December is the best month of the year in Bogotá. The days
are sunny, warm and bright, the nights crisp and clear, and at 9,000
feet the light vibrates with burning intensity in the thin mountain
air. For a few miraculously cloud- and smog-free weeks, it is even
possible to see on the horizon the Andean ranges that encircle this
December is also a time when people everywhere put down their tools
and devote themselves to celebrating the festive season with tropical
intensity. In the midst of their troubles, Colombians retain a zest
for life, an ability to seize pleasure from the fleeting moment
that is one of the attractions of this endlessly complex and contradictory
country. This year, however, the holiday spirit has been submerged
by an undertow of dread.
The Colombian peace process is disintegrating. There are many reasons
why this is
so. First, there is the Colombian government's failure to confront
the enemy within. The moral corruption within the Colombian armed
forces has permitted the phenomenal growth of the paramilitaries,
eroding the legitimacy of President Andrés Pastrana. The government
must also take the blame for failing to grasp a fundamental fact:
poverty is to the war, what the world market for cocaine is to narco-trafficking.
It is the motor driving the violence. There is no mystery about how
to get rid of guerrillas and drugs. It only takes money.
Carlos Castaño, Latin
America's most feared death squad leader.
Then there is the stubborn intransigence of the FARC guerrillas,
their obsessive reliance on their military machine and inadequate
grasp of political and economic realities of the modern world--and
of the complex, urban society with which they have been trying for
20 years to reach an acceptable political settlement. To be fair,
it can never be forgotten that during the previous peace process
in the '80s, the FARC took the risk of fielding a civilian political
movement that was brutally eliminated. The FARC and all Colombia
are now suffering the irreplaceable loss of the intelligence, political
savvy and leadership of an entire generation.
And, of course, the U.S. war on drugs and the fumigation campaign
have done their bit to destroy the Colombian justice system and
create a reservoir of recruits for the guerrillas. More recently,
the inanity of U.S. policy in the Clinton administration, whose
Plan Colombia program is well on its way to failure, has effectively
unraveled the peace negotiations.