Colombia’s Santos Shuffles Military Command to Steady FARC Talks

Colombia’s Santos Shuffles Military Command to Steady FARC Talks
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announces that at least 26 leftist rebels have been killed in a raid in western Colombia, the presidential palace in Bogota, May 22, 2015 (AP photo Fernando Vergara).

After almost three years of talks, Colombia’s peace negotiations with the FARC guerrilla group will end soon—with or without an agreement. Amid an uptick in violence in recent months, Humberto de la Calle, the government’s chief negotiator, said in a July 5 interview with the Colombian media, “It’s clear to me that the process is coming to its end, for good or ill. It could be because we’ve reached an accord, as we’re in the homestretch of the fundamental issues [on the negotiation agenda]. Or for ill, if—as is happening—Colombians’ patience runs out.”

Two days after de la Calle’s interview, President Juan Manuel Santos announced the replacement of nearly the entire senior military command of Colombia’s armed forces, with new heads of the army, navy and air force. In the armed forces, the only senior officer to keep his post was Gen. Juan Pablo Rodriguez, the low-key armed forces chief. The changes completed a defense reshuffle that began last month after a spike in FARC attacks and a damning report on human rights abuses by the army.

The official now in charge of Colombia’s war machine was also a participant in Colombia’s peace effort who has spent a great deal of time talking to the enemy: Before taking the reins in mid-June, the new civilian defense minister, Luis Carlos Villegas, served for over a year as one of the government’s negotiators at the talks with the FARC in Havana, Cuba. Villegas oversaw the changes in the military high command announced by Santos last week.

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