Life goes on as normal in Colombia.
On Wednesday, just like any other day, dark clouds and spitting rain, choking traffic, and people scurrying to and from work here in the capital.
They are watching what is transpiring in Oslo, yes, but there is no sense that the country is on the brink of a major peace deal.
If you dropped in to Bogota from Jupiter, and did not read the local newspapers or watch the news, you would never know talks have started in Oslo.
Colombians, you see, have seen this movie script before. And it’s never ended well.
In the past, high profile peace talks to end Colombia’s nearly 50 year armed conflict with the FARC, have led to spectacular failures.
There is a famous photo that haunts Colombia’s conscience. It’s from January 1999, and shows Former President Andres Pastrana sitting at an empty table when the FARC leader at the time, Manuel Marulanda (aka “Tirofijo” – or ‘sure shot’ in English), unexpectedly didn’t show up to negotiate as planned. (Marulanda later blamed his no-show on an assassination attempt on his life, he claimed).
The photo of the disgraced President Pastrana being publicly stiff-armed by the FARC commander- deeply scarred this country, even up until today.
Part of the 24-hour delay in getting the Oslo talks started was because both sides wanted to make sure the other side was on their way to Norway. Left unspoken: Nobody, especially the Colombian government, wanted a repeat of that 1999 Pastrana photo. Another one of those would have kissed goodbye the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos.
People in Bogota at least are not overly pessimistic about the talks, but not overly optimistic either about what might transpire in Oslo before the negotiations head to Havana.
Colombians very much are taking on the posture of a country collectively saying: ‘We’ve been burned before, so we’re not playing with fire now, because we are expecting to be burned again.”
The distrust runs on both sides. The government has very little goodwill with the FARC, either.
With that said, when people say this time might be different, they are right. The 2012 Colombia looks a lot different than the 1999 Colombia. Today the government is in a much stronger position, and the FARC in a much weaker position.
Remember “Mr. sure shot”? He died of natural causes in 2008. Most of the FARC high command who replaced him were killed in Colombian military bombing strikes since then.
The ranks of the FARC were roughly 20,000 at their peak. Now they have an estimated 9,000 fighters, by most accounts.
For the FARC, this could be their last, best hope for a negotiated exit plan. They appear to finally be reaching again for the lever on the emergency exit door, but this time they seem prepared to actually pull it.
For the Colombian government? What’s the alternative? A continued, drawn-out war with a depleted FARC but one in which appears to be resistant to being bombed into complete submission? President Santos obviously sees an opportunity to stamp a historic mark on his presidency in his first term.
For the Colombian people? As always, carry on with life. And wait, watch, and see if this movie finally ends differently.
But don’t blame them for not celebrating until the final credits roll on this film.