talks is ruling out the FARC’s repeated requests to engage in a cease-fire, De La Calle said.
The economy could see Asia-like growth of 6 percent to 7 percent “for decades” if the government strikes a peace deal with the Marxist rebels, Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas said last month.