Editor’s note: As a private citizen, Steve Salisbury has provided observations to United States high-ranking officials of both Republican and Democratic administrations and played what could be said was a key role as a de facto precursor “intermediary” between US officials and Colombia’s FARC guerrilla group before the naming of a US presidential special envoy to the peace process between the Colombian government and FARC, which together signed a peace accord in late 2016. The report herewith is an edited, expanded version of one that Salisbury wrote and sent recently to US State Department senior officials and other US inter-agency officials who cover Venezuela.
Preface: Steve Salisbury is in a special position to analyze and make recommendations for the peace talks between Colombia’s government of President Juan Manuel Santos and largest guerrilla group, the Marxist-Leninist predominantly campesino Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The peace negotiations—aimed at ending Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict of about 52 years that has resulted in up to approximately 220,000 dead and 6 million displaced people, according to some estimates—were formally initiated in Havana, Cuba, in November 2012 after an inauguration ceremony in Oslo, Norway, a month earlier and secret preliminary talks in Havana for months before that. Long based in Colombia, Salisbury, fluent in Spanish, has a background in media and private consulting, living in and covering Latin America since the early 1980s and meeting with Colombian news-makers across the political, economic, social, and armed-conflict spectrums.
Before the naming of Bernard Aronson as US Special Presidential Envoy to the Colombian peace process in February 2015, Salisbury was already carrying out since April 2013 as a “Good Samaritan” private citizen what could be seen as a de facto role of an unofficial “emissary” or “intermediary” and continues his efforts deeply following the peace process to this day. To be clear, Salisbury doesn’t work for, nor represent, the US government, isn’t part of the actual peace negotiations, and doesn’t negotiate. But it could be said that, in a way, Salisbury was a private-citizen “precursor” to Ambassador Aronson.
Salisbury has met in private multiple times with the FARC leadership in Havana, passing along its messages to US senior officials in Washington DC and the US embassy in Bogota, and reviewing publicly declared US official positions to FARC leaders as well as asking the FARC leadership questions on the mind of US officials or others. Salisbury had first met the FARC’s top leaders in a journalistic capacity in the year 2000 during the ill-fated peace talks under Colombian then-President Andres Pastrana, who allowed a Switzerland-sized “Distension Zone” to the FARC for over three years where those talks took place, but which was retaken by government troops when the talks collapsed in February 2002.
Since 1997, the FARC has been officially designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the US State Department, which the FARC rejects. Until the presidential designation of US Special Envoy Aronson, US officials had been barred from meeting with or communicating directly or indirectly with the FARC since US diplomat Phillip Chicola met officially in December 1998 in Costa Rica with the FARC’s senior-ranking “Raul Reyes” (who was killed a decade later in a controversial Colombian military cross-border airstrike about a kilometer or so inside Ecuador). That US communication with the FARC ended abruptly after the killing of three American Indian-rights activists in 1999 was imputed to a FARC unit which accused them of being spies—“an unfortunate misunderstanding and tragic accident,” according to the FARC. But what has always been permitted is if unsolicited FARC communication happens to come before the eyes of US officials, explain US officials. And that is where Salisbury came in about three years ago.
While President Obama designated Ambassador Aronson following a request by President Santos, Salisbury’s analysis beforehand on such an option was apparently taken into account by US policymakers, according to a well-placed source. Besides being taken into account by US officials and the FARC leadership, Salisbury’s observations have been kept in mind by top international peace advisers to Pres. Santos, Colombian senior military officers (active-duty or retired), respective members of the political opposition as well as of Santos’ political coalition, Colombian Congresspersons, think-tank and humanitarian executives, and victims of the conflict, among others.
Salisbury continues to provide his reports and assessments to US officials and others following the peace process. To provide greater understanding for the public discussion on Colombia, the forecast herewith is an updated, expanded version by Salisbury of one of his reports provided to US senior officials and others, with editing for purposes of anonymity in some places.
With fanfare before a crowd of invitees, including famous Colombian pop stars and athletes, on February 4 at a White House commemoration of over 15 years of Plan Colombia—a program where Colombia has received some 10 billion dollars in US assistance since its start in 2000 to fight illegal narcotics and help bolster the Colombian state via integrated law-enforcement, military, social, developmental, and economic efforts—United States President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced a follow-up plan dubbed “Peace Colombia.” Designed for an eventual post-conflict and transition to it, Pres. Obama has asked the US Congress to approve some 450 million dollars—$390 million in bilateral assistance and some $60 million for other programs—for fiscal year 2017, up from a reported 310 million dollars that the US Congress approved for Colombia for 2016. It comes as the Colombian government’s and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas’ peace delegations have intensified their negotiations.
Issues to resolve in what Pres. Santos calls “the final stretch—a term FARC leaders are hesitant to use, though they express optimism—include the point of “End of Conflict,” bilateral “definitive” cease-fire, gathering of FARC forces for the “laying down of weapons” (“dejacion de armas”) and incorporation into civilian society, the selection of judges for a special Tribunal for Peace on war crimes, ratification, implementation and verification of an eventual overall peace agreement, etc. (See sidebar: “Some of the Hardest Issues to Resolve at This Juncture in Colombian Peace Process.”) The question is: Where is the Colombian peace process headed, when nothing is binding until everything is agreed upon in a final overall accord that is ratified?
While a lot of the toughest ground seems to have been traversed, the remainder is arduous, and the signing of an overall peace accord in 2016 cannot be taken for granted. Despite what some saw as overly optimistic “happy talk” by Pres. Santos in early February in Washington DC supposedly giving an impression (intentionally or unintentionally) that an overall peace accord with the FARC is practically almost just around the corner—and high expectations that Santos has built since the beginning of the formal peace talks in 2012 when he mused that he thought they could be completed in months—developments have occasionally popped up that take some measure of air out of the optimism, only for it to come back on announcements of good news by the Colombian government and FARC.
The most recent hit to an upswing of optimism happened February 18 when FARC peace negotiators given permission to travel via assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross from Havana to guerrilla encampments in Colombia to update FARC rank and file on the peace process entered a small town and addressed townspeople in the main square with armed guerrillas present.
Pres. Santos reprimanded the FARC for what he viewed as it breaking protocol, denouncing it of carrying out armed proselytism. The FARC denied it and called the furor an “unjustified controversy.” President Santos suspended such visits and said February 19, quoted by Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper: “The time has now run out for finishing the negotiations and the date of March 23, agreed by the President of the Republic and the Commander of the FARC, is less than five weeks away. It is necessary to take decisions on the defining points that still remain.”
This episode is an example that the potential misreading of each other (and of each other’s respective hands of cards) or miscalculations by either side or both—including on public-opinion and political currents inside Colombia—can undermine the talks, and that brinksmanship can lead to unintended, undesirable consequences. Because of that and the remaining complex issues to be negotiated, it cannot be said with certainty, yet, that an overall peace accord will be signed in 2016, though a reasonable argument can be made that the odds for it to happen by the end of 2016 are better than for an overall agreement to be signed by March 23.
Notwithstanding some news stories interpreting Pres. Santos’ February 19 statement as practically being an “ultimatum” to the FARC, it appears unlikely that an overall peace accord will be signed by March 23, a date that President Santos and the FARC’s maximum leader “Timochenko” (nom de guerre) discussed, but which the FARC leadership saw as an aspired date, not a deadline fixed in concrete. But as one of the FARC’s peace negotiators recently wrote to me (I translate the excerpt into English): “The work is hard, but it seems that the light begins to be seen at the other end of the tunnel, of course that difficult enough points remain but we hope that among all we may be able to resolve them.”
Said US Secretary of State John Kerry in a joint appearance with Pres. Santos in Washington DC February 5: “The outlook is promising, but the stakes are much too high to take anything for granted, and we don’t. No one is in a celebratory status. There is work to be done. We’re here to renew the commitment for these months in order to complete the task.”
President Santos cited a big boost when the Colombian government and FARC announced January 19 in Havana that they agreed on the United Nations via unarmed observers to be selected from Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (known by its Spanish acronym CELAC) to participate in verification of an eventual bilateral cease-fire and disarmament. This is a very important step before a bilateral cease-fire/ceasing of hostilities could go into effect. But, while Colombian government chief peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle says that this implies that a semantical difference between the word terms “handing over” and “laying down of weapons” has been surmounted and that the FARC accepts to eventually lay down its weapons, verification is a technical mechanism depending on how and when the Colombian government and FARC decide to make the bilateral “definitive” cease-fire/cessation of hostilities—questions which still need to be resolved. The FARC has said that it could start before an overall peace accord. But Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said that UN/CELAC verification would coincide with or start shortly after the signing of an overall peace accord.
The Colombian government and FARC peace delegations initiated a new Executive Commission January 22 or 23, aimed to expedite the talks. But it remains to be seen if it will be enough for them to reach an overall agreement in 2016. Here in the following are 24 sections where I explore what could be shaping up, and below them, an accompanying sidebar story.
It appears to be that the odds are heavily against an overall complete peace agreement being signed between the Colombian government and FARC by March 23, from where things stand now and as I predicted earlier in my reports to US officials, basing my assessment on what the FARC leadership has told me and from its public pronouncements, as well as from my talking with others and just looking at time-tables, practicalities and limitations.
Colombia’s Pres. Juan Manuel Santos has insisted that March 23 is the orally agreed “deadline” between him and the FARC’s maximum leader “Timochenko” from when they met September 23, 2015 in Havana for a high-profile televised ceremony where they signed in the presence of Cuban leader Raul Castro what was supposedly a completed agreement on victims’ and judicial issues, but which turned out to not be really completed, as shortly afterwards both sides talked of “imprecisions,” voids and differences of interpretation that still needed to be “polished” and resolved.
But the FARC leadership has maintained that March 23 was a then-hoped-for target date to end a six-month time-frame that was to begin once the victims’/justice agreement was completed, and since it wasn’t completed on September 23, as first misunderstood, the clock didn’t start, according to the FARC. The Colombian government and FARC peace delegations jointly announced Dec 15 in Havana that impasses in the victims’/justice agreement’s 75 items were worked out, but a careful reading of it shows that some things are still to be determined later. So, has the clock started or not?
Whatever the confusion, nothing clearer underscores that an overall peace agreement will probably not be signed by March 23 than what the FARC’s chief peace negotiator “Ivan Marquez” tweeted just before the resumption of the peace talks on Jan 13, 2016 after a Christmas-New Year’s holiday recess, saying [which I translate from Spanish into English]: “To insist on March 23 as the deadline of the talks, after the delay in the agreement on the JEP [Jurisdiccion Especial para la Paz, Special Jurisdiction for Peace ‘transitional justice’], is a light naivety.”
It is interesting to note that while Pres. Santos hasn’t ditched his view of the March 23 “deadline,” he had inserted more since the beginning of the year an “ojala” (“it is wished”) caveat in his public comments about the March 23 date, emphasizing the sensitive complex nature of questions that remain in the “final stretch.” And Pres. Santos has indicated that if his view of the “deadline” isn’t met, he will not end the talks. “We hope to sign before the 23 of March. If it is a couple of days or a week later, no matter,” Santos was quoted as saying at the Wilson Center in Washington DC February 3, by Colombia’s largest newsmagazine SEMANA.
Moreover, Pres. Santos told Julio Sanchez Cristo and his team of W Radio February 22 that while March 23 was “an agreed date by the two sides, and that date hasn’t been modified, if the date is modified, it has to be by agreement of [both] the sides. There are possibilities to finish at least the fundamental points. I put them in order, four fundamental points, which we can [resolve], if there is political will to resolve them before that date. And I believe that if we make an effort in that direction, we can achieve it.”
Pres. Santos was referring to the following four points: 1) the timeline for the FARC to lay down its weapons; 2) how to select the judges for the tribunal on war crimes; 3) where and in how many areas to gather the guerrillas for demobilization from its guerrilla form; and 4) the way to ratify an eventual overall peace accord.
If the talks drag on after the March 23 “deadline” is Pres. Santos prepared to say something like, “Hey, I tried my best, I tried to go the extra kilometer, and I don’t see the necessary progress, and Colombians’ patience has run out, and I am recalling my negotiating team from Havana”? Could Pres. Santos’s statement February 19 that the “time has now run out for finishing the negotiations” be laying the possible groundwork to end the talks? Or will Pres. Santos let “deadlines” come and go with no overall peace accord signed and continue to allow things to drag on, in his heart-felt hopes for peace? The odds are that as long as Pres. Santos sees meaningful progress and that there are realistic signs that an end is truly in sight, he will be pragmatic and continue the talks and not let the technicality of missing a date throw about three-and-a-half years negotiations overboard.
Pres. Santos’ heart and hopes were put into setting the March 23 date with “Timochenko” as what Santos might have thought could be an effective, bold way to try to expeditiously flow the FARC into an overall peace agreement. Ironically, while the FARC leadership sometimes has wondered if Santos’ insistence on the March 23 date is a tactic to try to corral or corner the FARC, some observers ask, Did Santos corner himself on this one? Santos would answer no and that he got “Timochenko” to make a time-frame, and that the FARC didn’t keep it, whatever the reason (if the March 23 date isn’t met).
Nevertheless, the unfulfilling of the March 23 date could spur questions—stoked by the political opposition and other critics–about who is in the driver’s seat when it comes to the pace and direction, perhaps, of the peace talks: The Colombian government or the FARC?
Without an overall peace accord signed by March 23, Pres. Santos could argue that he and his negotiating team tried their best, stepping on the accelerator, and that the elapsed “deadline” prodded further progress faster, but that more time is needed to get closer to the finish line. Critics may argue that it prodded movement, but in the form of too many concessions by Santos to the FARC on the victims’/justice agreement, among other things, which Pres. Santos would deny.
While the odds for an overall peace accord by end of 2016 are better–at least relatively speaking–it is not guaranteed and would seem to be a tough uphill effort. The FARC has been clear that it has no problem in “taking the time necessary” until it is satisfied with a text. And FARC peace negotiators have said that the Colombian government peace delegation has taken its own time, for example, by being too much of a stickler at times, in the FARC’s view, to the point of where to place commas. Where to place or omit a comma could change the meaning of a phrase, and it is just an example of how details dictate time. But odds of an overall peace accord happening in 2016 would be boosted by a lot of hard work, focus, and intelligent, sensible, responsible and creative thinking, and if miscalculations, misreadings and other potential pitfalls are avoided.
Perhaps inadvertently telling, the Colombian government-FARC agreement on the United Nations and CELAC to participate in verifying an eventual bilateral cease-fire states that the time-frame for the verification mission is 12 months and extendable. So, what does that seem to imply? That things could go into 2017 or after?
As European Union Special Peace Envoy Eamon Gilmore said in a Colombian press interview, it is better to focus on getting a good, solid deal than on fixating on a particular date to get it. Slap-dashing together an agreement just for the sake of doing things fast would not be conducive to making a very good, solid, responsible, stable, lasting overall peace agreement.
If 2017 arrives and there is no overall peace agreement, then politics for the 2018 Colombian presidential and Congressional elections will kick in substantially (there is already presidential electoral jockeying now), and that could affect the peace process–perhaps even up to the point of where pressures would mount on a lame-duck Pres. Santos, who Constitutionally cannot run for a third term, to pass the peace negotiations on to his successor, who would decide on what to do with them.
At that point, who knows what Colombian public opinion and patience would be on the talks? But it isn’t far-fetched to think that if the FARC continues to effectively hold to a cease-fire (unilaterally now, though perhaps bilaterally by then, if the Colombian government agrees and if the UN wouldn’t object to its verification mission starting before an overall peace accord is signed), the patience of many Colombians with the peace process could continue, even into a new presidential administration. (The FARC says that its unilateral “indefinite” cease-fire depends on it not being “provoked.”) Would Pres. Santos end the talks just because he would have to hand them over to his successor? No. As Pres. Santos has publicly said, as long as he sees good faith and significant progress in the talks, he will continue with them in his heart-felt quest for peace.
Jonathan Powell—who as chief of staff to British then-Prime Minister Tony Blair worked in an important role on the Northern Ireland peace accord and who is now an adviser to Pres. Santos–observed in a January 10 Colombian El Tiempo newspaper interview that the final part of a peace process can be the toughest part. And tough can mean time-consuming. While the FARC’s chief peace negotiator “Ivan Marquez” announced that the chances of peace are now shinier than ever, “Marquez” tempered his statement by stressing that there is a lot of nitty-gritty to be tackled in what remains to be negotiated.
Clear, straightforward communication is a must, not only between both sides, but within each side’s respective negotiating structures, and with the general public, to protect the talks from possible misunderstandings, false expectations, unrealistically high hopes, unfounded rumors, misinformation, disinformation, trouble-making or flat-out smears.
And what needs to be recognized is that trying to fit solutions to a remaining host of thorny, very complex and sometimes seemingly paradoxical issues within a year would be like trying to get a Christmas tree through a not-big-enough door. Working the angles right, squeezing, and pushing enough, the tree might be able to be crammed through, but it’s a maybe.
In April 2013, during my first of 11 trips to Havana to talk with the FARC leadership about the peace process, “Ivan Marquez” told me that once the judicial and political participation issues were resolved, the most difficult humps would be crossed, and the peace process could move faster. But that doesn’t mean that everything else would be necessarily finished in months.
Besides the still-to-be-determined aspects in the victims’/justice agreement, other complicated issues include, but are not limited to: the FARC’s insistence on resolving the phenomenon of “paramilitarism”/vigilantism; an eventual “definitive” bilateral cease-fire/cessation of hostilities; the gathering of FARC forces for eventual laying down of weapons and entry into legal society (the FARC says that the word “demobilization” isn’t accurate because the FARC intends to stay organized, albeit unarmed then); FARC incorporation into electoral politics; the ratification, implementation, and verification of an eventual overall agreement, etc. And it must not be forgotten that the FARC says that at least 42 tough “loose ends” left “in the freezer” since the start of the formal peace talks in the autumn of 2012 are yet to be resolved from partially agreed-to points on agrarian/land/rural development, political participation, and narcotics/alternatives to illegal crops. Moreover, the FARC leadership says that it will not forget “Simon Trinidad” and other FARC members extradited to US prisons serving sentences on kidnapping, drug-trafficking or other criminal charges.
For example, just alone on the issue of the paramilitary phenomenon, a member of the FARC’s top level, the Secretariat, in this case “Joaquin Gomez,” says, “The state must resolve the phenomenon of “paramilitarism” before an overall peace agreement is signed. This statement may be seen by some to imply that the Colombian government first dismantle all of the organized criminal bands known as “BACRIMs,” which are viewed by the FARC as a continuing form of “paramilitarism” after the demobilization a decade ago of traditional anti-guerrilla outlawed “paramilitary”/vigilante groups, like the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). This couldn’t be done in a year, and probably not in several, or ever at all in totality. Another FARC Secretariat member/peace negotiator, “Pablo Catatumbo” says that this doesn’t mean that every single “paramilitary”/BACRIM/post-“paramilitary” member has to be dealt with, but that the Colombian government has to subdue the structures of “paramilitarism” to a point where they are not a threat.
Another question that could affect the length of the peace talks with the FARC is the matter of Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla movement, the “National Liberation Army” (ELN), which says its date of founding was July 4, 1964, a couple months after what the FARC says was its own creation, though the ELN had stirrings before that. Quite some time ago, the FARC’s chief peace negotiator “Ivan Marquez” told me that he envisioned one possible scenario that once the ELN started its own formal peace negotiations with the Colombian government and once this matured to a sufficient point, then the ELN talks could be perhaps merged with the FARC talks before an overall peace agreement would be signed.
If this were to be the case, it could take months or years. The ELN, whose maximum commander is Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, known by his nom de guerre “Gabino,” and Pres. Santos’ government started a preliminary exploratory dialogue in 2014 (with “feelers” reportedly beginning in 2013) trying to set a frame-work and operational details for eventual formal peace talks. The inauguration of formal talks between them had been expected to happen in the first half of this year, but acrimonious moments of finger-pointing between the Colombian government and ELN and a recrudescence of their mutual war-related actions have put this in doubt and the exploratory talks are now the rocks.
After the ELN was imputed to firing improvised mortar projectiles February 7 that reportedly exploded causing minor damage on the grounds of the Army’s 18th Brigade base in Arauca, the capital of the department (province) of the same name, Pres. Santos demanded that for any peace negotiation to take place, the ELN would first have to free all those held captive by it, including an Army corporal who was reportedly snatched in early February at an ELN check-point as he was unarmed, dressed in civilian clothes and riding a motorcycle. Moreover, Pres. Santos ordered the military to re-intensify its efforts against the ELN. The ELN’s response: a three-day “armed stoppage” in mid-February aimed at road traffic in remote areas of ELN presence, during which three police members were reportedly killed, an undetermined number of people wounded, and at least a couple of buses burned in some 35 ELN violent actions. On February 20, the Colombian security forces reported that they had killed a half-dozen ELN guerrillas in combat.
The tension between the Colombian government and ELN had been building for quite some time. Responding at the end of January to an exhortation two days earlier by the Colombian government’s chief peace negotiator with the FARC, Humberto de la Calle, for the ELN to take the necessary steps to enter formal peace negotiations promptly, the ELN replied in a communique that it has been ready and waiting since November for the government to meet with it again to set a date and place.
Pres. Santos responded February 1 in a public statement, saying: “They [the ELN] know that that is not true, we are asking them for some time already that a series of meetings be facilitated that we still have ahead, to go from the confidential phase to the public phase. We are in wait of them for making those dates concrete.” Venezuela and Ecuador have been facilitating the exploratory talks. But turmoil in Venezuela has gone against consideration of it hosting Colombian government-ELN formal talks, at least in the perspective of the Santos’ administration, which reportedly would prefer Ecuador over Venezuela. However, the ELN reportedly would like to give a boost to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and homage to Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez by having the formal talks in Venezuela, at least part of the time. It is an “open secret” to Venezuelan inhabitants in border areas with Colombia that the ELN has safe havens inside Venezuelan territory, which the Venezuelan government denies. Besides Ecuador and Venezuela, possible options reportedly mentioned for hosting potential formal negotiations between the Colombian government and ELN could be in Cuba, Brazil or Holland.
According to Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas in an El Tiempo interview January 31, “The grave point with the ELN is its federation; the interlocution on a topic so complex as is the peace negotiation results very difficult, because it [the ELN] is atomized. I believe that those federated commanders of the ELN have to think in seriousness that this is not the country that motivated its creation in the 60s and 70s.” The ELN, which has proposed to include somehow representatives across the spectrum of society in the negotiations, says it is unified, with its own consensus-building, decision-making process, and that it has been the Colombian government trying to force things or not replying promptly that has caused delays to start formal peace talks, which the government denies.
What are frame-work topics planned for possible formal peace talks between the Colombian government and ELN? While this was apparently understood to be confidential by the Colombian government, the ELN’s Central Command (COCE) member “Antonio Garcia” revealed to Argentine media in 2015 that topics on the agenda are participation of society, democracy for peace, necessary transformations for peace, victims, end of armed conflict and ratification and implementation of accords.
A question would be if the FARC and ELN might see advantages in a possible scenario where the FARC signs an overall peace accord first and starts its reintegration into civilian society while the ELN is negotiating its own peace accord with the Colombian government (or not in negotiations). Why? It could perhaps be seen by the FARC as a sort of “insurance policy” that a Colombian government-FARC overall peace agreement is honored, and if not, the FARC would have an option (as remote as it may seem) of returning to its guerrilla operations, with assistance from the ELN. One of the ELN’s top combat commanders, “Pablito,” promoted to the COCE last year, has been cited as supposedly saying that the ELN could be “the active reserve” of the insurgency.
In line with such speculation, some wonder if the FARC could maybe even choose to store covertly some of its weapons with the ELN for such a possible contingency. The FARC and ELN have had some rough patches in their relationship over the decades—some of their respective units even reportedly exchanging gunfire on odd occasion—but both talk of fraternal revolutionary links between each other. Some may think that a downside for the ELN in this hypothesis would be that the ELN would face the brunt of Colombian military actions, if the FARC laid down its weapons and the ELN stayed fighting; but it appears that the ELN is already getting the brunt of military actions, given the FARC’s unilateral “indefinite” cease-fire.
There are already questions of whether or not the FARC, being in its unilateral cease-fires, has had or may have had some private tacit interaction with the ELN on ELN military actions, presumably to keep pressure on the Colombian government to continue to take the guerrilla groups seriously and to keep government troops distracted away from FARC areas. It wouldn’t be hard for guerrillas to take off their FARC armbands and temporarily put on ELN ones, or not to wear any identifying insignia at all, to carry out attacks, say military observers.
Former president/now Senator Alvaro Uribe, in a statement posted on his Centro Democratico opposition party website, said that in the southwestern department of Cauca “the citizenry complains that many members of the FARC break the law today with the uniform of the ELN, while in the south of Bolivar [department] it is also noted that the FARC has given the order that they break the law with the ELN uniform, and they are recruiting children in Montecristo and all that area.” The FARC denies this.