Oslo Press Conference Summary: Agrarian Reform and Unequivocal Denial

What started as a day for hope has quickly descended into farce. But we must stay positive and we must believe and strive for an achievable peace in Colombia.

While Colombian Government spokesman Humberto de la Calle approached the dialogue with restraint, humility and officiousness expected of an international delegate the same cannot be said of his opposite number, the FARC’s Ivan Marquez.

In a lengthy speech delving deep into political diatribe and statistics – bested only by President Chavez or Fidel Castro – Ivan Marquez effectively slashed any belief that the nation may have had in achieving a rapid and forgiving road to peace. A great deal will have to be reconciled in Cuba on November 5 when the parties meet again for the next round of talks.

Even Navarro Wolff himself a former guerrilla of the now disbanded EPL expressed some dismay when asked his opinion: “Preocupación, el discurso fue como el de Caguán,” in a reference to the failed peace talks of a decade ago.

What has most likely grated with the viewing public and Colombians in general was the outright denial by the FARC spokesperson to take any responsibility for any of the actions and crimes committed by his warring group.

What of the victims, what of those held in captivity, what of those at risk from landmines on a daily basis, what about the long suffering Colombian people? That was my knee jerk reaction to the press conference held this afternoon to open this second round of peace talks in Oslo.

And so, instead of filling us with a perhaps naïve hope for peace, Marquez has left us with nothing more than a speech of leftist doctrine that could perhaps have been scripted in the 1960s and delivered with aplomb to idealist European students downing cheap pints in the union bar. I can just imagine the Che Guevara poster on the wall.

Adriaan Alsema of Colombia Reports left his views clear on twitter: “I am offended by Ivan Marquez’ refusal to take responsibility for crimes committed by the FARC.”

But then, what really did we expect from this opening salvo before the cameras in Oslo? It was predictable that the FARC would use this rare opportunity under the bright lights of the mainstream international media and away from the dark loneliness of a YouTube video to tow their party line and issue a bold piece of propaganda. However, I am left feeling that if the FARC are permitted this then why aren’t the abhorrent legions of the “demobilized” yet functioning rank and file of the paramilitaries invited to join the soapbox as well, led by jailed leader Salvatore Mancuso?

The FARC have been honing their skills in the jungle in their use of social media, something about which I wrote a couple of weeks ago. And this opportunity in Oslo was little different.

With references to the great liberator of northern South America Simon Bolivar (himself no saint) and a predictable one to the FARC’s bugbear, the “oligarquía”, Ivan Marquez showed us that the FARC remain an anachronism in a modern Colombia and on an international platform.

There is no doubting that Colombia has unimaginable levels of inequality, can be accused of being a feudal society and requires extreme agrarian reform but weapons need to be laid down and communication needs to be clear.

Making references to the pollution created by mining, the need for fresh water sources, the existence of huge privately owned farms and the crimes committed by international firms just left the FARC looking out of touch and out of their league as all of these statements can be rebuffed by an educated public.

Retired Teniente Coronel Laureano Novoa Parra at a defense seminar in the Club Militar in Bogota at the beginning of October made reference to “huge farms owned by FARC leaders” and “that in some parts of the country illegal mining has become the most important source of income to the FARC.”

And Dr Ronald P Archer, a special advisor to the US military said at the same event: “the FARC have been some of the worst offenders against the environment when it comes to pollution. They have polluted the air and the water in the production of cocaine.”

This is not to say that we can paint the military as wholly innocent. There have been crimes on both sides, heinous crimes, but we were expecting a recognition of this fact from Ivan Marquez. After all, if these talks are going to lead us down the path to peace and then those involved are pardoned and forgiven, there must be at the very least an acknowledgement of crimes committed to enable the country to move forward. Instead we were subject to the excremental FARC propaganda machine in full flow decidedly short on modesty and rife in arrogance.

So when Ivan Marquez calls for clean accessible water sources to be made available to humble country folk, remember that it is his group placing landmines around said points to disrupt the local populace as much as possible. And when he condemns the nefarious activities of exploitative firms within Colombia, remember who it will fall to to create jobs and sewers and drainage and build schools in these zones. You may not agree with me, but this will be the outcome.

So, what do we take from this first public press conference? Not a great deal really. Those who watched the whole event were party to a polished and informed appearance by the Colombian Government and the FARC playing themselves.

The question remains, how can you negotiate with fervent “believers”.

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