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EL ESPECTADOR

FARC Understands Nothing About The 'People' Of Colombia

The kidnapping of a Colombian general is the clearest sign that FARC guerrillas may have entered in peace talks, but have yet to give up their war mentality and false populist ideology.

Funeral in Barranquilla of a policeman killed by FARC members in September
Funeral in Barranquilla of a policeman killed by FARC members in September
Pascual Gaviria

-OpEd-

BOGOTA — Two years of inconclusive talks between the Colombian government and the communist guerrillas of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have yet to bring an end to 50 years of civil conflict that has killed some 200,000 people. Now, things may take a decidedly worse turn after FARC's kidnapping of several soldiers including a general, the highest ranking officer they have held so far.

FARC's isolation from Colombian society, the self-serving "logic" of discord and the arrogance of those who bear arms — it all calls on us to think beyond the usual rhetoric.

For decades, FARC had held forth an epic discourse promising victory and espousing a philosophy of vengeance that necessarily includes the elimination of its opponents. Their idea of politics is directly related to imposition, for they have never been required to persuade others.

FARC's arguments always are signed with the inevitable initials: AK-47.

Perhaps unwittingly, they are still in pursuit of a single party and believe that the mobilization of the masses is a task akin to those of cowboys whipping cattle into the right direction.

Well, our most parochial politicians are well ahead of them in that task. They have understood that lying and a constant steam of personal favors win them loyalties with fewer complications and less cruelty. Their ambitions are more moderate, encompassing a particular lot of political clients, not the hypothetical "people."

FARC has barely contained its glee after kidnapping General Rubén Darío Alzate, and their references so far to this extraordinary incident and to "popular justice" show that their chiefs still believe they are engaged in a very personal confrontation with the government or at best, the state.

Lose the swagger

Their negotiators in Havana are fighters, and as such focused on their own ideological obsessions and enmities. While a government must deal with public opinion, political opposition, the bureaucratic ambitions of its allies and the real problems on the negotiating chessboard before it, the guerrillas think that their game is simply a daily or weekly showdown with their counterparts in Havana.

As long as FARC think that military developments and their adversaries' public humiliation are more important than their own political viability, the peace process will end badly. It may get a signature and the applause of the international community, but most Colombians will ignore or reject it.

The guerrilla chiefs urgently need a long sit-down with some bonafide pollsters or political analysts, acting as psychoanalysts might otherwise: make them repeat the words "public opinion" and make them understand that the "people" they keep citing are not their troops.

By closing off districts with threats and arms so they can engage in politics there, FARC leaders will merely turn themselves into a version of those criminal-style — and paramilitary-affiliated — politicians we have seen around Colombia: obeyed by their cronies and hated across the land.

Some months ago, President Juan Manuel Santos said that by this stage in the talks, he would have to think twice before ordering a military operation against the FARC's supreme chief, the guerrilla dubbed Timochenko. What that meant was that two years of talks generate implicit commitments. Both sides should by now have similar aspirations that make talks appear the preferable option.

Instead, it seems, FARC commanders have retained a very crude and primitive — not to mention boastful and vindictive — attitude toward this process. Colombians want peace says the Government, but they also want "proof" of a changed mindset, which will make the moralistic preachings uttered by FARC commanders in Havana more digestible.

We might tolerate their speeches, and even bestow on to them enough importance to merit replies, if only they set aside the arrogance of those used to swaggering around with a rifle. Time is running out for this public rehab.

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