Five days before negotiations between Marxist rebels, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the Colombian government were set to resume on Saturday, the insurgents’ leader Rodrigo Londono is throwing cold water on the prospect of peace. In an interview published on the FARC’s website on Monday, the guerrilla leader said that no peace accord is likely this year due to a complex and lengthy agenda. Though the two camps have broken ground on issues like future FARC participation in politics and government investment in rural development and agrarian reform (inequality is one of the key criticisms leveled by the group) during talks held in Havana, Cuba, questions of how to grant reparation to victims and disarm rebels remain. According to Londono, “It should be noted also that the subject of the surrender of arms and a bilateral ceasefire will not be simple.”
Those cautionary words augur additional, protracted delays to a two-year-old peace process – the best bet yet, in many minds, for a definitive end to a fifty-year-old insurgency that has left over 200,000 people dead. But despite the FARC’s purported willingness to commit to talks, its militant activities have continued, targeting security forces and civilians alike. (In recent weeks, FARC rebels are believed to have attacked a number of oil fields, pipelines, and roads.) Bogota too has taken a conflicting stance under the leadership of President Juan Manuel Santos, launching a military operation in mid-July that killed fourteen FARC rebels, including group leaders, one day before peace talks resumed.
Such tactics are nothing new for Santos, who has long advocated for peace talks while maintaining a hard line on the radical group. In fact, he staked his re-election campaign on his ability to bring an end to the decades-old conflict. Though his hopes to see a peace accord finalized by the May 25 election were dashed, Santo nonetheless nabbed a second term – and another chance to broker peace. During his inaugural address on August 7, the Colombian leader warned FARC rebels that recent outbursts of violence would not be tolerated: “The patience of Colombians and the international community is not endless.” Here, Santos is no doubt hoping to boost his flagging approval ratings and deflect voters’ attention from his recent campaign scandals and delayed government reforms. (Santos’ popularity was north of 50% early this year, but has since dropped to 33%.)
So the president is sticking to his strategy, despite critics from his predecessor (and erstwhile ally) former President Alvaro Uribe that engaging with the enemy is a sign of weakness. As peace talks drag on it remains to be seen if Santos’ tough love approach will work or if instead, it facilitates greater transgressions from FARC. Though, at the least, Santos has shown his willingness to sit at the same negotiating table with the rebels – a departure from previous administrations that could pay off in the long run.