Hostages | 1/22/2009 12:00:00 AM
The Catholic Church without a role in FARC mediation?
Why do the guerrillas distrust Colombian priests as guarantors for the liberation of hostages?
Three factors have been fundamental in the creation of this gulf. The Plan Patriota, the struggle for the limelight among mediators, and the different views on the conflict that exist in the church.
At the beginning of the first government of President Álvaro Uribe (which started in 2002), the church, represented by the Monsignor Augusto Castro and Father Darío Echeverri, had two meetings with FARC representatives about the humanitarian issue. The guerrillas were represented by top FARC commanders “Raúl Reyes,” “Joaquín Gómez ,” and “Fabián Ramírez”.”
Monsignor Castro had been San Vicente del Caguán’s bishop and knew the guerrillas like few did, because he had been near them on a daily basis, and had been a facilitator in episodes such as the liberation of soldiers in the town of Las Delicias in the late 1990s. Echeverri, as president of the National Commission on Reconciliation, had participated in different activities in promotion of the humanitarian exchange. In these meetings diverse options were explored to overcome the obstacle of creating a demilitarized zone, an issue which seemed impossible to resolve.
The church offered alternatives like negotiating on board a French vessel in the Putumayo River, in an indigenous school close to Mitú and even setting up a temporary seat of the Nunciature close to Brazil in order to initiate dialogue. No proposal was accepted by the guerrillas, who were being pressured on all sides by Plan Patriota. Therefore the guerrillas asked the church to make a statement against the military campaign of the government and exert pressure to reduce the level of hostilities by the military if they wanted to move forward with the meetings. But the church did not make the expected pronouncement and was not even able to achieve that they reduce the military operations. On the contrary, the guerrillas have said on several occasions that after each meeting with church representatives, bombardments against their men and camps would take place.
Add to that the public statements of Cardinal Pedro Rubiano against the FARC in which, according to the guerrillas, he openly took the side of the government, annulling the neutral character of his mediation. This, however, seemed more of a pretext than a real reason. Ultimately it is known that in the church there are different tendencies and readings about the Colombian conflict, but that has never been an obstacle for its humanitarian work.
That is why the underlying reason seems to be of a political nature. While church leaders undertook their humanitarian efforts, other more political mediators, such as Álvaro Leyva or three European countries, were also meeting with the FARC and offering them more exposure. That is something that the church could not offer them, especially because its most conservative wings, headed by Rubiano, was its spokesmen.
For these reasons, the church was left out of the mediation process for a humanitarian exchange. Nevertheless, although there are non-official versions that the FARC are rejecting the church’s participation, there still has not been an official announcement vetoing the Vatican.