Assuming the successful release of captured Colombian General Rubén Darío Alzate, held by the FARC since Sunday, the Havana peace talks between the guerrillas and the government appear to be back on.
Supporters of the peace dialogues between Colombia’s largest guerrilla group and the government were justifiably worried over the incident. It is perhaps the biggest crisis the talks have faced in the two years since the process began, and the only time they have been suspended.
The event has also raised a number of questions which are worth noting.
No one seems to have any idea exactly what this general, unarmed and in civilian clothing, was doing in the middle of a “red zone” with a well-established guerrilla presence. Until he is freed, one can only speculate, but everyone — from the Colombian defense minister to President Santos — seems utterly perplexed by his decisions.
Another reasonable question to ask is how former President Álvaro Uribe learned about — and reported through Twitter — the incident before anyone else. His close ties to elements of the military, including an intelligence operation known as Andromeda which spied on the peace talks before this year’s presidential elections, are already well-documented.
Also unclear is the reasoning used by Santos in his decision to suspend the dialogues. As the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a Washington D.C.-based organization, has pointed out, the capture of a general — under the circumstances which have been reported — in no way violates the pre-conditions accepted by the FARC to come to the negotiating table.
“The guerrillas agreed to stop kidnapping civilians, not military personnel—and in warfare, adversaries capture and imprison the other side’s combatants all the time,” WOLA noted in a recent blog post.
If the FARC did not violate any of the pre-conditions for the talks, Santos’ decision to suspend the talks can be interpreted as a miscalculation of the risks of negotiating in the middle of a war.
Even though it could hardly come as a surprise that one side would capture a combatant that walked directly into its hands, the FARC detaining a general — the highest-ranking captive in the history of the 50-year conflict — appeared to be more than the Colombian political leaders and the military would be willing to stomach in the middle of negotiations.
Luckily for the president, the FARC appear to be serious enough about achieving a final peace agreement that it will probably release the general with minimal conditions in order to return to the table in Havana.
Many have used the incident as an opportunity to highlight the need for a bilateral ceasefire between the FARC and the government in order to avoid future risks to the talks. In most of the tweets posted by the FARC’s Twitter account, the hashtag #CeseAlFuegoBilateralYa (“Bilateral ceasefire now”) is included.
The rebels have been calling for a bilateral ceasefire since the peace talks began in 2012, but Santos has steadfastly refused. He has instead opted to approach the talks the way the Israeli government has approached various peace process(es) with the Palestinians.
“We are going to negotiate as if there were no terrorists, and we are going to fight the terrorists as if there were no negotiations,” Santos said earlier this year, citing former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Well, we all know how that worked out. Perhaps it is time to rethink that ceasefire after all.