Colombia

Colombia: Presidential politics and peace prospects

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Quito/Brussels, 16 June 2005: Colombian President Álvaro Uribe's quest for re-election in 2006 through constitutional change could weaken democratic institutions and even damage the country's prospects for peace.
Colombia: Presidential Politics and Peace Prospects, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines Uribe's attempt to amend the constitution so a sitting president can run again and the security implications of the coming vote. Re-election would allow Uribe to continue his strategy against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), but that security policy is unlikely to bring peace.

"Simply continuing the present security policy will lead Colombia into a political dead end", says Markus Schultze-Kraft, Crisis Group's Andes Project Director. "The emphasis thus far has been squarely on military pressure, but little indicates a military victory would be achievable as swiftly as the government has suggested".

It is necessary to accept the utility of serious talks to achieve a prisoners/hostages swap with the FARC as a first step toward peace negotiations, and to press ahead earnestly with the resumption of a rapprochement with the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) with the ultimate aim of demobilising its members.

"The FARC has suffered enough military blows in the last several years to know it has no chance of achieving power through armed force", says Alain Deletroz, Director of Crisis Group's Latin America Program. "Engaging it politically now while keeping up military pressure is more promising than putting all efforts into massive offensives".

In the face of unabated armed conflict with two insurgent groups, pending demobilisation of thousands of paramilitary fighters, and a flourishing narcotics industry, Colombia must sustain its military and police defences. However, it must also consolidate the rule of law by ending impunity and make strong headway in rural development and protecting especially vulnerable groups so that it can engage the insurgents on political grounds.

Hopes to succeed both in counter-insurgency and counter-drug efforts, to end the conflict and to strengthen democracy must not be tied exclusively to the re-election of Uribe. The political aspects of the push for peace are the same no matter who wins the election. A national rural strategy can be implemented only where secure space has been won, but not having the approach nationally known, funded and ready to go is a debilitating factor both politically and militarily.

"The government must complement its overwhelmingly military strategy with a political aspect that addresses longstanding structural inequities in rural Colombia", says Mark Schneider, Crisis Group's Senior Vice President. "Otherwise, those inequities will continue to benefit the insurgencies, paramilitaries and drug traffickers".

Contacts:

Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 485 555 946
Jennifer Leonard (Washington) +1 202 785 1601