I’ve heard Cuba is a great place to visit this time of year; with calm Atlantic winds there are plenty of rooms with views of the sea. One can even meet retired guerrillas in the courtyard of the El Nacional hotel and talk Marx over a round of mojitos. In Havana, the delegation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been embedded in conference rooms and claim to be “working around to clock” to tie up any loose ends with the Colombian government before the peace is signed. Yet how ironic, that the founding father of the organization, Manuel Marulanda Vélez, never got to see the sea, too busy waging a four decades-long war against the state.
If all goes according to schedule, the week in which Colombians celebrate their Independence – July 20 to be exact – could be the date in which the peace declaration is signed. And if the events of the last month are any indication of what lies ahead, the FARC’s maximum commander, alias “Timochenko,” is counting the hours (and his tweets) to step back into the limelight and shake the hand of President Juan Manuel Santos.
We could expect every living Colombian president to turn up in Havana in linen guayaberas except Álvaro Uribe Vélez, despite the fact that “Timmy” has sent the senator several letters inviting him to jump on the peace bandwagon. As to be expected, the two-term president declined the invitations, preferring the comfort zone of his Antioquia finca to poolside conversation with old adversaries.
Even though it will take quite an online offensive for the FARC’s “Timochenko” to get as many followers on social media as Uribe, the commander- from-the-jungle’s tweet, after it was confirmed that Spanish journalist Salud Hernández was being held by the ELN guerrillas, reverberated with huge effect. “Today, Salud Hernández, tomorrow any Colombian. The practice of kidnapping must end forever in Colombia,” he wrote. While many cringed at the tweet, stating it was the height of cynicism within an allocated 140-character limit, the ELN obviously did listen. They must have cringed themselves at the prospect that if they didn’t release the high-profile journalist, they would be in deep trouble.
The FARC and ELN have never been bedfellows. In fact, during the late 1990s they waged a bitter war amongst themselves for the territorial control of the foothills of the Eastern Llanos. The FARC, deeply ensconced in the Caguán and Chiribiquete, were hardly going to let some fringe Maoists get the upper hand when it came to hostage taking and extortion. In those days, the guerrilla’s war machine was orchestrated by alias “Tirofijo” (the man who never saw the sea) and a beret-wearing, beretta- carrying field marshal known as Mono Jojoy. “Monkey Jojoy” was a kidnapper extraordinaire. Had he lived to hear about the peace process in Havana, he might have even detained “Tweeting Timmy.”
Being sequestered is no laughing matter and we are relieved Salud was released in good time. Or as the Spanish say: “En hora buena.”
We will never know to what extent FARC worked to hasten the kidnapping release, but what is clear is that they didn’t want the ELN’s untimely antics to overshadow their announcement that the Colombian government will adhere to a bilateral ceasefire.
With a bilateral ceasefire all hostilities officially end between FARC and the state. The weapons of war silenced and the last hurdle of the peace agenda complete. All that is missing (according to FARC) is the presence in Havana of their rebel commander Ricardo Palmera, alias “Simon Trinidad,” who was captured in 2004 and extradited to the United States. Trinidad is serving a 60-year sentence in a maximum-security prison in Colorado. During the recent visit by President Barack Obama to Cuba and a closed-door meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and FARC delegates, rumors emerged that Trinidad could soon be on his way home.
With so much movement on the peace front and the trials of having to cover this story, I write what will probably be one of my last editorials in a country at war with FARC. Even though President Santos has to push these accords through Congress, the drama endured by Salud Hernández shows us, that if a demobilized FARC and Colombia’s security forces can work together to fight organized crime and sweep up landmines, there’s also hope for those who remain kidnapped. And for us journalists, Hernández’s words – upon her release – also ring true: “No one will stop me from covering this country.”