FARC leader Cano says US military presence is “an indignity”
[Translation of an article from La Jornada of Mexico City for July 31.]
Bogotá, July 30 – In a 30-minute video posted Friday on its web site, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the oldest guerrilla force in the country, has proposed to President-elect Juan Manuel Santos that a dialogue be initiated to seek a political solution to the internal armed conflict.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced last night that his country has deployed military units on the border in response to “a threat of war” by Colombia because outgoing President Álvaro Uribe is “capable of anything.”
“What we are proposing, once again, is that we talk. We are still determined to seek political solutions. We are hoping for the new government to reflect and not to deceive the country any longer,” said Guillermo Sáenz, known as Alfonso Cano, leader of the insurgency, in a video recorded in July in the Colombian mountains.
Cano, at the head of the FARC general staff since May, 2008, when founder and historical leader Manuel Marulanda, knicknamed “Tirofijo,” died of natural causes,
proposed a debate on the military agreement with the United States that authorizes troops from that country to operate at seven bases in Colombian territory.
“We have to talk. Let’s talk about the indignity represented by having seven bases with United States military forces in Colombia. We have to deal with that point,” Cano warned in the recording. He also rejected the notion that FARC is close to “the end of the end,” as the army asserts, claiming his men continue “with high morale to struggle”
for social justice in Colombia.
He proposed to deal with the subjects of human right, international humanitarian law, “prisoners of war,” land ownership, environmental balance and political and economic models, and insisted that the solution lies in dialogue, political proposals and diplomacy, since he is convinced that Colombia can “close the doors to war.”
In the three-part video distributed by the magazine Resistencia, which has a web site and which the Colombian ministry of defense says is an organ of the guerrilla force, Cano declared that FARC has been asking for dialogue since its founding in 1964. Al Jazeera television also broadcast a portion of the recording.
The rebel leader, who appears in the video in a dark-colored long-sleeved sweat shirt, launched out with strong criticism of Uribe and his successor, Santos. During his eight years in office, Uribe has refused any dialogue with FARC but has demanded they lay down their arms and release all hostages.
Santos, who takes office on August 7 for a four-year term, was Uribe’s minister of defense, and from that position advocated the strongest of measures against FARC. His ministerial associates have promised to continue the offensive against the guerrillas.
Among Santos’offensives against the guerrillas were the rescue in 2008 of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three US citizens and 11 police officers and, in the same year, the bombing of a FARC encampment in Ecuador, in which the second-in- command of the group, Raúl Reyes, was killed, which brought about the breaking of relation with Quito.
The recorded communiqué come to light a week after Venezuela broke ties with Colombia after the Uribe government had accused Chávez of allowing the presence of some 1,500 FARC and Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) guerrillas in his territory.
During a meeting in Ecuador the day before between the foreign ministers of the 12 member nations of the Unión de Naciones Sudamericanas (Unasur), there was no consensus on the Colombian-Venezuelan diplomatic crisis. But Uribe had previously warned that in the meeting his government would reject any Venezuelan plan for negotiations with FARC and ELN.
In Caracas, Chávez declared that “we have deployed military units — air, infantry — but quietly because we do not want to disturb anyone in the population.” He declined to offer details on the number of troops involved.
“Uribe is capable of anything in these last days left to him. This has turned into a threat of war and we do not want war,” the president added in a telephone conversation with VTV, the state television network
The Venezuelan foreign minister, Nicolás Maduro, stated that at his insistence his Colombian couterpart, Jaime Bermúdez, made a commitment that Uribe, who finishes his term next Saturday, will not attack Venezuela. “We hope the pledge is kept and the winds of war from Colombia will dissipate,” he said.
He indicated that his country “has analyzed” the data released by Bogotá in its claim of guerrilla presence on Venezuelan soil and will release a report soon, which will be added to his proposal that the Colombian government take up a dialogue with the insurgents.
Bermúdez regretted that in the Unasur meeting no consensus was reached to overcome the diplomatic crisis between the two countries, for which he blamed the Venezuelan minister.
According to Bermúdez, a statement favoring establishment of a verification mechanism was supported initially by the ministers but Venezuela withdrew its support after Maduro consulted with Caracas. He affirmed that this is very serious because an effective mechanism was being sought for cooperation and for avoiding the presence of FARC and ELN in Venezuela.
The Colombian foreign minister added that no date has yet been set for a meeting of the Unasur heads of state, which Ecuador proposed, but he was sure the subject will be taken up by the new president, Juan Manuel Santos.
The Venezuelan minister stated that no solution is possible with Uribe in place and that Caracas is waiting for Santos to take office before attempting an approach.
In Brasilia, it was reported that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva spoke by telephone with Santos today in an attempt to “prepare the ground” for overcoming the crisis. To date, Santos has still not made a statement concerning the conflict.