The commander of one of the FARC’s most elite fighting units, “El Paisa,” arrived in Havana to take part in ongoing peace talks after reportedly having rejected the talks.
El Paisa, whose real name is Hernan Dario Velasquez, is the commander of the Teofilo Forero column, an elite unit of the FARC that is active in the Caqueta and Meta provinces in central Colombia.
The FARC commander is one of the most feared of guerrilla leaders and accused of hundreds of crimes and, until recently, with a $440,000 bounty on his head.
According to the government, El Paisa will not be one of the negotiators, but his arrival has major symbolic value and undermines earlier media reports indicating the Teofilo Forero chief was not interested in a peace process.
While El Paisa’s arrival gives hope his unit may demobilize with the rest of the FARC, this is not entirely certain.
But the FARC is currently negotiating its demobilization and disarmament, and El Paisa’s disarmament and surrender to transitional justice would be a major gain for the prospects of peace, particularly in the center of the county.
According to weekly Semana, El Paisa’s Teofilo Forero unit could be the FARC unit with most blood on its hands as it has been involved in numerous attacks on security forces and civilians.
This makes him one of the least likely to be enthusiastic about the pending disarmament and inclusion into politics of the FARC; unlike other commanders, El Paisa has never taken part in politics without the use of bullets and bombs.
With the arrival of El Paisa, most of the FARC’s most prominent block and unit commanders are now in Havana, where talks have been taking place since 2012.
If successful, the talks will result in a peace process and the formal end to the armed conflict between the Marxist guerrillas and the state.
Colombia Reports |by Adriaan Alsema