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      John Kerry's Meeting With 'Terrorists' in Cuba Has Upset Some Colombians

      John Kerry's Meeting With 'Terrorists' in Cuba Has Upset Some Colombians John Kerry's Meeting With 'Terrorists' in Cuba Has Upset Some Colombians John Kerry's Meeting With 'Terrorists' in Cuba Has Upset Some Colombians
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      Americas

      John Kerry's Meeting With 'Terrorists' in Cuba Has Upset Some Colombians

      By Joe Parkin Daniels

      The news that US Secretary of State John Kerry met with leaders from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, this week has highlighted the sense that a peace accord between the rebels and the Colombian government now looks almost inevitable.

      But while the international community applauds the approaching end of 50 years of civil war, reactions to the meeting in Colombia have underlined that support for the peace talks at home should not be taken for granted.

      The closed-door meeting took place in Havana on Monday, within the context of President Barack Obama's visit to Cuba, where the peace negotiations have been based since November 2014. The meeting — which received blanket coverage across Colombian media — was preceded by another encounter with high officials from the Colombian government.

      It also follows Obama's pledge last month of $450 million in aid to Colombia following a peace deal. This marks a major change of focus for US aid to Colombia that has totaled nearly $10 billion since 2000 and been concentrated on helping the government combat rebels and drug production.

      The anger all this has generated among some Colombians seemed to burst out at the news that a US secretary of state actually sat down with the rebels in Havana. Many took to Twitter to voice their disapproval via the hashtag #KerryConTerroristasNo, or #NoToKerryWithTerrorists.

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      The FARC has been included on the list of foreign terrorist groups drawn up by the US since 1997. The tweets typically lambasted the secretary of state for dealing with "terrorists", with some suggesting that he should now sit down with ISIS leaders. The vehemence of the response appeared to reflect that opposition to the peace talks is currently galvanizing ahead of a nationwide protest next month.

      The protest has been called by hardline former president Álvaro Uribe who staked his administration between 2002 and 2010 on his tough military response to the FARC. His presidency was dogged with accusations of using right-wing paramilitaries to carry out atrocities in order to weaken the rebels.

      "Many Colombians feel offended by the meeting between the US government and the FARC," Uribe himself wrote on Twitter on Monday. He also described the Marxist guerrilla group as "the world's largest drug cartel and terrorist group."

      The peace talks promise to end a civil war that has killed over 220,000 people and displaced at least 6 million.

      State-aligned paramilitaries and drug cartels have contributed to the violence, with atrocities committed by all sides. There is now no possibility of reaching a final "End of Conflict " accord by the previous deadline of March 23, but most expect a deal will be signed this year.

      Assuming a final deal is signed between the two sides, it will have to then be approved by Colombian voters in a referendum. Pro-peace sentiment was also out in force following Kerry's meeting with FARC leaders with the word "irreversible" particularly common in social media posts.

      "John Kerry's meeting with the FARC is an indicator that peace will not reverse, it will win out," human rights defender and ex-senator Piedad Córdoba wrote on Twitter. Local media was also largely supportive of the meeting and the US's growing role in the negotiations.

      Major deals have already been reached on land reform, combating the drug trade, honoring victims, and opening the way for the former rebels to enter electoral politics. Other accords also set out plans for the former enemies to work together locating and removing thousands of landmines that scar the Colombian countryside, and to find the bodies of 45,000 people disappeared during the conflict.

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      The recent high-profile expressions of US support for peace in Colombia comes after a number of similar declarations from the international community. As it enters the home straight the Colombian peace process appears to be gathering international fans beyond Norway and Cuba, both acting as guarantors of the talks.

      Pope Francis has expressed that failure in the talks is not an option while the United Nations has agreed to set up a mission to monitor the demobilization of the guerrillas and the consolidation of the ceasefire. Little was revealed about what Kerry discussed with both sides in his closed-door meetings in Havana. One of the few specific topics to emerge was revealed by the government's chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, who said the US will be taking on a role ensuring the safety of the guerrillas once they lay down their guns, though he gave no details.

      The rebels have long voiced their concerns over violent repercussions should they hand in their rifles, remembering a previous failed peace process during the 1980s when as many as 5000 rebels and leftist leaders were murdered after joining the political sphere. For their part the rebels dispensed with the kind of anti-imperialist rhetoric that once peppered their statements.

      "We cannot afford to miss this chance for peace," the FARC's chief negotiator Iván Márquez, tweeted after the meeting. "Kerry told us that today, and we agree."

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      Follow Joe Parkin Daniels on Twitter: @joeparkdan

      Topics: americas, colombia, john kerry, farc, colombian peace process, havana, cuba, barack obama, #kerryconterroristasno, Álvaro uribe, ivÁn mÁrquez, humberto de la calle, pope francis, narco-terrorists, norway

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