Colombia-guerrilla truce: a model for Central America?
More than 10 years of guerrilla insurgency will end here if ''pacts of honor'' signed by the Colombian government and three rebel groups hold. The pacts - one signed in March, the other just last week - have grown out of Colombian President Belisario Betancur's firm conviction that dialogue, not military force, is the best solution for guerrilla conflicts. The complicated truces are probably the first ever signed between a Latin American government and its insurgent opposition.
''What we have achieved,'' peace negotiator John Agudelo Rios told the Monitor, ''is the restoration of the value of the word.''
''The government can't lose in this effort because this war is for the minds of men and women,'' says the United States ambassador to Colombia, Lewis Tambs.
At least one rebel leader, Oscar William Calvo of the Popular Liberation Army , agrees:
''For the government the important thing is to take away the guerrillas' social base,'' he told the Monitor, ''while for us the important thing is to take away the social base of the government and gain strength for the revolution.''
Both the government and guerrilla leaders appear convinced that their causes can best be served by bringing the military struggle into the political arena.
The pact with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), signed in March, is a one-year truce in which the government must promote ''radical'' agrarian reform and a series of political measures that would ease access to political representation for groups other than the nation's two traditional parties. FARC, the oldest and largest rebel group, has fought government troops in the Colombian countryside for more than 30 years. Its emphasis on agrarian reform reflects its predominantly peasant-based support.
This treaty also has an escape clause. It allows FARC, in May of 1985, to review progress on their proposed reforms before deciding whether to continue as a political or military force. This has provoked criticism from diverse sectors.
The pact signed last week with the M-19 guerrillas and the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), calls for a ''national dialogue'' and does not contain specific measures nor any date for review. The national dialogue appears designed as a sort of permanent forum for discussion of topics put forword by workers, peasants, slum dwellers, and small business men - groups that the mainstream Conservative and Liberal party leaders admit have little participation in the political system. Out of the national dialogue will grow ideas to be presented to the government and congress for consideration as laws.
''The objective,'' M-19 leader Andres Almarales Mangaa told the Monitor, ''is that the people no longer be the object, but rather the subject, of history.''
''There will not be one shot more'' by guerrillas, promised Almarales.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the pacts is that no arms will be turned in. The guerrillas have insisted on keeping their weapons as a lever to push the government to act on their proposals. But peace negotiator John Agudelo Rios plays down the importance of the guerrillas' keeping their weapons.
''Weapons don't shoot themselves,'' he told the Monitor, explaining that the peace, like any type of negotiation, ''is basically an agreement of good faith.'' As long as the rebels think the government is sincerely trying to meet their demands, they will not return to arms.
The Betancur administration hopes its efforts to solve Colombia's problems by negotiation and reform can serve as a model for situations such as that of El Salvador. Many see peace at home as closely tied to the government's efforts to work out a negotiated solution to the conflicts in Central America through the Contadora group, which is made up of Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, and Colombia.
The timing of last week's agreement - following a string of violent events - surprised some observers and left many skeptical that the peace will ever become any more than a collection of signatures.
The most dramatic of these acts was the Aug. 10 assassination of M-19 cofounder Carlos Toledo Plata while he was driving to work. Toledo had renounced armed activity and was considered the M-19's strongest peace advocate. The identity of the gunman is unknown.
In an apparent act of retribution for Toledo's murder, a 200-man column of M- 19 guerrillas, aided by a dissident faction of the FARC, launched an assault on the industrial town of Yumbo in the Cauca Valley on Aug. 11. Full-scale attacks on towns are extremely rare in Colombia, and the raid on Yumbo (pop. 60,000) bore little fruit for the rebels. The rebels had 37 of the 42 casualties.
Other violent acts include a wave of kidnappings of ranchers, businessmen, and politicians in the Cauca Valley. It is not clear who did the kidnappings.
There are a number of smaller rebel groups that could thwart the truces because they have not joined the peace effort. Notable among them is the Pedro Leon Arboleda, which split from the Popular Liberation Army. The PLA captured national attention in July by attacking an office at the Bogota stock exchange, resulting in several deaths. It also assassinated several leftist and labor leaders who did not conform to the PLA line.
This past Wednesday, some guerrillas attacked a police barracks and killed eight officers. A police spokesman said about 50 guerrillas of the pro-Cuban National Liberation Army attacked the barracks.