Why Colombia’s peace talks are likely to fail

It is very unlikely that the peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC narcoguerrillas will come to a good end. It is even possible that they’re not a good idea.

And the reason is simple: The Colombian government is not sitting at the negotiation table with a group of violent patriots who have resorted to crime and lawbreaking to achieve a political objective.

That was the case with the Irish IRA, the Basque ETA, even the Colombian M-19 and the Israeli Irgun, which included among its members Menachem Begin, who, in addition to being a notable prime minister of Israel, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. The FARC are something else.

The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), which half a century ago began its activities as the armed wing of the Communist Party — dreaming of creating in Colombia a society similar to the one advocated by the Soviet Union — along the way began financing themselves through drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion, edging out the original political project to the point that the means replaced the ends.

They simply became a huge machine devoted to crime, more closely resembling the drug cartels than the violent revolutionary organizations.

If this is so, why did the FARC narcoguerrillas agree to participate in peace negotiations?

• The most widespread theory is that the attacks by the Colombian military, part of President Alvaro Uribe’s strategy, had hurt them seriously and they feared being liquidated, as happened to Raúl Reyes, Mono Jojoy and Alfonso Cano, three of the most important military chiefs, gunned down by government planes.

• Another probability is that they thought, following the example of the Vietnamese in the 1970s, that negotiating with the enemy while continuing to fight would weaken the adversary’s willingness to struggle until it totally demoralized him.

If that was the reasoning, a dialogue is a tactic of war more than a change in strategy, which would explain the arrogant and triumphalist attitude with which they’ve sat at the table.

• A third motivation, compatible with the two previous ones, is the triumph of Hugo Chávez’s vision of power seizure: to gain government via the electoral process, although, as happened in El Salvador, in the first phase they backed an independent candidate who was informally committed to the narcoguerrillas.

Supported by the huge revenues produced by drug trafficking and the fabulous aid that Chávez can provide, it is not outrageous to think that the FARC, hiding behind another acronym, believe in entering Nariño House, Colombia’s residential building, victoriously and peacefully.

Nor is it a mistake to assume that that’s exactly the advice given them by Cuba’s Raúl Castro, who by this time has grown disillusioned by all the wars launched by his brother, wars that Raúl supported in his turbulent youth.

As important as the “why” the narcoguerrillas are sitting down to talk is the “wherefore” an organization devoted to crime takes that step and tries to reach power through other means.

In my opinion, the only rational explanation is the intention to turn Colombia into a narco-state, to a much greater degree than what Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega did in Panama in the 1980s, or some Haitian generals in their impoverished country, in the early 1990s.

That scenario is no fantasy. Why run a vast drug-trafficking operation from hideouts in the jungle when it can be run comfortably from government house? Aren’t there Venezuelan narcogenerals who will try to retain power when President Chávez dies from the grave cancer that afflicts him? What power could oppose an alliance between two narco-states the size and importance of Colombia and Venezuela?

And if that scenario is wrong, what is the right analysis of the peace talks? Should we believe that those hardened narco-guerrillas, fearful of defeat, are willing to disarm for the sole purpose of integrating into Colombia’s public life or civilian society in exchange for impunity for the crimes they’ve committed?

Frankly, I don’t believe so. That’s not the way criminal organizations act.

Carlos Alberto Montaner, a former university professor, he is an acclaimed writer and journalist.

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