Top negotiators at Colombia talks met before

Associated Press Modified: November 18, 2012 at 7:02 pm •  Published: November 18, 2012
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BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The two chief negotiators didn't shake hands. They didn't even look at each other as they formally inaugurated talks to end Colombia's stubborn five-decade-old conflict in Norway last month.

On Monday, the rebel former seminarian known as Ivan Marquez and government representative Humberto de la Calle, a sage veteran of Colombian politics, will sit down in Havana to negotiate in earnest.

The two have little in common other than eyeglasses, a slight paunch and a previous failed attempt to talk peace.

"The men sitting down at this table are enemies. They are trying to become friends," said Horacio Serpa, who was Colombia's interior minister during the mid-1990s when De la Calle was vice president.

Marquez and De la Calle offered very different views of reality in Oslo that made many wonder whether this fourth attempt at peace since the 1980s can succeed.

The No. 2 commander in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, insisted on radical change: Take control of the nation's oil and mineral wealth from multinationals and give it to the people.

De la Calle reiterated on Sunday, as the government delegation departed for Havana, what he said in Oslo: Colombia's economic model is not subject to negotiation.

"But we also aren't asking the FARC to abandon its ideas," he said in brief comments at the airport.

The government he represents, led by President Juan Manuel Santos, seeks greater foreign investment in mining industries while also promising to return millions of acres of stolen land to displaced peasants. Marquez's 9,000-strong insurgency, meanwhile, is being asked as a condition of peace to help end the cocaine trade that has funded its struggle. Colombians also want it to account for the dozens of ransom kidnap victims who have disappeared in its custody and other noncombatants it is accused of killing.

Neither side has illusions about the difficulties. But there is an agenda, reached in seven months of secret talks, also in Havana. First up is land reform, the heart of the conflict.

The FARC is insisting on the public's participation in the talks, and De la Calle said both sides have been "working on tools to facilitate citizen participation" that include "a website and other mechanisms that will become known in coming days."

The 66-year-old De la Calle is best known for quitting as vice president in 1996 after his boss, President Ernesto Samper, was accused of winning the presidency with $6 million in contributions from the Cali cocaine cartel. De la Calle is from Manazares, a coffee-growing town in Caldas state.

Marquez, 57, hails from Florencia, the capital of the southern state of Caqueta that has long been a rebel bastion.

Born Luciano Marin Arango, Marquez took his nom de guerre from a labor leader assassinated in the 1980s. He studied to be a priest in Garzon, in the central state of Huila, but dropped out after two years. He later studied philosophy in Bogota but didn't finish that either, and after two years as a biology teacher in Florencia joined the Communist Youth in 1977.

De la Calle was a law school dean at the time. In 1982, he was named head of Colombia's national elections commission and held the job when Marquez ran in 1986 as an alternate for Congress on the ticket of the Patriotic Union, the political wing that the FARC created after reaching a truce with the government.

It was a dangerous time to be a Patriotic Union activist. At least 3,000 members were systematically slaughtered by right-wing death squads, and Marquez was among many who joined the armed rebels. A movement that barely surpassed 1,000 fighters at the beginning of the 1980s began growing quickly.

Carlos Romero, the Patriotic Union's president in 1989, remembers Marquez as quiet and industrious, organizing meetings and documents in a subsidiary role to Alfonso Cano, who would later become the FARC's top commander and was tracked down and killed last year by the military.