President's brother speaks out on Colombia talks
A brother of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has revealed that the country's largest guerrilla group had initially proposed to hold peace talks within Colombia or in neighboring Venezuela, rather than in Cuba.
Enrique Santos said in an article published in the newspaper El Espectador on Sunday that the government's team had insisted that the talks not be held in Colombia.
"We decided on Cuba for security and above all because it guaranteed confidentiality," Santos wrote in the article.
Representatives of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, began discussions in Havana on Nov. 19 seeking a deal to end the country's decades-old conflict. They currently are taking a holiday break and are to resume talks on Jan. 14.
Santos, a journalist and former director of the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, is not a member of the team involved in the current talks, though he has acted as an adviser to the government negotiators.
He revealed details of earlier discussions with the rebels starting in February 2011. He said he has been involved "in an irreversible way in this process."
Santos said that one especially complicated matter was getting one of the rebel leaders, Jaime Alberto Parra Rodriguez, to make the trip to Cuba for those initial discussions. Santos said the rebels were distrustful of the plans to shuttle away Parra, who is better known by the nom-de-guerre Mauricio Jaramillo or the nickname "El Medico."
"It was very hard to convince the FARC to ... accept putting (Parra) on a helicopter supplied by the state," Santos wrote. "At the time of picking him up, he appeared guarded by more than 50 men armed to the teeth. In the end there was crying by women guerrillas and a farewell ceremony. That was the first big achievement: getting Jaramillo to Havana. That process lasted nearly a year."
Santos said he and others arrived in Havana on Feb. 23, 2011, ahead of their first contacts with the guerrillas, and that after sitting together about 70 times, they finally signed a preliminary accord in August 2012 to launch the peace talks. Until they reached that point, Santos said, "various times we were on the verge of breaking off" the discussions.