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Miércoles Agosto 05, 2020

Juan Manuel Santos has insisted he is ready to walk away from the table at any time as a way to appease those who do not believe that negotiations with the FARC will lead to its abandonment of weapons. However, it has not managed to encourage the belief that the talks are on the right track.

Foto: César Carrión - SIG

The double discourse of the Government against the peace process launches a collection account to the popularity of Santos, which remains in free fall.

According to the Gallup poll conducted by telephone in five major cities, the unfavorable image of Santos reached 47 percent against 44 percent who have a positive image of him. This is the first time, according to this survey, in which his unfavorable image exceeds the favorable, this, being the worst nightmare of any politician.

His popularity is at such low point, even lower than the debacle of the reform of Justice in June of last year, that so far it has been its worst crisis. Since december, when the latest Gallup poll took place, Santos lost 11 points in popularity and the rejection was increased by nine points, which doubles the margin of error for this survey.

The dissatisfaction of the Colombians with the management that the Government is giving the guerrillas also reached its highest point in five years. This is reflected both in the management of law and order, which would be once again the number one concern of Colombians, as well as the handling of the peace process.

The percentage of Colombians who do not believe that the Havana negotiations will lead to a peace agreement that ends the conflict was increased by eight points.

"Undoubtedly during these two months the peace process did not have a positive dynamic in the eyes of the public opinion, which ended up affecting significantly the optimism, the ‘how’ things are going in the country and the favorability of President Juan Manuel Santos", said Jorge Londoño, President of Gallup to the newspaper El Tiempo.

Reality vs. Perception

The pessimism of Colombians against the peace process does not correspond with the reality of the negotiating table, if one believes the declarations that the guerrilla chief Iván Márquez gave María Jimena Duzán, of Semana.

Negotiators from the Government and the FARC gather in the morning to discuss, and as they reach each agreement, it is stated in a single text, such as diplomatic agreements are drafted.

La Silla confirmed with the Government and in fact, they have already filled with the FARC more than three pages with the preliminary agreements they have mutually agreed on the first point about the integrated rural development.

Although this text may undergo several modifications over the coming months, the fact that already  sufficient agreements have filled three pages as Marquez has told, means that the negotiation is far from being "swamped".

Actually, this negotiation has gone further than ever reached in El Caguan.

Reasons to have faith in it

In El Caguan, after two years, they continued arguing about the agenda negotiation. In this process, in the exploratory phase that lasted almost two years, the Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo and 'the doctor' of the FARC, stipulated a Framework Agreement which delineates the negotiation to four thick and negotiable points within a reasonable period: integrated rural development, political participation, victims, and solving the drug problem..

Para ver más grandes las imágenes de la encuesta de Gallup haga click en cada una de ellas.

In El Caguán and in previous negotiations was never in writing that the objective of the process would be to lay down their weapons. As it was recounted in a recent interview with La Silla by Carlos Lozano, when the Commission of Notables integrated by delegates of the Government of Pastrana and FARC suggested that this should be a point of negotiation the guerrillas kicked a big fuss. On the other hand, this Agreement leaves in writing and explicitly that the goal of the process is to put an end to the armed conflict as a condition for building peace and one of the points is the surrender of weapons.

International conditions were not as favorable to one negotiation: the late Hugo Chavez, who was the most influential person on the FARC, had driven them so they bet on the ballot as a more effective way to advance his Bolivarian Revolution; Barack Obama has modified the approach against the "war" against terrorism and drugs, which gives more leeway to the government to negotiate.

The Plan Colombia, which has funded a significant portion of the country's military capacity, is in its final stage, which the Establishment would have to pay several more estate taxes to try to defeat the FARC militarily. The FARC failed to get the surface-to-air missiles that would have allowed them to counteract the military superiority of the Armed Forces. Both sides know that in order to beat the other the sacrifice in lives and cost would be too high.

For the first time in many years the political interests of the government and the FARC agree. Santos and Unidad Nacional need the process to work to stay in power. The FARC need the process to work if they want the left, represented in the patriotic march, to have any political future. The experiences of Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Nicaragua are a striking example that the left can reach power and exercise it.

Why, then, if there are many indications to believe that this process has any future, Colombians have been losing faith? The answer is simple, because no one in the government defends it.

The ambiguity of the message

By the confidentiality that entails any peace process to be successful, and by the same structure of the process, whose principle is that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", communicating the agreements that are to be taking place in Havana is not easy because none is final until peace is signed..

The government has not wanted to generate a lot of expectations with this process until enough progress is reached to reduce the political cost of a possible failure. They may also think that if they boast too much they may become a hostage of the FARC and that changes the power relationship on the table.

Then, the communication strategy has been to say the least. Humberto de la Calle and Sergio Jaramillo never give a statement and their grim faces in Havana do not convey much optimism. And President Santos is ambiguous in his messages.

Perhaps as Uribe does not believe in negotiation and Santos believes above all in Uribe, President strives to publicly play down importance to the process. Sometimes he says "they tell him" that is progressing but what most frequently he insists is that he is prepared to "leave the table" at the slightest problem. The message is that nothing is lost if the negotiation fails. It is a message that, judging by the results of this survey, Colombians have internalized.

Three out of four Colombians believe, according to Gallup, it is possible to defeat the FARC militarily. It’s the message sent daily by the generals and Defense Minister, who has hitherto been the real spokesperson on the peace process.

As television and radio journalists are accustomed to seeking a 'balance' in their notes, each time they have a 'full' from the guerrillas in Cuba saying anything (daily), reporters are looking to counter that statement with one of the military or Juan Carlos Pinzón, whose role - as this is obvious – is to play the 'bad' policeman. The problem is that nobody in the government is playing the 'good' cop.

Ghosts vs. gestures

There are a thousand reasons to be wary of the FARC. They took advantage of the demilitarized zone of El Caguán to strengthen militarily, to intensify their recruitment and retrain. In fact, as La Silla reported, the Farc continue to recruit young people.

There are also reasons for the guerrillas' distrust of the Establishment. Not only the extermination of the Unión Patriótica weighs like a ghost on the negotiation, but while president Pastrana spoke of peace with them, he was negotiating with the gringos Plan Colombia to exterminate them. In fact, the military forces continue to increase their number of soldiers.

But there are also reasons to have a bit of faith in this negotiation. The FARC agreed to put an end to kidnapping for ransom and returned the police officers who were kidnapped recently. They continued negotiating in spite of Santos authorization to kill Alfonso Cano, their maximum Commander and who was already in talks with the Government. They stopped insisting on negotiating the economic model and discuss mining. They made a unilateral ceasefire which was largely abided by all their fronts.

The Government, for its part, is committed to reparations for victims. It presented an Anti-Drug Statute which would legalize illicit crops in some regions. As El Tiempo recounted in a complete note this weekend, the government is already working on the creation of a land bank and in updating the rural land register which are fundamental for agricultural development programs that are being negotiated in Havana. It was hard work to pass the Framework for Peace, which opened the door so that the guerrillas can possibly do politics.

It is true that the peace process can fail at any time. It is sufficient that the Teófilo Forero Column of the FARC, make another attack like that of the Club El Nogal or that the extreme right decides to boycott it by holding the FARC guilty of a terrorist attack. Also the most difficult part is missing. Passing the statutory law of the Framework for Peace will be a feat policy for the Government and even more if it does not make it in the next semester.

Any lenient legal treatment for the guerrillas will be a political hara-kiri if done at election time: the Gallup shows that 79 percent of respondents strongly disagree with the FARC members once they have laid down their arms, to participate in politics without paying prison time.

The discussion point on victims will further polarize the country. Already in the interview Marquez accepts that he "will give victims a face", which is an improvement over his Oslo speech in which they categorically denied being victimizers. But he says they want to "address the subject in all its dimensions."

In other words-and this was also explicit in the Framework Agreement, they want to tell the truth about the paramilitaries. And the defense of the government of Colombia before the Inter-American Court in the case of the Palace of Justice, in which the agent of State Rafael Nieto denied that there had been missing persons, is just a tiny sample of the difficulties that the military will have to recognize the truth.

Finally, the tough part has not yet begun. In the end, the country will have the opportunity to decide if it wants and can swallow the toads necessarily implied in this negotiation because the Framework Agreement also provides a mechanism for a popular countersignature of the agreements.

What would be a real shame is that the process would be thrown overboard just when it is advancing, because the President could not -not even tried - convey to the Colombians the faith that he feels that this process can lead to the end of the armed conflict with the FARC.

 

 

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