Manuel Santos was sworn in this summer as Columbia's new president. His tenure is likely to have profound significance for the future of all of Latin America, because his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, was a polarizing figure who had fought with Colombia's neighbors and had taken a hard line against a negotiated solution to the country's long-running civil war. Even though Santos had been minister of defense under Uribe, his early actions, such as extending an olive branch to neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela, seemed promising.
But the Colombian Inspector General, Alejandro Ordoñez, announced on Monday that a major opposition leader, Senator Piedad Cordoba Ruiz of the Liberal Party, has been declared guilty of "relations with the FARC" (the larger of two main left wing guerrilla organizations), threatening national unity and treason, among other things. Pending appeal and a final decision by the Council of State, Cordoba was removed from her Senate seat and forbidden from holding public office for 18 years.
FARC is the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Senator Piedad is an Afro-Colombian who has been a leader of movements for women's, minorities' and workers' rights. In recent years, she has been an outspoken voice for a negotiated peace with the guerrillas. She has also been instrumental in negotiations with the FARC that have resulted in the freeing of 14 hostages the FARC had been holding, possibly saving them from an early death due to the harsh prison conditions. For her pains, she has been demonized, kidnapped and exiled at various points. She has also been suggested as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The civil war between the Colombian state and the guerrilla armies of the FARC and a smaller group, the ELN (National Liberation Army, by its Spanish initials) has deep roots in Colombian history, going back at least to the 1940s. At various times there have been efforts to find a peaceful solution. In the 1980s, an effort to channel the left's grievances into an electoral program broke up in disorder as the right-wing paramilitaries and Pablo Escobar's drug mafias massacred thousands of left political candidates and labor and mass leaders. Again, at the end of the 1990s, there was an effort to find a negotiated solution, but that broke down partly because of the impending massive U.S. intervention through George W. Bush's "Plan Colombia."
In 2008, the Colombian military raided a FARC camp in the Ecuadorian jungle. The military killed Raul Reyes (a pseudonym for Luis Devia), a major FARC leader, and captured computer hard drives. Since then, Colombian authorities have been claiming that a wide range of people in Colombia and far beyond are recorded in the hard drive as having "relations" with the FARC. This has become a major right-wing tactic in today's Latin America.
The accusations against Senator Cordoba originate partly with this "magic computer." Even though Cordoba had been authorized to be in communication with the FARC as part of her effort to free hostages, Ordoñez claims that she went far beyond the authorized role and "flirted" guerilla leaders, giving them advice regarding the negotiation process. Things she has said openly at meetings in Mexico and Europe, including calling for left-led countries in Latin America to break relations with Uribe's government because of its ghastly human rights record, were deemed seditious by Ordoñez,.
Interviewed by TELESUR, Cordoba accused the Inspector General of attempting a "criminalization of the struggle for peace, for human rights, for the humanization of conflicts and for the freeing of hostages."
As of now, there is no sign that the Obama administration and the Clinton State Department are going to break from the Bush policy of helping the Colombian government to achieve full military victory by funneling huge amounts of U.S. resources to it.
On Friday, President Obama met Colombian President Santos at the U.N. and congratulated him for the killing of FARC commander Victor Julio Suarez-Rojas, alias Mono Jojoy. The Colombian military says that they captured more computers in this attack, and they are analyzing them to see what more information can be gleaned about the FARC's networks in Colombia and beyond.
Human rights groups in the United States and beyond are not giving up the effort to change U.S. policy toward support for peaceful negotiations. The church-based Latin American Working Group is among many U.S. organizations that are educating public opinion and lobbying Congress to change U.S. Colombia policy. The School of the Americas Watch and others are also working for such policy changes.
Image: Senator Cordoba http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Piedad-Cordoba.jpg#file