May 16 (Bloomberg) -- The Colombian government has reached an agreement with Marxist guerrillas to cooperate in the fight against illegal drugs, bringing the two sides closer to a deal to end the Andean nation’s five-decade conflict.
An accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, includes programs to substitute illegal crops, and curb drug trafficking, the government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, said at a news conference in Cuba, where the talks are taking place. Colombia is the biggest supplier of cocaine to the U.S.
The government of President Juan Manuel Santos has been holding peace talks with the FARC since 2012, seeking a negotiated end to an insurgency that began in the 1960s. The agreement may bolster support for Santos ahead of the May 25 presidential election by increasing optimism about the talks, said Adam Isacson, a Colombia specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America.
“It sure doesn’t hurt,” Isacson said today in a phone interview. “There’s been some frustration with the slow pace, and now a lot of that goes away. You have that impression of momentum at the talks that makes people want to support it.”
Colombia’s government reserves the right to use aerial spraying of coca, the raw material used to make cocaine, in “extreme cases,” de la Calle said.
The accord was the third of six agenda points agreed to by the parties. Negotiators had previously reached agreements on agrarian reform and political participation, and will next discuss the final points on the agenda, which are the end of the conflict, reparations to victims, and the implementation of the deals. None of the agreements will take effect until a full peace deal is reached with an end to hostilities.
A surge in support for candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga could bring an end to the talks if he defeats Santos. Zuluaga, an ally of former President Alvaro Uribe, demands a unilateral cease-fire from the guerrillas before sitting down with them and opposes any deal that would grant them impunity for crimes or allow them seats in Congress.
World’s Biggest Cartel
Zuluaga said the government is misguided to discuss drugs with an organization that funds itself with cocaine money.
“I wouldn’t come to an agreement on anti-drug policy with the world’s biggest drug cartel,” Zuluaga said today in an interview in Cartagena.
A Gallup poll released yesterday shows Zuluaga would defeat Santos in a second-round vote if it were held today, while other polls published this week by Datexco and Polimetrica give results that are within the margin of error.
After the failure of the last peace talks in 2002, Colombians elected Uribe, who pledged to take a tough line against the FARC. The guerrillas today announced a unilateral cease-fire from May 20-28.
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