New Front in the War on Terror?

The Colombian government’s unfulfilled efforts to negotiate a peace settlement appear to be at a defining crossroads in the wake of the Bush administration’s decision to target Colombian guerrilla and paramilitary forces in its war on terrorism. “After President George W. Bush’s...speech to announce the start of the new crusade against terrorism, no one was left with any doubt that this would have consequences in Colombia. But few thought they would be felt so quickly,” said Semana (Oct. 30).

“There is no possibility of American troops fighting the guerrillas on Colombian soil; thus, intervention will not be direct,” Semana said. “The first concrete effect is that Plan Colombia will be utilized in the battle against the guerrillas,” emphatically underscored when U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson “erased at a stroke the distinction made until now between the struggle against drug trafficking and the struggle against the insurgency.” At the same time, Semana noted, Patterson’s call for the government of President Andrés Pastrana to crack down on guerrilla use of the current safe-haven zone as a “base for terrorist acts” appears likely to narrow his margin of maneuver in ongoing negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Francisco Santos, writing in El Tiempo (Nov. 4), argued that apparent U.S. success in pressuring the Irish Republican Army to lay down its arms does not guarantee a similar outcome in Colombia. Santos stressed that “the FARC at no time has touched on the subject of destroying arms, and the government, in an effort to keep them at the table, has not pressured them to do so.” Moreover, he added, the FARC’s political objectives appear subordinate to “exclusive reliance on the power of arms and of drug trafficking.” Most disturbing is the failure of both the guerrillas and the government to define a clear vision of “what kind of country we both desire,” which would make “the means to achieve it easier to clarify.”

Political analyst and professor Jairo Libreros observed in Semana (Nov. 3) that “diverse sectors of public opinion have interpreted the American military offensive against terrorism as the model for Colombia to follow unless the FARC gives credible evidence of its genuine interest in politically negotiating the longed-for national reconciliation.”

Looking ahead to the presidential succession in August 2002, Libreros cautioned that failure to reach agreement on terms for a cease-fire, demobilization, and disarmament would leave the incoming administration faced with the stark prospect of “escalation in the conflict to dimensions completely unknown for the country.” The worst-case scenario, he added, would be an interminable civil war without hope of resolution, raising “the...specter that haunts Colombian political life..., the more things change, the more they stay the same.”