Contrary to the Columbian government's reiterations that the resistance in the country is dead, the movement stays viable, retains centralized coordination, and enjoys considerable support among both rural and urban populations. Though the raids launched by the Columbian special forces and directed by advisers from the CIA and the Pentagon indeed culminated in the killings of several guerrilla leaders, claims that the strikes left the FARC – Columbia's Revolutionary Armed Forces – demoralized appear to be a gross overstatement. Current FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, alias comandante Timoshenko, asserted in a recorded message supplied to the media that at the moment rebels are stronger than ever, and the statement must be credited with a considerable doze of realism.
Confronting the FARC which counts altogether 9,000-10,000 guerrillas is the 3000,000-strong Columbian army. As prescribed by Plan Columbia and Plan Patriota, the US advisers massively retrained the Columbian police and security forces. The Pentagon and the US intelligence community share reconnaissance data, including the information collected with the help of satellite surveillance, with their Columbian partners, which largely explains the limited success achieved in the course of the recent anti-insurgency operations. Nevertheless, the Columbian government's hope that the guerrillas would capitulate in the nearest future are completely illusory, considering that attacks on military bases in Columbia, deadly clashes between the FARC forces and army patrols, and acts of sabotage targeting the transit networks are reported by the media daily.
Unable to crush the guerrillas on the battleground, the government of Juan Manuel Santos has to negotiate, with the FARC and the ELN (The National Liberation Army), Columbia's number two guerrilla group of 2,000-3,000 fighters, as counterparts. The ELN leadership tried to reach a peace deal with the administration a few years ago, in the epoch of Alvaro Uribe's presidency, in talks arranged in the neutral Havana, but an accusations exchange followed and the peace process collapsed. Mindful of the spectacular failure, so far the ELN tends to stay clear of the FARC's dialog with the government of Santos.
No doubt, memories of the past talk failures similarly hang over the political reckoning of the FARC leadership. A truce was sealed under president Belisario Betancur (the leader of Columbia in 1982-1986) and led to the establishment of the Patriotic Union involving former guerrillas. The organization fared well in the elections, garnering enough vote to be represented by 5 senators, 14 parliamentarians, and 23 mayors, but the triumph proved to be short-living. The Patriotic Union became the target of permanent terror, with 13 parliamentarians, 13 mayors, and thousands of its ordinary members killed. The complicity of the police and the army, along with the Columbian paramilitary groups and drug cartels, was thinly veiled as the Union's death toll mounted, and eventually FARC was compelled to revert to armed struggle. Andrés Pastrana, president of Columbia in 1998-2002, reopened the dialog 12 years later and pledged fair play. An area of 42,000 square km in the Caguan River valley was declared to be a free zone where full security was guaranteed to the guerrillas, and talks between them and the government took off. However, in 1999 Pastrana and the US whipped up Plan Columbia, which the president needed to reinforce his positions and the FARC saw as a treacherous act. Again, the result was the resumption of hostilities and guerrilla attacks combined with demonstrative township seizures.
Regardless of multiple tragic experiences, the FARC agreed to a new round of negotiations. Preparations for them took 18 months, and in February, 2012 the FARC and government representatives met in Havana to start consultations on the agenda for the upcoming talks. An intermediate document – a general agreement on ending the conflict and achieving stable peace – was penned, as Santos declared on September 4 and comandante Timoshenko confirmed after a brief delay. The document is meant to be a prologue to a final deal covering aspects like the cultivation of Columbia's rural areas, the overdue agrarian reform centered around passing land to farmers, the guarantees to the opposition and various political groups, disarmament, a crackdown on drug trafficking, and the rights and interests of all parties to the waning conflict.
The Columbian president explained in an address to the nation that he chose to re-energize the negotiations since now is one of those moments in history when a country leader must take risks to reach out for new solutions to the nation's old problems. Expressing awareness of how bumpy the road can be, he said his policy would be a blend of boldness and caution as history would not forgive if the current opportunities were blown, urged both optimism and restraint, and called for an end to the half of a century of total violence. The FARC and the government demonstrated equal responsibility while the agreement was in the making, said Santos.
Comandante Timoshenko praised the agreement as a serious cause for optimism, described it as the nation's top political priority, and asked for popular support for the accord which would improve the living conditions of the majority of Columbians. Tentatively, the FARC's base in the country would be the Patriotic March (Marcha Patriótica), a movement created on April 21 to provide a fresh alternative to traditional Columbian political parties. Bracketed within it are farmers' and students' groups, left moderates, and social activists worried that the future might hold a new wave of repressions perpetrated by the oligarchic circles and the right ultras who fear the modernization of the country. Piedad Córdoba, Columbia's liberal senator famous for her personal contribution to the normalization in the country, was among the Patriotic March founders and, chances are, will be the candidate of the Columbian left in the next elections.
Watchers do criticize the FARC-government talks for a fairly narrow agenda. One of the key issues it failed to reflect was the existence in Columbia of US military bases which were set up under the pretext of fighting drug trafficking and the “drug guerrilla” (a term evidently invented by the US psy-ops experts). The reality impossible to disguise is that Washington needs the bases to eventually get rid of Chavez and to grab Venezuela's energy reserves. It has always been natural to think of the Columbian guerrillas as a force to side with Chavez if the Empire launches an aggression against Venezuela. The US, therefore, has a vested interest in having the guerrillas disarmed and, in this regard, keeps Santos under intense pressure. That should make it clear why the talks on the final document, due to open in Oslo early next October and to continue in Havana, imply no ceasefire or ban on offensives in the regions under the guerrillas' control.
Chavez, who has done a lot to get the negotiating process in Columbia online, has refrained from making statements concerning the US military bases in Columbia so far, but the problem will imminently surface as the settlement in the country materializes. The UNASUR countries, especially Brazil, oppose foreign military presence in Latin America which they dream to convert into a peace zone. In fact, Columbia, frequently cited in Washington as a showcase for military cooperation with the US, is extremely tired of the pervasive US dictate. Heavy militarization impedes Columbia's socioeconomic development, repels investors, and keeps in a state of persistent armed conflict the regions of the country where agriculture or the energy sector might otherwise flourish. Mexico being slammed as the Empire's protectorate, Columbia deserves the title of a country under external governance, and the Columbians' discontent at the untamed US influence threatens to spin out of control any moment. The usual security around the US diplomatic corps in Columbia is practically as tight as in the Muslim world at the current escalation.
Protests against the US military bases will certainly grow in scale in Columbia parallel to the peace talks. As a reaction, Washington's propaganda increasingly smears Santos in an attempt to blow his reelection chances. Ex-president Uribe advocates domestically the policies suggested by the US, pressing for the guerrillas' capitulation (or extermination) and alleging that they take orders from Chavez rather than pursue Columbia's national interests. The ideas aired by Uribe who used to be listed 82nd in the US Department of State's list of drug traffickers and is shortleashed by Washington these days, are broadcast by the US media and resonate with the reactionary fringe of the Columbian military. Rumors of a brewing coup organized by the counterinsurgency veterans, paramilitary groups, and security contractors spread across Columbia on a regular basis, and those who are being mentioned as the potential leaders of the revolt sound unconvincing when they brush off the charges. The media never stop hinting that some day Santos may get killed “for betrayal”. Santos should have no difficulty grasping the whole picture. The president made it clear while speaking of the dialog with FARC that he intends to stay immune to intimidation by extremists from whatever camp.
How likely is it that the US will tolerate the unfolding peace process? For the Empire, reconciliation in Columbia would come as a strategic defeat, and the anticipations of a military coup in the country may be signaling that the US intelligence community is planning major provocations to derail the promising negotiations between the FARC and the government.