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Colombia: now or never

High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo thinks that the stars are auspiciously aligned for a breakthrough

Sergio Jaramillo, tall in stature, cautious by profession and irrevocably optimist by vocation, is the High Commissioner for Peace appointed by Colombia's President Santos, and the man who designed the process of negotiation with the FARC in Havana. His house in Bogota has something of the mausoleum about it, electric light being conspicuous only by its absence; conversation takes place by candlelight. Early this year Colombian opinion seemed convinced that some sort of peace was possible. After months of secret conversations an agenda had been agreed on, and it even seemed that both sides had sworn to bring it through to a happy conclusion. Juan Manuel Santos had set November as a deadline for liquidating one of the longest wars ("internal conflict" is the official term) in recent history. But recent and especially bloody operations by the guerrillas; the growing evidence that the price of peace would include impunity for the insurgents; the ire of ex-President Uribe, who preceded Santos and launched him politically, but is now saying that any deal with the FARC is treason; and difficulties that range from the restitution of millions of hectares ill-gotten by the guerillas, the paramilitaries and profiteers in general, as well as the hardest nut to crack: the incorporation of the guerrillas into fully legal political life, are all driving down approval for the negotiations in opinion polls.

The high commissioner is prudent: "If the government has done anything, it is to make it clear that this is about signing an agreement for an end to the conflict, not for peace." But his optimism bubbles on: "I think that this year there will be a signing ceremony: it's technically possible." Then again, "We must not have a millenarist conception of peace, as if it were going to solve everything. What is essential is to stop resorting to arms as a means of politics."

Álvaro Uribe, whose Twitter messages have made huge mileage out of two ambushes in which 19 soldiers died, is now Santos' main problem. "Uribe is doing harm. A lot of harm. He is diluting his legend." The high commissioner respects the ex-president's legacy. And no one doubts that without the stranglehold Uribe imposed on the guerrillas — with Santos as defense minister — it would never have been possible to drag the FARC to the negotiating table. Jaramillo notes that one thing agreed on was that there was to be no communicating-vessel relation between the negotiations and the reality on the ground, and that in the secret phase of the negotiations 12 soldiers had been killed in the Arauca region. "But isolation is more difficult when public opinion is in the picture." For that reason, "the moment of truth will come only with the signature."

With a pure faith, he believes in the miraculous virtues of peace. First he dismisses the opinion that "whatever they sign, they will call it a peace," terming it "condescending," to then trot out his weapon of mass destruction against the incredulous and skeptical — what he calls the "grand project" of Juan Manuel Santos: "A vision of the country that covers the whole territory. The state has long been incapable of seeing the whole of Colombia strategically. And peace will be the great lever to move resources and people's will."

But what is the time limit? He hesitates only a second. "Ten years." Time enough for the president to opt for a second term (2014-18). And why must peace be now or never? Jaramillo says that the stars are now in a propitious alignment. The FARC leadership has been severely hit; the armed forces have become highly professionalized - which made possible the Plan Colombia, militarily and economically backed by the US; the international discredit of the FARC is now beyond question, though "input from the international community will be necessary." In an aside to Madrid, he adds, "especially from those countries that have always been aligned with Colombia." Jaramillo closes with an aplomb bred of the optimism that only a high commissioner in a country like Colombia could have. "And now we have the perfect constellation to make it come true."

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