Uribe Sets Colombia Agenda as Rebels Deploy to Jungle Hideouts

  • Santos government is holding talks with FARC and opposition
  • Guerrillas unable to demobilize after voters rejected deal

Colombian opposition leader Alvaro Uribe and Marxist rebels remained locked in radically different positions Thursday, as the government holds talks with both groups aimed at breaking the deadlock and ending the nation’s five-decade conflict.

Government negotiators met with opposition leaders in Bogota, afterward saying they expect to have “news” by the week after next on how to carry out adjustments to the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Voters narrowly rejected the deal in a national plebiscite on Sunday.

In an interview on RCN Radio, former President Uribe said that “cosmetic” changes to the agreement aren’t enough, and that the document needed to be changed in its “essence.” Uribe reiterated his opposition to several points in the accord, such as guerrilla leaders guilty of serious crimes being given seats in Congress.

“Uribe’s position hasn’t become more flexible at all, and neither has the FARC’s, and the government is in the middle and doesn’t know where to stand,” said Sandra Borda, a political scientist and dean of the Social Sciences Department at Bogota’s Jorge Tadeo Lozano University. Uribe is demanding “not a negotiation, but a surrender by the FARC, and the FARC aren’t going to accept that,” Borda said.

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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is trying to get Uribe and other political opponents on board to build a national consensus and find a swift resolution to the crisis, warning of the risks to the cease fire if the current impasse persists. The victory of the “no” campaign means the movement’s 6,000 fighters are now in limbo, unable to proceed with the demobilization process.

El Espectador newspaper reported Thursday that mid-ranking FARC commanders began returning to their camps in southern Colombia in the early morning. The group’s senior leadership are meeting with government negotiators in Cuba, but have said that, so far as they are concerned, the deal they signed with Santos last week was a final and binding deal.

‘Enormous’ Power

Uribe’s victory has bolstered his status and put him in a position of “enormous” power and influence over the national debate, according to Borda. He was elected in 2002 on a pledge to take a hard line against the FARC, after a previous peace process with the group broke down. Uribe’s backing helped Santos win the Presidency in 2010, but he later accused his former defense minister of squandering his legacy.

“At the moment, there are people who see him as co-president,” Borda said. “He’s not just talking about the peace process, he’s talking about the tax reform and a lot of other things. He’s the one setting the national agenda, not the government.”

Voters rejected an agreement between the government and the FARC, by 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent, throwing the Andean nation into crisis. The deal would have granted the guerrillas seats in Congress, agricultural reform and reduced sentences for crimes in return for handing in their weapons to UN. Uribe and many other 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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