FARC negotiator makes long journey for peace
Teresa Bo reports from across Latin America for Al Jazeera.
Getting to Havana was not an easy task for Andres Paris, a FARC commander.
He was hiding in the jungle in Colombia and made it to Cuba with the help of countries like Venezuela and Norway.
The other FARC negotiators went through a similar experience. Some of them are wanted men and have arrest warrants not only by the Colombian government but also the US and Interpol.
The guerrillas were picked up by helicopters in the jungle and with the help of a security operation brought to Cuba.
Here in Cuba they are safe and planning their trip to Oslo where the negotiations will start.
Paris has been a member of the FARC for over 30 years and he says that this time the peace process is different.
“It was a long process of discussions, agreements and disagreements but we are positive that this time we will see some type of solution. The government says that no concessions will be made but we will have to decide who gets what once the next stage starts,” Paris told me in Havana.
The ceremony in Oslo will be symbolic and then the peace negotiations will move to Cuba.
“We are open to a ceasefire but not a unilateral one. At a table there are two forces that are supposedly equal. We are open to discussing a bilateral ceasefire in which a ceasefire does not mean our defeat. It will have to be a ceasefire that that allows and encourages a political climate.”
The Colombian president has rejected the idea of a ceasefire during the talks.
That’s just one of the many difficult issues to be discussed. Another is what to do with those accused of committing crimes and human rights abuses.
“It is ridiculous to think that a successful guerrilla movement that moves through the jungle is going to end in prison. This is what happened with other processes like with paramilitaries. We are an insurgent force, guerrillas and as such a peace process should be built around laws that will allow guerrillas to go back to politics,” Paris said.
But the FARC is also accused of deep involvement in the lucrative drugs trade – another difficult issue to sort out if the group is going play a role in mainstream politics.
“Lots of people are talking about fighting drug trafficking with legalisation. This means lowering the costs of production. There are alternative ways to violence and repression to finish the business,” he said.
“Using violence to fight drug trafficking increases the price of the product in the United States and increase the profits of the groups involved. Let’s legalise it and it will stop being a profiting business.”
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos has already said he wants a proper international debate about the idea of decriminalisation – something the US has always rejected.
But whatever the obstacles, this FARC leader told us his group he is traveling to Oslo committed to finding a peaceful solution to the 50-year long conflict.
“All armed sectors have to be disarmed, not only the FARC. Weapons are not the only problem. The important thing is to modify the will that exists in Colombia for war,” he said.
“We can transform ourselves. We have repeated constantly that the seeing of a guerrilla group with their weapons entering a door and leaving with civilian clothes and with an empty bag is not going to happen in Colombia. But they can see a process of transformation of an insurgency into a social and political movement that is booming.”
Paris and the other members of the FARC are living in a safe house in Havana and say they do not want to hurry the peace process.
The peace talks in Cuba are going to be the second phase of the whole process. The government wants it to last six months, but the FARC believes it’s going to be longer.
Paris says that the FARC has always battled inequality and they’ll continue to do that.
If the peace process moves forward it will be through politics. If not, he said, we will see you in the jungle once again.