Almost exactly a decade after peace talks collapsed, the commander-in-chief of Colombia's FARC rebels has reached out to the president and suggested that negotiations pick up again where they left off.
The head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry, alias "Timochenko," made the offer in an open letter to President Juan Manuel Santos, published on the guerrilla-friendly website Anncol. The letter was entitled "Without lies, Santos, without lies."
In February 2002, then-President Andres Pastrana ended peace negotiations with the FARC, and invaded the 42,000 km sq safe haven he had granted the rebels as the venue for talks. Negotiations continued for three years, with not one concrete result. Timochenko in his letter suggested that the agenda established during those talks be picked up once again.
The tone of the letter was hardly conciliatory:
We will always refuse to accept the imposition of absolute truths. Our destiny is to recover what belongs to us. We proclaim our truth: this conflict will have no solution while our voices are not heard.
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Timochenko has a reputation of being a hardliner within the FARC, and was seen as one of the commanders least disposed to open dialogue with the government. So this letter can be interpreted in one of two ways. The first is that the defeats the FARC have suffered over the last decade have shown the rebels that they cannot seize power, and placed their very survival in question, forcing them to negotiate now while they still have something to offer.
The second interpretation could be that Timochenko wants dialogue in order to raise the profile of the group, gain some political traction, and use any peace talks to rebuild military strength. This is a tactic the guerrillas used to great effect during not only the Pastrana peace process (1999-2002), but the two previous efforts, with Presidents Cesar Gaviria and Belisario Betancur.
The rebels must also have been reading between the lines of the government's statements, and seen that Santos has left the door very much ajar for peace talks, demanding primarily the release of all kidnap victims as a precondition for talks. In December, the FARC promised to release six military hostages they still hold. Their liberation could be seen as the first gesture of peace by the rebels, and allow dialogue to begin.