Forwarded from Anthony (NY Times article on Colombia)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Feb 8 14:01:06 MST 2001

Hi Lou:

Please post this article. Juan Forero is well informed, connected, and
basically accurate. However, his view of Alvaro Uribe's popularity is off
base, and probably politically motivated. I will post something of my own
on today's meeting, and the last week's events which have led up to it,
once the meeting is over.



Meeting With Rebels Crucial for Colombia's Leader

February 8, 2001


BOGOTÁ, Colombia, Feb. 7 - With the hopes of a war-weary nation on his
shoulders, Andrés Pastrana won the presidency in June 1998. He was the
candidate for peace who Colombians believed would bring Latin America's
largest and oldest rebel group to the peace table.

But more than two and a half years later peace remains elusive, and Mr.
Pastrana's popularity has plummeted. The rebels refuse to negotiate, and
the swath of territory Mr. Pastrana ceded to them as a haven for peace
talks remains firmly in their grasp. Many Colombians, frustrated over the
lack of progress, have lost faith.

Now, Mr. Pastrana has embarked on a politically risky move analysts are
calling a last-ditch effort to avert all-out war: a meeting on Thursday in
the rebel zone with Manuel Marulanda, the Marxist revolutionary who leads
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The goal, as Mr. Pastrana put it in a direct appeal to Mr. Marulanda, is to
"decide once and for all if we are going to continue the peace process that
you and I started."

But political analysts say that for Mr. Pastrana to maintain political
legitimacy and presidential authority, he has to return with more than just
a nebulous pledge from Mr. Marulanda that his group is committed to a
peaceful resolution of the 37- year-old conflict.

The rebel leader must agree - and forcefully so - that his group, known as
the FARC, will pursue peace through negotiations, experts say. And to prove
the rebels' sincerity to a doubtful public, progress must be made on one or
more issues that have hampered negotiations.

Among Mr. Marulanda's supporters, there is divided opinion about whether to
continue war or to make peace. He is also under considerable international
pressure to resume peace talks. And he may be motivated to keep the
government from resuming military activity, which could be ominous for both

"The reunion shouldn't be just to reactivate the dialogue," said Luis
Fernando Velasco, a congressman and supporter of the peace effort. "It
wouldn't be enough to satisfy the expectations and the needs of the people."

Several analysts said one hopeful and likely outcome could be an
announcement that the two sides had agreed to press ahead on an exchange of
sick prisoners.

But better for the president would be an affirmation from the rebels that
they would seriously pursue a cease-fire or the possibility of allowing
international monitors into the territory the group controls.

"What has to be reaffirmed is there are two sides in this, that the FARC is
also interested in moving the process forward," said Daniel García-Peña, a
former government peace negotiator and now the director of a peace group
called Planeta Paz. "There has to be a re-launching of the process that
will bring, in a few months, some concrete results, concrete accords that
can give the process some life."

Mr. Pastrana's efforts to renew the peace talks come as the United States
delivers a huge aid package aimed at curtailing Colombia's cocaine trade,
which has helped fuel the war.

When Mr. Pastrana first created the demilitarized zone in November 1998,
hopes were high that the unusual gesture would foster enough good will to
bring peace. After all, Mr. Marulanda had supported Mr. Pastrana's
candidacy, even meeting with the president-elect shortly before he took

Months later, though, Mr. Pastrana's efforts were being seriously tested.
In January 1999, Mr. Marulanda snubbed Mr. Pastrana by failing to show up
at their first planned meeting inside the rebel zone.

And although the two men did finally meet again in May 1999, the last two
years have seen both sides break off negotiations numerous times. Mr.
Pastrana has repeatedly been forced to extend the life of the demilitarized
zone to restart peace talks. All the while, the FARC has been accused of
using the territory to fortify itself, hide kidnap victims and cultivate

The latest slap in the face came in December, when a Colombian congressman,
Diego Turbay, and six others were assassinated just outside the zone and
the rebels at first declined to take responsibility or offer a denial.
(Three weeks ago, however, Mr. Marulanda emphatically denied responsibility
in an interview with Voz, a Communist newspaper.)

The setbacks have been devastating to Mr. Pastrana.

Semana, the leading news magazine in Colombia, noted in a story this week
that the president "who will arrive for the meeting with Marulanda" is "not
the same one from two and a half years ago." Mr. Pastrana "put all his
chips" on the peace plan, the article went on, which could mean he will
finish his presidency with little to show for his efforts unless the FARC
agrees to seriously talk peace. A presidential election is scheduled next
year, and Mr. Pastrana, as the incumbent, cannot run.

"At some point, he needs a concession from the FARC," explained Russell
Crandall, an American political scientist who is finishing a book about
American foreign policy toward Colombia. "He hasn't gotten an inch since
then, and if he doesn't get a bone now, you can just forget it."

But Mr. Crandall, who teaches at Davidson College in North Carolina, said
Mr. Pastrana's efforts to get a lifeline from the FARC are fraught with
risks. The FARC, after all, can simply pull out of talks if Pastrana
"pushes too hard," he said.

"Then what's he going to do?" Mr. Crandall said. "It's almost like the
government needs these negotiations more than the FARC does."

Mr. Pastrana also has to walk the political tightrope of modern-day
Colombian politics, making sure not to ruffle the feathers of the military
or more conservative elements whose views hold more sway these days.

One of those conservatives is Álvaro Uribe, a presidential candidate whose
popularity has surged in recent months because of his hard-line stance
toward the rebels.

Mr. Uribe said he believes that for Mr. Pastrana to succeed in talks with
Mr. Marulanda he must come away with a cease-fire agreement, something most
analysts say is very unlikely.

Still, there is a strong contingent of congressmen and analysts - not to
mention the international community, including the United States - who
vocally support the president's efforts. They say that Mr. Pastrana's
willingness to meet with Mr. Marulanda to pursue peace in the face of stiff
opposition may provide the impetus to restart talks.

"This new encounter between these two players in the conflict is
historically significant in the sense that it reinvigorates the process,"
said Arturo Alape, who wrote a biography of Mr. Marulanda.

"It's a response against the war zealots who think that the solution for
Colombia is to continue fighting, to do away with the demilitarized zone,"
Mr. Alape said. "The country has to understand that the only future for
Colombia is the peace path. If war continues, we're talking about 20 or 30
years more of this."

Louis Proyect
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