Wikileaks: US Attempted Dialogue with FARC

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Spanish newspaper El Pais published five U.S. government cables describing a series of meetings between top government officials, including President Alvaro Uribe, concerning peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The cables, obtained by El Pais, describe the pre-negotiations stalemate facing the government and the FARC. The first cable is dated shortly after “Operation Checkmate,” in which the military dealt one of its biggest blows against the FARC with the rescue of 14 hostages.

In the cable, Peace Comissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo describes the obstacles to a negotiated settlement, citing the stubborn political views of top FARC commander Guillermo León Saénz Vargas, alias “Alfonso Cano.”

A later cable describes a meeting between President Uribe and numerous officials, including Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, during which Uribe says peace dialogue is impossible so long as the FARC have bases in Venezuela. Other cables describe efforts by Peace Comissioner Frank Pearl to bring the FARC and ELN back to the negotiating table, including one attempt to organize a meeting in Sweden. The contentious role of ex-senator Piedad Cordoba as an intermediary for the FARC is also highlighted.

Highlights from the cable dated July 16, 2008:

4. (C) Restrepo said Cano remains isolated, and has little 
support from, or contact with, other members of the 
Secretariat. The isolation creates opportunities that the 
GOC may be able to exploit, especially if military pressure 
can further break FARC command and control systems. The GOC 
is prepared to offer Cano and other FARC leaders a 
“dignified” way out of the armed struggle, but does not want 
to fall into the trap of allowing the FARC to use peace talks 
to rebuild its military capacity. Restrepo said a major 
obstacle to a successful peace process is Cano’s continued 
commitment to a “Leninist” approach to politics.

Highlights from the cable dated May 26, 2009:

3. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX said there is nothing humanitarian about the
FARC’s recent hostage releases. The FARC released the 
hostages to regain some political visibility and relieve 
itself of the economic and security costs incurred in holding 
them. Several FARC commanders have openly complained to 
XXXXXXXXXXXX that the hostages are a growing burden due to 
Colombian military pressure. He said the FARC Secretariat 
realizes that Uribe will never agree to a humanitarian 
accord, but wants to continue with the releases to maximize 
the political impact. Still, he felt the FARC will not free 
any more hostages unilaterally unless Uribe reverses his 
current stance and allows Senator Piedad Cordoba to 
participate.

Highlights from the cable dated January 7, 2010:

3. (S/NF) From the FARC, Pearl had seen little interest in 
initiating peace talks. FARC Supreme Leader Alfonso Cano was still 
consolidating his authority and proving his mettle as a military
commander. It would have been impossible for Cano, he surmised, to 
have broached peace talks so soon after taking the reins of the 
FARC in May 2008. Still, Pearl noted that the deaths of three 
Secretariat members in 2008 had resulted in replacements that were 
more educated, intellectual, and aware of the international context 
of the conflict. This, coupled with an analysis of recent FARC 
communiques, suggested that the organization was open to a 
political solution to the conflict.

Highlights from the cable dated February 9, 2010:

6. (C) Uribe concluded that the FARC and ELN’s willingness to talk 
were hampered by the fountain of wealth from narco-trafficking 
(which makes them self-sufficient, unlike the past conflict in El 
Salvador) and the prospect of safe haven in Venezuela. Uribe said 
Chavez’ support of the guerrillas had frustrated further GOC 
military progress against them. The President accepted that U.S.
security assistance had decreased in recent years, but urged the
United States not to back down in what was a “winnable battle.” 
Deputy Steinberg reassured Uribe that U.S. counter-narcotics 
efforts would remain a core element of assistance, noting that it 
was essential to address Colombia’s broader problems.

Highlights from the cable dated February 11, 2010: 

1. (S/NF) Summary: Swedish intermediaries have reportedly arranged 
for a meeting in Sweden between representatives of the Government 
of Colombia (GOC) and representatives of the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia (FARC). Separately, negotiations proceeded for 
the humanitarian release of two military prisoners held by the 
FARC. The GOC and other observers believe opposition Senator 
Piedad Cordoba engineered delays in the release to maximize impact 
before the March 14 congressional elections. The National 
Liberation Army (ELN) also responded positively to a request for a 
meeting, likely in Colombia, to discuss possible peace talks.

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