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The controversy surrounding Petro’s attempt to negotiate with FARC dissidents: is it a viable project?

One of the main flags that flew Gustavo Petro to reach the presidency of Colombia seven months ago it was that of “total peace”.

READ ALSO: Government and FARC dissidents will establish a table for peace talks

Within weeks of taking office, the concept of negotiating with Colombia’s guerrilla and criminal groups became law. Along these lines, since the end of 2022 the Government re-established talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the last great Colombian guerrilla.

And now, as announced by the Petro last Monday, it will do the same with the Central General Staff (EMC), an armed group that split from the FARC before the famous Peace Agreement signed in 2016 by said guerrilla and the government of Juan Manuel Santos.

A second peace process begins. A table will be established between the Government and the Central General Staff”, announced Petro via Twitter.


To get to this point, however, the government had to make a controversial decision.

At the beginning of February, Petro sent a letter to the Attorney General of the Nation, Francisco Barbosa, requesting that he suspend the arrest warrants against 20 members of the EMC, since they would be the guerrilla representatives to start a first round of negotiations.

Barbosa requested clarification days later about some names that appeared on the list, since there was a suspicion that at least 11 of them are not dissidents but deserters.

The difference between the two concepts lies in when they decided to separate from the FARC. Throughout its more than 50 years of existence, since it began to operate in the 1960s, there have been different groups that have separated from the central guerrilla because they had different visions of the paths to take. These are known as dissidences.

On the contrary, the defectors are the groups that rebelled after signing the 2016 Peace Agreement.

In November 2016, after four long years of negotiations, then Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias ‘Timochenko’, signed the historic Peace Agreement.

Added to this, we also have a second dissidence that occurs as a result of the Havana talks. They considered that the government of Juan Manuel Santos did not offer sufficient guarantees and in some cases they did not agree with the regrouping for disarmament. They considered that the State would take the opportunity to eradicate them. This second dissidence is known as Second Marquetalia”, he explains to Trade Mauricio Jaramillo Jassir, professor and researcher at the Universidad del Rosario.

The prosecutor’s questioning led to that Petro rectifies a new list with 19 members whose arrest warrant should be suspended for being EMC delegates. Last week, Barbosa approved the list, which opened the door for Petro to announce a dialogue.


In general terms it is a very controversial decision. A very important sector of the population, including the opposition, considers that the government is giving too many prebends, being too condescending and granting too many advantages. This has negative precedents in Colombia, such as the government ordering the release of several detainees in the excesses of the social outbreak of 2019 and 2021. But Colombia is very polarized, so there is a sector that sees that if there are no unilateral gestures from the government; that is to say, that they grant guarantees, it will be very difficult to achieve what Petro calls ‘total peace’”, comments Jaramillo Jassir in this regard.

Criticism of this decision increases even more if we consider that 5 of the 19 guerrillas mentioned in said list are currently in prison.

This had been brewing since the campaign. At this time, the president’s brother has problems that could become legal problems, if it is confirmed that he was in prison offering gifts to prisoners in exchange for votes for Petro. Supposedly the promise was that if they won, their sentences would be pardoned and that is exactly what we are seeing. This would confirm that his brother was in jail offering things in exchange for his participation in this supposed “total peace” that should rather be called “total impunity.””, the political scientist and militant of the opposition Democratic Center, Laura Medina Ruiz, comments to this newspaper.

These five names also pose a rather complex problem. The request of Petro was to temporarily suspend the arrest warrants, so it is still unknown what will happen to those inmates who are released once the round of negotiations is over.

Will they go back to prison? Will they be released? Nobody has an answer and these gaps are the ones that have generated the greatest distrust in the total peace strategy of Petro.

To show this, it is only necessary to review the survey published at the end of February by the company Invamer, where 49% of Colombians consider that total peace is going astray, while only 39% think otherwise.

Total peace, one of the pillars of Petro's presidential campaign, is gaining less and less support among the population due to the lack of tangible results.

Total peace, one of the pillars of Petro’s presidential campaign, is gaining less and less support among the population due to the lack of tangible results.

From the perspective of Professor Jaramillo Jassir, what he would look for Petro it would be to compensate the historical errors committed by the government in previous approaches to the guerrilla groups.

The Colombian State at the time made mistakes, in the past it took advantage of a bilateral ceasefire to attack the guerrillas, so it is up to this government to go out and remedy historical errors and deliver those perks, but in some cases it is very difficult to justify; above all because very little progress has been made in the negotiations. There are people who wonder what the results of the total peace policy are for the government to have the luxury of ordering these measures, in the Santos era that was granted as progress was made“, Explain.

For Medina, who was also a press advisor to former President Álvaro Uribe, the president would be generating deep discomfort in the population and in the national security forces.

All presidents do their best to achieve peace. However, I believe that Petro’s efforts throughout history have not all been in favor of peace, but -mostly because of his own personal history- having taken up arms, that leaves much to be desired. Issuing arrest warrants for people who have done nothing for peace is quite dangerous and puts a lot of citizens at risk. In addition, we see a public force handcuffed, the Minister of Defense does not support them. There were policemen who were kidnapped by indigenous people and then we saw the Minister of the Interior saying that it had not been a kidnapping but a humanitarian siege. That is quite humiliating. Petro has a pretty lax approach to national security, it hasn’t delivered results. Every day there is a massacre in Colombia, something that was so criticized by the previous government”, argues the political scientist.


Professor Jaramillo Jassir assures that the future of the total peace project of Petro It looks quite complicated, mainly due to three reasons.

One, time. The last peace process was signed by Juan Manuel Santos, who had the advantage of being re-elected, devoted his first term to negotiating and was reelected with the promise of peace. And even so, he had to accelerate at the end, it was not known if the FARC would sign. I do not see it easy that in three and a half years it can be negotiated”, he points out.

Second, the government has established a front with everyone: pre-agreement dissidents, post-agreement dissidents, the ELN, and debates whether to give political status to neo-paramilitary groups. The government opened many fronts and I don’t know if it is capable of addressing them all”, he adds.

And thirdly, there is a problem of legitimacy, if there are no concrete results it is very difficult for people to support the idea of ​​total peace. In the case of Santos, it was seen whether or not progress was made around four major issues”, concludes the expert.

Source: Elcomercio

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