For Colombia’s Santos, Kidnapping Threatens More Than Peace Talks

For Colombia’s Santos, Kidnapping Threatens More Than Peace Talks
FARC Commander Pastor Alape talks to the press in Havana, Cuba, Nov. 18, 2014 (AP photo by Ramon Espinosa).

Instead of resuming occasionally promising peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana earlier this week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos abruptly called them off after the rebels kidnapped an army general, along with a soldier and a government attorney. According to Colombian media, it was the first time in half a century of fighting that the guerrillas had taken an army general captive.

FARC rebels later agreed to release Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate, but the status of the two-year negotiations between the Colombian government and the Marxist rebels remains uncertain. Intermittent fighting has flared amid the armistice talks that Santos staked his re-election on this past summer. And despite various promises for cease-fires, all has not been quiet in Colombia: The general’s kidnapping came a week after guerrillas captured two soldiers in another part of the country.

The kidnapping ordeal and suspension of talks don’t help Santos’ sagging popularity. Santos tried to frame his re-election as a referendum on pursuing peace, while seeming to ignore the fact that Colombians were losing interest in him as much for his failure to deliver on social development promises as for the familiar pitfalls of negotiating with the FARC. As Eric Farnswroth wrote for World Politics Review after Santos narrowly won a second term in June:

The tightness of the race underscores the fact that, while Colombians sincerely seek peace, they are unwilling to support peace at any cost.

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