Santos Says Colombia Is Very Close to Achieving Lasting Peaceby
President met with powerful opponent Uribe for nearly 4 hours
Santos seeks to avoid return to conflict after surprise vote
Colombia is close to achieving lasting peace with Marxist rebels, President Juan Manuel Santos said Wednesday after a four-hour meeting with his most powerful opponent aimed at salvaging four years of peace talks.
Santos met with former President Alvaro Uribe and other opposition leaders to try to find a way out of the impasse caused by the rejection of a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in a national plebiscite Sunday.
“We are very close to achieving a peace that is stable, lasting and with wider public support,” Santos said in a speech in Bogota. “I want to insist on the need for speed. The administration of the cease fire in the current uncertain situation carries a lot of risks.”
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. The current cease fire can be renewed and extended, Santos said.
Uribe told reporters after the meeting that he asked for adjustments to be included in the peace deal, and said that the new process that began with the rejection of the agreement should proceed without violence. He reiterated his opposition to impunity for FARC leaders guilty of serious crimes.
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 the peace accord.
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 on Monday returned to Cuba, 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 tax reform bill needed to plug the nation’s widening fiscal deficit, triggering a sell-off in Colombian assets this week.
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.