Colombia’s Chance

Por Venezuela Real - 31 de Mayo, 2008, 11:45, Categoría: Política Internacional

The New York Times
May 31, 2008

Colombia’s president, Álvaro Uribe, may be sorely tempted to begin a final, killing offensive against rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The rebels are weakened, and Mr. Uribe is eager to capitalize politically on their defeat.

Nevertheless, he should resist that temptation and seek a political settlement to try to bring the rebels in from the cold. Colombia has seen more than enough bloodshed. And Mr. Uribe has a strong enough hand to insist on the FARC’s complete disarmament and an end to the drug trafficking and extortion that long ago replaced politics as the group’s main mission.

The FARC has been under assault from the Colombian Army for some four years, and looks as if it is unraveling. It has lost three of its seven top commanders in recent months, including Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda, its founder and leader believed to have been 76 years old.

According to another rebel commander who turned herself in last month, the FARC’s lines of command and communication are broken and some units are isolated. There is also talk of a power struggle to replace Mr. Marulanda that could split the FARC into rival fiefs.

The guerrillas that sprouted from the jungle more than 40 years ago still remain a substantial fighting force — with some 9,000 members and steady financing from the drug trade. They also hold some 750 hostages, including the former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. The hostages likely would be killed in any final assault.

The FARC — which not 10 years ago was at the gates of Bogotá, the capital — must now realize that it cannot win. Within tightly limited constraints, the Colombian government should take advantage of the FARC’s weakness to press for a political settlement.

Right-wing paramilitaries have been demobilized under a plan that offered commanders lenient prison sentences in exchange for confessions and turning over ill-gotten assets. Foot soldiers were offered training and stipends to rejoin Colombian society. FARC leaders, which still see themselves as a political movement, are unlikely to accept these terms. While those guilty of the most serious crimes should face Colombian justice, Mr. Uribe should consider offering the rebels a role in Colombian politics.

He should also put aside any hope of capitalizing on a FARC defeat to increase his chances of amending Colombia’s Constitution so that he can run for a third term. (He already did that once to get his second term.) Latin America has far too much experience with populist strongmen — including Mr. Uribe’s nemesis and FARC patron, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. The region doesn’t need a strongman. Colombia needs an end to the fighting and a chance to build an even stronger, peaceful democracy.

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