By Eric Robinson
Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is putting Colombia on his agenda. Trying to repeat his successful peace efforts from two decades ago brokering the end of the Central American war, Arias has received visits by ultra-right paramilitary leaders Carlos Mario Jimenez and Antonio Lopez. There have also been visits by Arias to Colombia last week to attend the inauguratrion of incumbent President Alvaro Uribe, Arias announced his interest in promoting peace on the drug and war-torn nation.
Against outcries of forgetting the problems of Costa Rica, Arias stated he never abandoned the national agenda twenty years ago, and he won’t this time either. Then he added ,”One must have a very small spirit to criticize someone who concerns himself with saving human lives that are savable.”
Colombia has been engrossed in a bitter struggle since the 1960’s between government forces, leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries. The former two have been linked to human rights abuses, massacres, and have financed their efforts with the drug trade. Arias offered to use Costa Rica as a venue to broker peace plans between the Colombian government and the two leftist forces, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). Arias sees part of the solution involves a prisoner exchange between the government and FARC, encouraged by the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared, who want proof their relatives are still alive.
The right-wing paramilitary leaders began a process of demilitarization in 2002, and state 31,500 of their former fighters have disbanded and are reintigrating back into society. 17,600 weapons have also been turned in. They also want to bring some of their leaders to Costa Rica to be trained in peace and productivity to build a civil society. They stated that Arias is a respected icon for peace in the region, and want him to help in the negotiations. Arias praised their efforts and added that he hoped the FARC and ELN would follow their example and demobilize.
However, Otty Patino of the Peace Observatory in Colombia expressed his concerns that with Arias appearing to side with the right, he may be limiting his chances of successfully brokering peace between the government and the leftists. Patino stated that the demobilization of the paramilitaries is a cover-up for an agenda to legally take over Colombia without the government support, and that right now there is a wide gap between the leftists and government, and for anything positive to occur, trust on both sides is necessary. Perhaps Arias has a rabbit deep in his hat.