Colombia has become embroiled in a heated debate after President Juan Manuel Santos announced the possible creation of a rural police force similar to the French gendarmerie if the government signs a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The idea, Santos said, was to consolidate security in the regions most affected by the internal armed conflict, and he did not rule out the participation of demobilized ex-guerrilla members in that force.
Santos’ initial proposal did not mention the FARC, but when a journalist asked him about the possibility, the president thought about it and replied: “I hadn’t thought about that, but I would not rule it out. We could very well negotiate something like that with the other party [FARC],” he told the press in Paris after meeting with French President François Hollande during an official visit to the country.
The reactions came quickly, especially from those who have been most critical of the way the president has carried out his negotiations with the FARC. The attorney general, Alejandro Ordóñez – the Prosecutor General’s Office is an autonomous body in Colombia – issued a statement saying that the president’s proposal confirms the government and the FARC are in fact negotiating the fate of law enforcement.
“The administration itself is agreeing to negotiate the structure of law enforcement with the FARC by admitting the possibility of forming a gendarmerie with the demobilized [rebel soldiers],” he said. Ordóñez urged the government to disclose the content of its discussions with FARC members “with transparency.”
Santos replied swiftly. “It is really perverse to conclude that, simply because I said that I had not thought about including demobilized rebel soldiers in the police force but that I did not rule it out, this means we are negotiating law enforcement in Havana,” he said on Tuesday.
The president said the prosecutor’s remarks were malicious and he denied, as he has done before, any negotiations on the subject of law enforcement with the guerrilla army. Santos also explained that he could not rule out the inclusion of demobilized rebels in the new police force because he thinks, for example, that they might serve as forest rangers under police command.
While Ordóñez was publishing his statement, former president and senator Álvaro Uribe, Santos’ great rival when it comes to the peace process, also criticized the president.
They distort reality with all these stories, claiming we are negotiating law enforcement in Havana when we are not”
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
“Santos has destroyed the self-esteem and initiative of law enforcement, and now he finishes them off by announcing the creation of terrorist police forces,” Uribe wrote on Twitter.
The criticism Santos has received from his adversaries stands in great contrast to the vast support he has garnered abroad for trying to bring a 50-year armed conflict to a peaceful, negotiated end. “They distort reality with all these stories, claiming that we are negotiating in Havana when we are not,” the president said.
While Santos and his critics exchanged rhetorical blows, FARC chief negotiator Iván Márquez said the parties have not discussed the issue at all. “What rural police are they talking about? We have never put that on the table,” he wrote. The future of the ex-rebels, and whether they will face legal consequences for their actions, remains uncertain. The parties will resume talks on February 4 in Havana.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón and the United Nations have signed a road map for Colombia to participate in international peacekeeping missions.
Translation: Dyane Jean François