Shadow Government

Is Colombia Getting Played by the FARC?

The latest ceasefire is just a desperate grasp to save the country's doomed peace process.


News that the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym FARC) have agreed to “de-escalate” a renewed round of armed conflict is the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass to rescue a peace process on the brink of collapse.

The agreement is essentially a return to the status quo ante, before the FARC violated the last de facto truce in mid-April by ambushing a Colombian military patrol that left a dozen soldiers dead. That set off a renewed government military offensive, which in turn led to a number of FARC attacks against critical infrastructure, causing untold environmental damage and upsetting hundreds of thousands citizens’ way of life.

During this period, Colombian public opinion, already suspect about the FARC and their intentions, turned witheringly against President Juan Manuel Santos’s efforts to reach a peace agreement. The FARC, no doubt realizing they were being routed in the public relations war, reversed course on July 8 and once again announced a unilateral ceasefire that they had violated in April.

What is most notable about these recent developments is not that the FARC announced another unilateral ceasefire, but that the Colombian government readily acceded to their own — once again placing it in the position of appearing to grant the concession by giving the FARC yet another chance to prove their interest in a lasting peace. For President Santos, it only enhances public perceptions that he is being played, by the FARC and by Cuba and Venezuela, “observers” of the process and no friends of Colombia.

Perhaps Santos, reputedly a savvy poker player, knows he has the strong hand, and continues trying to lure the FARC into a bet they cannot win. But, in this, his enemy is not the guileful FARC, but time. After more than two years of talks, he has yet to convince the Colombian people that the current negotiations are in the national interest.

And they have a right to be suspicious. After 50 years of warfare, they see the FARC not as a legitimate representative of marginalized citizens, but as a criminal mafia looking to score amnesty from their drug-trafficking ways.

A respite from violence, no matter how long this time, is certainly welcome for poor Colombian citizens often caught in the crossfire between government troops and the FARC, but it hardly is a bet on which to place their future. What it means for the present is that the parties return to the negotiating table without any agreement yet on the only issues that matter: the disarming and demobilization of FARC forces. The Colombian people demand no less than accountability for FARC leaders for their decades of criminality and the laying down of their weapons. Achieving that objective is still and remains the make-or-break of the negotiations.


José R. Cárdenas was acting assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development in the George W. Bush administration.

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