Swiss Help Farc Cover Up its own Blunder

Posted in Latin America | 20-Jul-08 | Author: Judith Apter Klinghoffer| Source: History News Network

FARC-leader Alfonso Cano with Swiss diplomat, Jean-Pierre Gontard.
FARC-leader Alfonso Cano with Swiss diplomat, Jean-Pierre Gontard.
With the help of captured documents emails, Von Alex Baur details the unsavory reality of Swiss mediation between the Colombian government and FARC. The shocker is not the fact that a Swiss professor acting as mediator turns out to be a bag man for ransom payments, we all suspected as much. Much more important is the evidence that the Swiss "even handed" policy helps FARC look good by helping the terrorist organization cover it's own blunders. Indeed, the reason terrorists look so efficient while democratic governments appear to be faltering is because the mistakes of terrorists are covered up with the help of "useful idiots" such as the Swiss in the case of the FARC. Consider the following story:

On 18 June 2007, Alfonso Cano sent an e-mail to his boss Manuel Marulanda - alias "Tirofijo" - concerning a terrible mishap. At the time, Cano was still a deputy of the since deceased FARC leader. "Good Evening, Comrade," Cano writes, "Due to a serious mix-up our unit was attacked by our own people who thought we were from the ELN [the National Liberation Army, a rival guerilla force]; the guards holding the representatives then killed eleven of the twelve hostages, because they thought they were being attacked by the army. This grave error is going to cause us enormous problems."

What had happened? In April 2002, in a daring action in the city of Cali, the FARC kidnapped twelve members of the regional parliament. The twelve men were taken off to the jungle by the narco-guerilla and since that time figured among the FARC’s most prominent hostages along with Ingrid Betancourt. But in June 2007, just as the negotiations on a "humanitarian solution" seemed to be progressing and the Colombian government had released a FARC capo as a gesture of good will, the fatal blunder took place. The guards holding the hostages were mistakenly attacked by the FARC themselves. Believing that government troops were undertaking a rescue operation, they thereupon killed eleven of the twelve parliament members in cold blood. The hostages were shot in the back. (This is the FARC’s preferred method of execution, since it always leaves open the option of claiming that hostages were killed "while trying to escape.")

In other words, the FARC leadership was dealing with a deadly incident of friendly fire which cost the lives of valuable "hostages." What was to be done/

On the very day of the massacre, FARC Chef "Tirofijo" posed three questions to his deputy Cano: "1. Can we still keep secret the described events among the guerrilleros and the civil population? 2. Are there army forces nearby, were there clashes? 3. Can we at least keep the thing secret until our comrades are free?" On the FARC chief’s assessment, one has to delay the public being informed as long as possible, but one should have a communiqué ready just in case. If the second question can be answered positively, then the solution is very simple: one will simply blame the army. "And if all that doesn’t work," Tirofijo concludes, "we will ask the families to forgive us by way of a political argument: namely, by making the government’s postponement of the humanitarian exchange [intercambio humanitario] responsible for the matter."

As the FARC internal e-mail correspondence shows, over the next few days the FARC bosses engaged in a debate about optimal disinformation. On 22 June 2007, "Tirofijo" suggests claiming that the guards retreated with the hostages upon being attacked and that several people were killed while fleeing. "Comrade Timoschenko" (a known member of the secretariat) is inclined rather to blame the President without providing any further explanation. Alfonso Cano is for leaving open the identity of the attacking forces - "at least for the moment."

This is the version that is finally chosen. The parliament members were killed in crossfire during an attack by unknown troops, the FARC claim officially. On 15 August 2007, comrade Ivan Marquez "congratulates" the secretariat "for its exceptional handling of the case of the parliament members. Even the OAS [Organization of American States] admits that there was in fact an exchange of gunfire."

The Colombian government denied it's forces were involved in any rescue attempt but to little avail. The even handed Swiss deliberately refused to give to democratic government pronouncements greater credibility than to terrorist ones.

In an article that appeared on 13 September 2007, the Swiss daily Die Basler Zeitung summarized the attitude of the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs (EDA) as follows: "The politicians kidnapped by the FARC were presumably shot by the rebels during an attack by unidentified forces. In response, Switzerland reminded the Colombian government of the necessity of negotiations and criticized army operations aimed at freeing the hostages." This is the line that the EDA under the leadership of Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey has always defended: in Colombia, there is an "internal conflict" between two equal parties, the "rebels" and the security forces. On this account, the guerilla forces are not criminals, but a social problem, which has to be solved not with arms but by "dialogue." Following Calmy-Rey’s démarche, Colombian President Uribe complained that Switzerland was placing the Colombian government on the same level as the FARC.

The result?

The Swiss government helped FARC cover up it's own inefficiency but also present it's killing of 11 hostages as an argument for the efficacy of ransom payments and against military rescue attempts. It should be remembered that the Swiss government is not really a disinterested party. After all, it's "glory" is firmly embedded in its own usefulness as a "neutral" mediator.

Thus seemingly successful Norwegian role in the Israeli-PLO negotiations led to it's invitation to play a similar one in Sri Lanka between the government and the Tamil Tigers. Those mediations have done little to improve the lives of the populations involved or enhance peace but they brought very low cost prestige and glory to the mediators. Hence, it should not be surprising that nothing would please European leaders than being able to play such mediating role not only in intra state conflicts but also inter great power conflicts such as the United States, Iran, China, India and Pakistan to name but a few.

The ultimate difficulty with this European ambition is not only that such a realistic foreign policy is bound to "infuriate" it's natural allies including the US. The real difficulty is that continued European peace depends on a more peaceful world but that it's 'even handed' policy rewards strife and punishes those who seek to end it. In other words, European ambition to serve as a model of the efficacy of a region ruled by democratic consensus is undermined by the consequence of it's own policy of providing aid and comfort to forces committed to doing everything they can to prevent the emergence of a similar regional or even national consensus elsewhere.