by Adam Isacson, Associate, Center for International Policy
After a one-hour flight to San Vicente del Caguán (population about 14,000), the largest town in the demilitarized zone, the group drove two hours down a dirt road to the hamlet of La Machaca, where the meeting took place. With the exception of several FARC roadblocks, often run by very young-looking but well-equipped guerrillas, life in the zone appeared rather normal from the windows of the group's vehicles. The town of San Vicente was busy, with all stores and saloons open for business, and the countryside B nearly all of it cleared for cattle pasture B seemed peaceful.
The meeting with Reyes and an advisor named Comandante Arturo was cordial, with Congressman Delahunt and other members of the delegation raising concerns and the FARC representatives responding to them. Reyes consistently responded very diplomatically, emphasizing points of agreement and glossing over areas of potential disagreement.
Though many with whom the delegation had met in Bogotá doubted the FARC's real desire for peace, Reyes insisted that his group has wanted peace "for decades." The problem, he said, was that the FARC has not been able to work with a government that was serious about pursuing peace. Reyes went on to lavish praise on President Pastrana and the Conservative Party for its commitment to peace, while claiming that the Liberal Party and the media are "conspiring to sabotage the process."
Reyes agreed with Congressman Delahunt that drugs are an enormous problem, not just for the youth of the United States but for Colombia as well. He did not address accusations that the guerrillas themselves profit from the drug trade, but called for a vast alternative development effort to wean coca-growing peasants away from illicit crops. Within the demilitarized zone, which includes about 10,000 hectares cultivated with coca, Reyes said, the FARC and the Colombian government were about to embark on a pilot crop-substitution program. Reyes said the FARC is willing to cooperate with the U.S. government on alternative development, adding that "the FARC is the best ally the United States could have against drugs."
When the delegation inquired about the three indigenous activists murdered in March, Reyes apologized and emphasized that the killings were a mistake that violated FARC policy. He said, however, that the FARC would not even consider turning the murderers over to the authorities of Colombia or any other country. The FARC leadership, he said, will soon hold a consejo de guerra, or court-martial, to determine exactly what happened and how the killers will be punished. Reyes said he regretted the State Department's decision to cut off all contact with the FARC as a result of the killings, and that he hopes that these contacts may be renewed.
Asked about the three New Tribes missionaries kidnapped from Panama in 1993, Reyes insisted that the FARC does not know what happened to them, but that a joint FARC B Colombian government commission is being formed to investigate the matter.
Rep. Delahunt urged the FARC several times to consider taking significant and verifiable steps to demonstrate their good will and their desire for peace. He emphasized that such steps B reductions in coca production or the acceptance of international human-rights observers in the zone, for instance B would give an enormous boost to supporters of the peace process within and outside Colombia.
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