Captive’s Release Highlights Need for Foreign Leadership over Colombian Peace Process
After 33 days in captivity, on Wednesday the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC) finally freed French journalist Romeo Langlois. Langlois was taken hostage in late April when the army patrol he was traveling with, in an effort to cover the armed conflict, was attacked by the FARC in Southern Colombia. The exchange occurred relatively seamlessly, with the Red Cross managing the former captives hand-over. Langlois left Bogotá on Thursday and arrived in France Friday to visit with his family and friends.
However, while the exchange occurred without a hitch, the drama in Colombia unfolded after Langlois’ release. It began with Langlois’ relatively soft words about his captors, given shortly after being released Wednesday afternoon. He noted that he was never mistreated or tied up, and that the FARC never had any political intentions with his capture. Langlois further remarked that he received apologies from his captors and that he “always knew that I was going to get out of this pretty quickly.” He also expressed that his “impression about what happened is that the FARC want peace, but not just any peace.”
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a staunch enemy of the FARC, attacked Langlois for his comments. Through Twitter, Uribe questioned what Langlois was even doing in Colombia, what was his relationship with the FARC, and noted that “one thing is journalistic curiosity and another is identifying with terrorism.”
All this comes amidst efforts by Colombia’s current President, Juan Manuel Santos, to push a Constitutional Amendment which would allow more leniency on the part of the Government towards ex-guerillas if serious peace talks were to advance. The measure has some popular backing in Colombia, but many question this strategy, including President Uribe and Human Rights Watch, albeit for slightly different reasons.
What seems clear, though, is that deeply-seeded mistrust and long standing animosity make the possibility of a peace treaty difficult, at best. As Uribe’s remarks make clear, many in Colombia still do not trust the FARC or its sympathizers and instead favor military responses to continue weakening the FARC. Uribe has over a million followers on Twitter, and his remarks certainly indicate widely-held discomfort at the prospect of negotiating with the FARC.
The FARC have, likewise, been hesitant to trust or embrace the current Colombian Government. Although they have released several captives in recent months, they have pointedly not agreed to stop all kidnappings or stop their military operations, and still hold several hundred civilians in captivity.
These factors suggest that the only viable medium to peace is having international actors take center stage in the peace process. There is too much history of animosity between the Government and the FARC for the stalemate to be broken without a fresh, neutral party assuming a central role. The FARC, furthermore, seem to feel similarly. In fact, they gave Langlois a letter to the new French President, François Hollande, calling for “friendly countries,” above all in Europe, to help find a solution to the Colombian internal conflict. Langlois particularly noted that the FARC “want other countries to participate because they believe that between only Colombians it is going to be difficult.”
Whether or not Langlois has captured the FARC’s true beliefs, certainly at this point European countries should become more involved in the Colombian peace process. Sadly, without European leaders’ intervention and involvement, it seems unlikely that this bloody and terrible stage in Colombian history will ever come to a close.