A Negotiated Political Solution Is Necessary to End the Conflict
To Reduce the Risk of Regional Conflict
In Colombia a significant internal conflict brings tragic humanitarian consequences. There is no military solution; a politically negotiated solution is essential. This is the principal thesis of the liberal Senator Piedad Cordoba, 55, a key mediator in freeing prisoners from the guerrillas and one of the major critics of Alvaro Uribe Velez during his last eight years in power.
A few weeks before the coming presidential elections of May thirtieth, Cordoba , who is making a Tour for Peace through a half-dozen European countries, analyzes the harsh reality of the internal Colombian conflict. She advocates immediate political action by her government as well as by the international community to reverse the profound humanitarian crisis which affects the South American country.
Q: In this second week of April, you have just begin a European tour which you had postponed for some time. What is the purpose of your trip?
A: The international community needs to recognize that there is a serious armed conflict in Colombia. We are concerned about the short-sighted self-interest of many countries who are motivated by their economic interests and those of their transnational companies and are blind to the reality of life in my country. In this sense, we are here once again to speak of the grave humanitarian crisis that we confront today. And to emphasize the necessity of a politically negotiated solution for Colombia. We also want to share information about the work that we are doing with Colombians for Peace, promoting humanitarian exchanges, and to establish committees in each country. And to launch the project Europeans for Peace in Colombia. We also want to introduce our initiative, begun with the cooperation of the former President Ernesto Samper, of the Coordinating Committee for Humanitarian Exchange. In short, we want to encourage the international community to act in support of negotiations in my country. Right at the moment when Uribe is closing the door on exchanges.
Q: But government officials reiterate their willingness to negotiate. . .
A: That's just rhetoric. It doesn't correspond to any real action. For example, the FARC has been proposing an arrangement for a prisoner exchange for two years. That the last unilateral release, at the end of March, was delayed almost a year is mainly the government's fault. They're putting their money on a military solution.
"The Democratic Security Doctrine"
Q: You refer to the democratic security concept that President Uribe has promoted all during his administration. And that he assures us has brought about evident successes.
A: As an example of their great success, the government points to Operation Jaque (NDR: Ingrid Betancourt's release in July of 2008), and the military operation that included the invasion of Ecuador (NDR: in March of 2008)and that killed Raul Reyes, the head of FARC. But if we compare these examples with almost five million displaced persons in Colombia or with five thousand "false positive" cases - innocent civilians assassinated and then falsely identified as guerillas killed in combat - , or the two hundred thousand disappeared in the last decade (reported by the last public prosecutor), we come to the conclusion that democratic security is a complete and utter failure. Not to speak of the ten percent of the national budget that goes to the military.
Q: If we weigh the results - more negative than positive?
A: Aribe's promotion of a preemptive war policy (which originated in the United States) seemed impressive and convincing at first. But behind this policy there was nothing but the strategy of territorial control - benefitting the big military and economic interests. That strategy permitted the government to condemn as terrorists anyone who didn't support it. I am even accused of being a terrorist in my own country. I have never taken up arms. I have never been a member of any armed organization and I do belong to a legal political party. We could speak of effects of this humanitarian crisis that the official strategy has produced: the discovery of two thousand people buried in a mass grave in Macarena. . . Another sensitive topic that the international community is hardly aware of is the situation in the prisons: tortures, illegal detention... Not to speak of revelations by paramilitary leaders of crematory ovens where they disposed of the bodies of political adversaries. In addition if you want to weigh the results, you have to keep in mind the current social situation.
Q: What do you mean by the current social situation?
A: Uribe Velez leaves eighteen million poor, eight million destitute and an official unemployment rate of 16%. None of this could be considered a positive result of the democratic security policy.
No More Unilateral Action
Q: The last unilateral prisoner release at the end of March by the FARC - does that give you hope for some more significant humanitarian exchange before the end of Uribe's term in August?
A: It's hard to say. The exchange is a very important aspect of a war. And we agree on the principal that the freed guerrillas will not rejoin the rebel forces. In addition, there are still details to be worked out with the FARC as well as with the Colombian people. What is certain is that neither the FARC, nor we, as mediators, are going to work on new proposals for a unilateral exchange. It would be much better if we could make progress on this important issue before Uribe finishes his term. To leave it until after the election, considering that the candidates don't even want to touch that topic, would be to shelve the whole business.
Repeat the Legislative Elections
Q: Since we're talking about elections. . . How do you see the March legislative elections in which you were re-elected as a national senator?
A: There were so many irregularities, corruption, vote buying. . . that although I myself was easily reelected, much to my surprise, considering the government's personal attacks against me during the campaign, I would like to do the elections over. We hadn't seen such a fraudulent election in years in Colombia. One basic human right was violated: to elect and be elected.
Q: What do you foresee in the presidential elections of May 30?
A: I don't see any big changes. Especially when the candidate with the best chance of winning, according to the polls, is the former minister of defense of the current government, the one responsible for false positives and for so many serious human rights violations. If this trend continues, the failed policy of democratic security will widen.
International Solidarity, No Charity
Q: I would like to finish where we began. . . What concrete measures do you expect from the international community?
A: No charity. Just support in the search for negotiated solutions. Commitment, responsibility, solidarity with a country experiencing a bloody war. Please understand that Colombia is turning into a spearhead to destabilize other countries in the region and through negotiated solutions we can avoid sinking into a regional conflict. And three essential points in summary: commitment to an end to the humanitarian crisis in which we live; understanding that the paramilitary is always a force; that extra-judicial assassinations must end and the persecution of human rights defenders and social, community and student leaders must also end. Finally, monitoring of and hands-on social assistance for political,community and social prisoners.