Guerrillas in the Midst

Guerrillas in the Midst

Guerrillas in the Midst

What the foreign papers are saying.
Feb. 12 2001 9:30 PM

Guerrillas in the Midst

"An accord full of good intentions" was how El Tiempo of Bogotá described the sketchy 13-point agreement signed Friday by Colombian President Andrés Pastrana and Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda, the leader of the FARC guerrilla group. The fact that the two leaders signed anything was heralded as a great success because last November FARC walked out of talks, complaining the government was soft on right-wing paramilitaries. Formal peace talks will resume Feb. 14, with opposition politicians and delegations from "friendly countries" to join the negotiations in March. Pastrana also extended the life of "Farclandia," the Switzerland-sized demilitarized safe haven he ceded to FARC in 1998, until October. Opponents claim that FARC uses it as a base for rearmament, recruiting, and coca cultivation and as a holding zone for the thousands of hostages it kidnaps each year. Pastrana's decision to spend Thursday night in Farclandia was seen as a bold statement of good faith.

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The president, who promised to end the 37-year civil war with the guerrillas, is gambling his political future on the negotiations, and many of the Colombian politicians criticizing Friday's agreement will be his rivals in the 2002 presidential elections. Before the meeting with Marulanda, Pastrana had been accused of conceding too much to the rebels for too little in return. An editorial in the Khaleej Times of Dubai said that bringing FARC to the negotiating table "represents a partial vindication of his approach to peace," and Spain's El País described the meeting as an "undisputed success" for Pastrana. La Nación of Argentina reported that the main criticism of the accords was the failure to address the kidnapping epidemic—more than 3,000 people were snatched last year, most by guerrillas.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

Ending paramilitarism and reducing violence are the "central axis of the accord," according to an op-ed in El Tiempo. While FARC accepted the manual eradication of coca, critics of the accord noted that no mention was made of the Colombia Plan—the $1.3 billion U.S. program to combat the drug trade. This suggests the guerrillas would abandon coca in exchange for the social investment funds an eradication plan might bring. FARC has opposed the Colombia Plan because, as Britain's Independent reported, it sees the troops and helicopters used in aerial fumigation of crops "as veiled counterinsurgency support." El Tiempo was especially pleased at the accord's determination to increase the involvement of "friendly countries": "If Europe doesn't like the Colombia Plan, why doesn't it propose an alternative aid program at this meeting? Europe, with far-reaching political and economic interests in our country, still doesn't know what it's dealing with, and the time is approaching when it must assume its role as a world power and as a balance for the United States." El Nacional of Venezuela echoed this sentiment: "Europe is perhaps perceived as being more balanced and more neutral."

El País Colombia of Calí supported Pastrana, reminding readers that FARC disrupted the original talks and that its defiant arrogance led to its loss of prestige among Colombians and the rest of the world. It concluded, "FARC must be integrated into civil life and must end its reliance on violence and terrorism. To do so it must change its attitude and choose a political solution over the threats of guns and kidnapping."

El Mundo of Spain profiled Marulanda. At 70 or 72, he's "the world's oldest guerrilla." At the age of 20 he took up arms against the right-wing militias of the time, and for 50 years "hasn't wavered in his revolutionary struggle against the Colombian elite." He founded FARC, now 17,000-strong, in 1964. His real name is Pedro Marín, but he assumed his nom de guerre in tribute to a murdered trade unionist.

Why must they eat the qat? The Sunday Telegraph described the Yemeni president's campaign against catha edulis, known in the Red Sea states as qat. The green leaf is chewed by 90 percent of Yemeni men and about 50 percent of the women, but despite its popularity, qat-chewing "leaves much of the workforce with neither the time nor the inclination to do its job. … Every afternoon at 2pm the nation's business is put aside for four hours, sometimes the rest of the day, for a good long chew with neighbours and friends." There are so many enthusiastic qat "advocates and addicts" in Yemen's parliament that it remains legal there—unlike neighboring Saudi Arabia, where chewing qat can lead to years in jail.

Oratory regained: On the 11th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from jail, several British newspapers reported that technicians at the British Library have recovered the "lost" sound recordings of Mandela's last statement before he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The 1964 trial was recorded on a Dictabelt, and after years in storage, the plastic belts had hardened and could no longer be played. After four months of work, the library staff was able to transfer the speech to compact discs that will soon be made available for sale. The Observer provided a five-and-a-half-minute excerpt from the three-hour speech (click here to listen to it in RealPlayer format), including the rousing conclusion: "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live and to see realized. But, my lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." The gasps in the courtroom when Mandela finished speaking are clearly audible on the tape. A fascinating feature in the South African Sunday Times provides an interesting coda to Mandela's oratory: The paper traced 20 of the highest-achieving high-schoolers from the class of 1994—they were born the year of the Soweto uprising, graduated the year of South Africa's first democratic elections, and were the last group to attend racially segregated schools—and found that only two have left the country permanently. Most are optimistic about the future for a multiracial South Africa, though they were concerned about educational standards, the economy, crime, and particularly AIDS.