With peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and government representatives under way, one is reminded of French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt who was kidnapped in 2002 and released six years later after surviving debilitating captivity in the dense jungles of the South American country. Since its birth in 1964, FARC — the most prominent and radical Left-wing armed group in Latin America — has waged an incessant battle against the Colombian government, often inviting allegations of being aided by leftist governments in the region. Talks opened a few days ago between the two warring sides in the Cuban capital Havana. The eyes of the world, especially governments in the Americas, are on the negotiations going on between the left-wing ultras and officials of President Juan Manuel Santos’ government.
The world media also has its eyes fixated on women rebels in the group. Photographs of two women guerrillas of Dutch origin were splashed across major newspapers. The rebels declared a two-month-long unilateral ceasefire as peace negotiations began in Havana just a day after talks were launched in Norway.
The peace initiative signals an important shift in the thinking of the rebel group which had rested its policy on kidnappings and killings. It was only in February this year that the group, founded in 1964 with the aim of installing a Marxist regime, decided to give up kidnapping. That was the turning point which led to a softening of stand by the rebel group that virtually ruled the forests of the country.
Betancourt’s kidnapping was the most famous one, drawing the gaze of the world consistently through her ordeal for six years. She was kidnapped along with some other high-profile people, all of whom were freed in 2008 after a military raid that came after Betancourt’s captivity got widespread coverage in the international press and calls to release her grew stronger by the day. After being freed, the politician narrated her plight during captivity by saying that she saw of herself as “less than an animal” during the years she spent with the rebel group. At one point of time, she was chained by the neck to a tree during a tropical storm and had to relieve herself in her clothes when her prayer to the commander to unshackle her went unheeded. That is history.
The question is if the two sides can break the rear view mirror and continue the peace talks in an amiable atmosphere.
Notwithstanding Santos’ decision of not reciprocating the ceasefire call of Farc, both sides will have to forget the past and make a new beginning for the good of the nation which has seen Leftist guerrilla groups including Farc rely on drug trafficking and kidnap for ransom to prop what they call their movement. Though the kick-off of negotiations in Norway saw divergence between the Farc leadership and Colombian representatives, it is hoped that the interests of the state and the Leftist guerrillas will converge, at least, to an extent, signaling better days for the land of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Shakira.