Six years after their last official meeting, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his predecessor and arch-rival, Álvaro Uribe, sat down on Wednesday to negotiate the future of the country’s stalled peace process after voters rejected a deal in a referendum on Sunday to end a half-century of conflict with the leftist guerrillas of the FARC. The encounter concluded with no major breakthroughs, leaving Colombia in what Santos has called a “risky grey zone.”
Santos, who on Tuesday announced that the ceasefire with the FARC will be extended until the end of the month, is trying to pressure Uribe, who leads opposition to the peace deal signed on September 26 after four years of talks in Havana. So far, Uribe has not come up with any alternative proposals to the accord with the FARC, which would see it disarm and become a political party.
Following Wednesday’s meeting, Santos said he and Uribe had found a way to “conclude and strengthen the accords,” warning that this would require all parties concerned to put aside “antagonisms and quarrels.”
Uribe repeated the main points of his campaign in the run up to the referendum: jail for those convicted of human rights crimes committed during the 52-year conflict, disbarring of anybody convicted of such crimes from politics, and limits on legal action against members of the armed forces.
Also attending the meeting between Santos and Uribe were some 20 ministers, former ministers, senators, military men, members of the government team that negotiated the peace deal with the FARC, as well as the country’s former state prosecutor, the arch-Catholic Alejandro Ordóñez, a highly influential figure in Colombia’s conservative circles.
Talks will continue on Thursday between the no camp and the government, and any outcomes will then be discussed with representatives of the FARC.
Before meeting with Uribe, Santos talked to Andrés Pastrana, another former president opposed to the peace deal with the FARC, and who led failed talks a decade ago with the rebels.
Any outcome to talks must be discussed with FARC representatives
“Contrary to what a lot of people think, the no victory brought the country together. Now 98% of Colombians support the yes vote,” said Pastrana, adding that from now on, the FARC will largely be responsible for what happens. “They accepted the idea of a referendum, they have always insisted on a referendum.”
“It is possible to make adjustments to the main part of the agreement, we are looking at which mechanisms to use to communicate them to the government and the guerrilla,” said Pastrana, without clarifying any specifics.
“On a personal level, I have always thought that we needed to amend the parts relating to drug trafficking and human rights abuses,” he added. Uribe called on the international community not to “lose hope” and to remain involved in a process it has so far supported unanimously.
Following the meeting between Santos and Uribe, FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, alias Timochenko, tweeted: “So does this mean that the war will continue?”
Pastor Alape, a member of the FARC’s senior leadership then tweeted: “All our units should begin to move toward secure positions to avoid provocations.”
Immediately after Santos and Uribe’s meeting, thousands of people took to the streets of 14 of the country’s main cities in response to a call from the country’s universities demanding a quick conclusion to the talks. Barely 40% of Colombians bothered to vote in the referendum, with 50.2% of voters rejecting the deal with the FARC.
English version by Nick Lyne.