BOGOTA – Colombian former President Cesar Gaviria, who is heading up the campaign for the “yes” vote in the Oct. 2 peace referendum, said on Wednesday that defeating the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group militarily was not a viable alternative.
“Military solutions have their limits as we’ve seen in the world ... No one can be sure that a well-financed guerrilla group like the FARC is so easy to eliminate,” Gaviria, who governed from 1990-1994, said in Bogota at a forum titled “The Benefits of Peace in Colombia.”
Gaviria, whose government ordered several large-scale military operations against the FARC, said “extermination of the guerrillas is not within our grasp.”
The Colombian government and the FARC finalized a peace agreement on Aug. 24 after nearly four years of negotiations in Havana and will sign the deal at a ceremony on Sept. 26 in the northern Colombian city of Cartagena.
Six days later, the Colombian people will weigh in on the agreement in a national plebiscite.
Gaviria slammed opponents of the deal for saying “numerous things that are completely divorced from reality.”
He was referring to the Democratic Center party and particularly one of its co-founders and the most prominent opponent of the peace talks, former President Alvaro Uribe, a two-term president who has gained a loyal following for his hardline stance against the guerillas.
Gaviria said Uribe was trying to frighten people into voting “no” in the referendum by warning that FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño, better known by the nom de guerre Timochenko, could become president of Colombia.
“All of these fears are going to fade away. We’re not going to elect Timochenko president. I don’t know where the 12 million Colombians who are going to vote for him are. I can’t get my head around it,” he said.
Gaviria added that “Colombia is not going to become ‘castrochavista,’” a reference to Communist-ruled Cuba and crisis-hit Venezuela, which took a sharp turn to the left with the 1998 election of Hugo Chavez, who died in March 2013 after a battle with cancer.
Furthermore, Chavez’s handpicked successor, current Venezuelan head of state Nicolas Maduro, and Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos “are not one and the same,” Gaviria said.
Gaviria did not indicate what percentage of the vote he expected the “yes” campaign would receive, although he noted that all of Colombia’s main political parties support the deal except for the Democratic Center.
He also predicted that support for ending the war would be strong in rural areas.
“It’s possible that in the large cities (people) won’t take a long-term view, but where there’s been war people will vote for peace,” Gaviria said.