Santos Meets Rival Uribe to Try to Salvage Colombia Peace Deal

  • FARC guerrilla units ordered to deploy to ‘secure positions’
  • Santos seeks to avoid return to conflict after surprise vote

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will hold a crisis meeting with Alvaro Uribe, his predecessor and most powerful opponent, on Wednesday in a bid to salvage four years of peace talks aimed at ending a five-decade-old insurgency.

Santos also extended a cease-fire with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, until the end of October, while government negotiators met with the group’s leaders to try to find a way out of the impasse caused by the rejection of a peace agreement in a national plebiscite on Sunday.

“The point is to look for common denominators,” with opponents of the peace accord, Santos said in a statement sent by his press office.

Santos is trying to get political opponents on board to find a quick resolution. The FARC has roughly 6,000 fighters in the mountains and jungles of Colombia who are now in limbo, neither at war nor able to proceed with the demobilization process after voters rejected the peace deal.

Former President Uribe was the most influential voice in the victorious “no” campaign, which confounded polling companies and unexpectedly persuaded a narrow majority of voters to sink a peace accord with Marxist guerrillas. He’s demanding changes to the 297-page accord, including jail time for guerrilla leaders who committed serious crimes such as kidnapping and drug-trafficking

It is unclear whether the guerrillas, who were never defeated militarily, would accept jail time or any of Uribe’s other demands, or whether they would be prepared to accept alterations to a peace agreement they already signed with Santos. Government negotiators returned to Cuba Monday, where the peace agreement was hammered out, to meet with FARC leaders to find a way out of the impasse.

“All our units should start to move to secure positions to avoid provocations,” a senior FARC commander known as “Pastor Alape” said in a post on Twitter. The guerrillas had been set to start the demobilization process this week, before voters rejected the deal.

On Sunday, the minority of Colombians who showed up to vote rejected an agreement between the government and the FARC, by 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent, throwing the Andean nation into political chaos. The result spooked investors, who worry that it may hamper the government’s tax reform bill, which is needed to plug the nation’s widening fiscal deficit. The peso has dropped 3.2 percent since the vote, the biggest drop among more than 140 currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

The peace agreement would have granted the largest guerrilla army in the Americas seats in Congress, agricultural reform and reduced sentences for crimes in return for handing in their weapons. Many Colombians objected to a group known for bomb attacks and kidnapping receiving lenient treatment. More than 200,000 Colombians have lost their lives in the conflict, which began in 1964.

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