Drug trafficking dampens Colombia, FARC peace talks
For the fourth time in three decades, the Colombian government is attempting to to reach a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC. But questions of the FARC's leadership's involvement in drug trafficking could spoil the talks.
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And then there is drug trafficking.Skip to next paragraph
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It fuels all of Colombia's illegal armed groups: the rightist militias, their successor gangs and the FARC itself.
Five of the six members of the FARC's ruling Secretariat, including Jimenez, are deemed major drug traffickers by the US State Department, which has $5 million bounties out for each of them.
It is not clear how Washington would deal with them if the conflict ends. Colombia's congress passed a law in June that sets a framework for amnesties and pardons for rebel leaders.
Police and soldiers in Colombia mixed up in the illegal drug trade aren't exempt from prosecution. Would FARC commanders get a waiver?
Pastrana, who served as Colombia's ambassador to Washington after his presidency, called drug trafficking "a very important element" of peace talks and said "it would be good to invite the United States as well into this process."
Washington is a close ally of Colombia, but Santos has already exhibited considerably more independence than Uribe.
The White House issued a statement Tuesday praising the preliminary accord as a "milestone" and asking the FARC to "take this opportunity to end its decades of terrorism and narcotics trafficking."
The accord was brokered by Norway and Cuba and they will "facilitate" the talks while Venezuela and Chile "accompany" them.
It remains unclear whether that means they will sit in on negotiations. The talks will be direct, with no international mediation, the senior Colombian official said.
Jimenez, better known as "Timochenko," acknowledged that a decade of intense military pressure, including the killings in raids of two top FARC leaders since Santos took office, had helped bring the rebels to the negotiating table.
It has lost roughly half its fighters in the past decade as Washington funneled an average of $700 million a year in mostly military aid to the government.
That has not prevented the FARC from stepping up hit-and-run attacks in recent months, targeting oil and coal installations in raids that have cost Santos politically.
But the insurgency has also suffered from increasingly more effective air attacks, thanks in part to sophisticated U.S. infrared and targeting systems fitted on its warplanes.
Santos stressed Tuesday that he will not cede an inch of territory: "Military operations will continue with the same or stepped-up intensity."
He also said the talks would not be open-ended,
"They will be measured in months, not in years," he said. "If there are not advances, we simply won't continue."
Some analysts say results will need to come quickly or Colombians will lose patience, especially if the violence does not abate.
"Santos is taking a huge political risk," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank. "It is still far from clear whether the FARC is serious this time."
Shifter believes the issue will consume the second half of Santos' four-year term.
Santos has yet to announce whether he will seek re-election.
Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera, Cesar Garcia and Libardo Cardona contributed to this report.
Frank Bajak is the AP's Chief of Andean News. He has covered the Colombian conflict for more than a decade. Frank Bajak on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fbajak