Colombia’s largest guerrilla group has announced it will halt attacks for one month in an effort to give a boost to peace talks with the government.
The unilateral ceasefire was announced Wednesday in Havana, where negotiators from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been holding peace talks with the Colombian government for more than two years even as fighting between both sides rages in Colombia’s jungles.
“We came to Cuba to reach a peace accord and end a war that has been going on for more than half a century,” the guerrillas said in a statement. “Nothing would please us more than ending the violent confrontation, the generation of new victims and the suffering of the Colombian people.”
The FARC’s decision to halt hostilities comes after two months of escalating violence and mounting criticism of the peace talks in the country’s political circles.
With the guerrillas launching almost daily attacks against oil pipelines and electricity infrastructure in southwest Colombia since another truce ended in April, the government has struggled to rally public support for the talks and fend off criticism from opposition parties who argue President Juan Manuel Santos should take a harder stance with the rebels.
On Sunday, Colombia’s top government negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, said on national television the peace talks were at “their worst moment” and hinted the government could pull out of the negotiations.
The unilateral ceasefire — which starts July 20 — allows the talks to continue with less political noise around them. It also provides some relief to people living in southwest Colombia who are regularly affected by FARC attacks. The debate is now expected to shift to whether the government will respond by halting its own air raids on guerrilla camps.
On Tuesday, before the guerrillas announced their latest ceasefire, diplomats from Cuba, Chile, Norway and Venezuela who are overseeing the talks called for a bilateral ceasefire and a de-escalation in the conflict.
However, the Colombian government has been reluctant to cease the attacks, arguing that in previous peace talks, held in the late 1990s, the FARC used a bilateral ceasefire to delay negotiations so they could regroup, rearm and continue the war.
Now, the guerrillas are weaker and the Colombian military is better financed. That new reality has some leading politicians urging the government to implement a cessation of hostilities. But critics on the right argue the government should continue to put military pressure on the guerrillas while peace talks are held, in order to force the rebels into signing a deal.
The two sides are discussing the legal framework under which the rebels will lay down their weapons, how FARC leaders and military officials will pay for war crimes, and how victims of the conflict will be compensated for their losses.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.