Reposted with permission from The Pan-American Post
Today’s headlines bring excellent news for Colombia’s peace process: the government and FARC rebels have reached an agreement on the necessary conditions for the release of the captured army general and four other guerrilla prisoners.
As El Espectador reports, in a brief press conference yesterday representatives of the peace talk guarantor countries — Cuba and Norway — told reporters that the two sides had come to an agreement to free the captives “as soon as possible.” In addition to General Rubén Darío Alzate and his companions, the rebels will release two soldiers captured last month in Arauca. This was confirmed by a press statement released by the president’s office, which thanked the guarantors for their support and promised that the Colombian negotiating team would return to Havana as soon as the FARC prisoners were freed.
El Tiempo notes that the speedy agreement has highlighted the important role that Cuban and Norwegian authorities play in keeping both sides at the table. According to Semana magazine, the army will temporarily cease military operations in Arauca and Chocó provinces in order to allow the guerrillas to organize the release, and BluRadio reports that Cali Archbishop Darío de Jesús Monsalve claimed yesterday that sources in the army told him that the prisoners would be freed in 48 hours.
The terms of the prisoner release remain unknown, but the fact that both sides reached a consensus so rapidly suggests that the swap will not prove too costly for the Colombian government. Despite speculation that the FARC would be able to use the capture to force a bilateral ceasefire, it is not likely that administration of President Juan Manuel Santos would have crossed what it considers to be a red line, especially so quickly.
As Adam Isaacson points out, while the FARC’s capture of the general may have been permitted under the ground rules of negotiations, the reality is that Colombia’s political climate would not allow the guerrillas to continue peace talks while holding the army official. The FARC, he argues, were forced to “choose between keeping Gen. Alzate or keeping the peace process alight.”
But while FARC may have ultimately had little choice but to free General Alzate, the fact that they are acting to resume negotiations as fast as possible is a positive sign. La Silla Vacia suggests that the deal has provided the FARC an opportunity to show they are committed to peace talks, and may also indicate the rebels’ increasing concern over public opinion.
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