Uribe’s Latest Misfirings Against the FARC
Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe regularly labels the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as “cowardly terrorists.” However, he has inappropriately used the term on numerous occasions, including twice in the past week, in his effort to propagandize against the rebel group. Following a FARC attack against the Colombian military that killed eight soldiers in northeastern Colombia last week and another assault that resulted in the deaths of seven more soldiers yesterday, Uribe ignored the fact that both were strikes against legitimate military targets and that no civilians were killed in either instance. Additionally, the political wrangling over logistics related to the FARC’s proposed unilateral release of a soldier held captive by the rebel group for more than eleven years potentially represents the first serious repercussion from the Colombian government’s illegal use of the Red Cross symbol last year during a hostage rescue mission.
Following a FARC ambush against a military patrol in the department of La Guajira last week, Uribe accused the guerrillas of cowardly murdering eight soldiers. Following yesterday’s killing of seven more soldiers by the FARC in the department of Nariño, Uribe ludicrously declared that the FARC were “terrorists who cowardly attack with explosives.” While the government’s labeling of the FARC’s killing of civilians, such as the recent massacre of indigenous Awa in Nariño, as terrorist acts is understandable, Uribe’s attempts to equate the killing of soldiers in combat to civilian deaths blurs the lines with regard to determining legitimate human rights violations and clarifying already murky definitions of terrorism. While the killings of civilians should rightfully be condemned, the targeting of soldiers in combat should equally be recognized as legitimate acts of war.
But Uribe is insistent that an armed conflict does not exist in Colombia—instead, claiming that the government is only combating criminal groups. This strategy of denial is intended to deny belligerency status to the FARC under the Geneva Conventions. It also allows the government to justify waging perpetual war against the FARC rather than acknowledging the serious political, social and economic problems that lie at the root of the conflict and that would have to be addressed in order to achieve a negotiated peace.
The Uribe government has also exhibited a disregard for the rules of war, including when the Colombian military carried at an operation last year to rescue 15 people held captive by the FARC. Following the mission, video footage clearly showed that one of the soldiers imitating an NGO representative wore a bib displaying the symbol of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Because the mission was successful, many analysts were willing to overlook this violation of international law. However, the first potentially serious repercussion of this illegal act perpetrated by the government is now becoming apparent.
Last month, the FARC announced that it was going to release Pablo Montoya, a soldier the rebel group has held captive since 1997. The FARC insists that Colombian lawmaker Piedad Córdoba be permitted to accompany the Red Cross mission that will pick up Montoya. Uribe has steadfastly refused to authorize Córdoba’s role in the handover despite the fact that she has been instrumental in the negotiations and release of numerous captives over the past eighteen months.
Given the Colombian military’s abuse of the Red Cross symbol in last year’s rescue operation, it is not surprising, nor is it unreasonable, for the guerrillas to request the participation of someone they can both identify and trust when the Red Cross helicopter touches down at the rendezvous point. But Uribe, who no longer has any credibility when it comes to overseeing humanitarian missions, remains insistent that Córdoba not participate. Tragically, as a result, Montoya will continue to remain captive in the jungle.
Uribe’s erroneous labelling of the FARC as terrorists following legitimate attacks against the Colombian military, the repercussions now being felt from the government’s illegal use of the Red Cross symbol last year, along with the president’s repeated portrayals of human rights workers as spokespersons for the “terrorists,” continue to erode the government’s credibility.