Whilst the Colombian government and its military institutions celebrated the death of the leader of Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, peace movements were lamenting its implications for peace in Colombia. The death of Alfonso Cano and the confirmation of the government’s determination to seek peace through military operations has dealt what the Colombian peace movement Colombianas y colombianos por la paz (Colombians for Peace) has called a ‘heavy blow for peace in Colombia’.
On 4 October 2011, after a military campaign lasting several years , involving several thousand Colombian Special Forces and with a still unidentified cost in terms of civilian victims, troop casualties, and Colombian pesos, the Colombian Army killed the FARC chief, alias Alfonso Cano. It is the first time FARC, the world’s oldest active guerrilla organisation, has had its leader killed in combat and has led to claims in certain sectors that the death of the guerrilla leader has brought Colombia closer to peace. Whilst undoubtedly a military success for the Colombian Army, one must ask if a military solution is the answer to the Colombian conflict. Does the continued militarisation of Colombia bring peace closer? Will continued military victories eradicate the structural causes of the armed, political and social conflicts that exist in Colombia? Or is there a need for a different approach?
The initiative began with an exchange of letters, published publicly, in which the movement sought to promote a dialogue with Colombia’s two largest guerrilla groups, FARC and ELN. The aim of the letters was to discuss openly with the guerrillas the desire to bring peace to Colombia through negotiation. This effort began with a call for the end to the use of kidnapping as a tool of war and for the release of all prisoners being held by the guerrillas in the mountains of Colombia. Indeed this effort produced positive results. Since its creation, Colombianas y colombianos por la paz has been instrumental in securing the unilateral release of 20 prisoners of war held captive by guerrilla groups. In addition to the release of prisoners, the last year has been characterised by a series of statements from both the guerrilla groups and the Colombian government regarding the possibility of a negotiated solution to the Colombian conflict – not forgetting that these statements were made in the context of a conflict that continued and continues causing deaths on all sides.
Alfonso Cano, real name Guillermo León Sáenz Vargas, was seen by the peace movement as a solid negotiating partner with whom future talks were a real possibility. ‘By prioritising armed confrontation instead of a political solution brought about through dialogue and negotiation, the Government is showing that it lacks a real program for peace’. It was the logic of war rather than the logic of peace that demanded his death. As commented by the respected Colombian academic Carlos Medina Gallego , the military logic that dictates that your enemy can be bombed to the negotiating table will only serve to continue the cycle of violence and further exacerbate the conflict.
In their press release following the death of Alfonso Cano, Colombianas y colombianos por la paz declared its commitment to continue in its efforts to create spaces for dialogue and negotiation:
From Colombianas y colombianos por la paz we believe that there have already been too many deaths in our country and that the bloodshed must stop. For this reason we will continue working to achieve peace with social justice and not for the peace offered by the establishment that is conceived in terms of cemeteries or prison cells – the only thing that this achieves is the never ending prolongation of the war