Understanding the Colombian riddle

Peace looks even more distant following capture of army general.


    BOGOTA – Colombia is a country where the truth – or as close as you can get to it - often lies in a murky gray area somewhere in the middle of two or three interpretations of the same set of facts. Very little is as it seems at first glance.

    The capture of the Army General Ruben Alzate, civilian lawyer Gloria Urrego, and Captain Jorge Contreres by the Farc rebels has turned into a high stakes chess match between two powerful interests with everything to lose. The much hyped Havana peace talks teetering on the precipice of a cliff.

    Now both sides seeing the same set of facts, coming up with different interpretations, blaming each other for the fallout.

    The view from the Farc: The Colombian government failed to agree to a ceasefire during the peace talks, so capturing a military man in a conflict zone is a normal act of war. We’re playing this war game by your rules, so tough luck, they say.

    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos rejected a ceasefire because he says doing so would only give the rebels space to re-group while the peace talks wind on month-by-month, year-by-year.

    To no surprise, Santos places the blame on the halted talks squarely on the Farc’s capture of General Alzate, which is hugely embarrassing for the Colombian Armed Forces, one of the best trained and equipped in South America. 

    So here we are: A confusing stand-off that nobody can predict where it will end. That Colombian murky gray area, again.

    A recent poll found 55 percent of Colombians support the peace process, while almost the same amount say they’re pessimistic it will succeed. That was before the general was captured and put on pause. 

    To no surprise it’s often the regular Colombian people - far from the centres of power and privilege – who can see clearly when everything is out of focus for everyone else.

    Colombia is a riddle they’ve been trying to solve for decades. 

    So when I arrived in Bogota on Tuesday morning, we took time to ask a few random people in the centre of the city to help us solve the latest one.

    “If we stop the peace talks now and don’t get to a conclusion, we’ll always have war,” Gustavo Ramirez said.

    Luz Amparo Sanchez, a middle aged woman, added: “We continue to hope for peace, but it’s taking a long time. I don’t believe that right now we can reach a peace agreement even though it’s the best for all of us. There are too many powerful interests against it.”

    And Jose Luis Contreres was succinct: “The Farc continues to kidnap so I don’t think there will ever be peace in our country.”

    A country where peace seemed like it was so close. But now so very far away, back in the shady middle area few can sort out.

    In most countries people use TV mini-series dramas as a way to take themselves out of mundane day-to-day reality. In Colombia, reality is made into mini-series.

    And the Colombian people have seen this one before and can predict better than anybody how it’ll end.  

    Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter @ElizondoGabriel



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