Thursday, February 6, 2014

VOXXI: Colombian army intelligence reportedly spying government negotiators

Colombian Army Intelligence reportedly spying government negotiators
W. Alejandro Sanchez
February 6, 2014
Originally published:

On February 3, the renowned Colombian magazine Semana revealed that members of the Colombian Army’s intelligence service have been spying on government and FARC negotiators as they discuss a historic peace agreement in Havana, Cuba.
The goal of these espionage operations was to sabotage the negotiations, as sectors of the Colombian military (and civic society in general) are against an agreement with theFARC insurgents.
While this scandal is just starting, it does not bode well for the future of President Juan Manuel Santos and his quest for a second presidential term in May.

The Facts on operation Andromeda

From what is known so far, the aim of the intelligence operation, called “Andromeda,” was to collect information from the email accounts, text-conversations, and online chats via Blackberrys and WhatsApp.
The targets were the Colombian government’s negotiators in Cuba, NGO representatives, and opposition (and arguably FARC-friendly) leaders such as the renowned Piedad Córdoba and Iván Cepeda.
Reports by the Colombian media explain that a group of senior military officers, known as the “generación de los 70,” were behind the espionage operation. It seems that intelligence operatives routinely briefed at least 70 retired generals.
The goal of Andromeda was to pressure President Santos to “change the rules of the peace process or end the dialogue altogether.”
Currently, the office of the attorney general is analyzing 26 computers that were seized during a raid on a restaurant in downtown Bogotá, which was apparently a cover for the headquarters of the espionage operations.
Additionally, the attorney general has already begun interviewing individuals who are allegedly connected with the case.
Meanwhile, Semana reports that the inspector general of the Army has until Saturday, February 15 to provide President Santos with a report of Andromeda.
It is too early to tell who else will be named as a participant in this operation. However, for the time being, General Mauricio Zuñiga, the chief of the Colombian Army’s intelligence, and General Oscar Zuluaga, director of the Central de Inteligencia Técnica del Ejército (CITEC), have been suspended from their duties.

President Santos, Andromeda and election season

An issue to keep in mind is how the Andromeda scandal could potentially affect, if at all, the ongoing negotiations in Cuba.
A FARC representative in Havana has declared, “Of course, (Former President) Alvaro Uribe is behind all of this. Don’t forget that Alvaro Uribe is public enemy number one of peace in Colombia.”
It is well known that former President Uribe is against the peace negotiations and favors a military solution with the FARC. Nevertheless, there have not been reports of the FARC leaving the negotiations thus far.
But there is one clear looser in this scandal: President Santos.

The Colombian President has utilized the negotiations as a tool to help him get reelected in the country’s upcoming May elections.
Recent polls show that Santos has a marginable lead over his closest opponent; a January poll by the polling agency “Cifras y Conceptos” for the Colombian news agency, Caracol, give Santos 26 percent of the vote, with Oscar Iván Zuluaga coming in second place with 9 percent. Even so, it is worth noting that the poll also showed that 30 percent of voters would vote blank.
In other words, more voters would prefer not to vote at all rather than to re-elect the president. The poll demonstrates that there is not an overwhelming amount of support for the head of state of this South American nation.
The FARC know that President Santos needs a success at the negotiating table which is, arguably, one of the reasons why the negotiations have gone over a year and why only two points of a six-point peace plan have been (tentatively) agreed upon.
In other words, both the Santos administration and the FARC leadership know that this peace process is not just about ending the conflict; but it is also a political (and electoral) weapon.

How Do You Want Peace?

The Andromeda operation highlights what is vox populi for scholars and the Colombian population: there are individuals in high-ranking positions in the Colombian government and military who do not want a peace agreement.
A major reason for the reluctance of segments of the armed forces towards the ongoing peace process is the belief that the guerrillas will use a long-term cease-fire to regroup and re-start the conflict. This scenario was previously played out during the Andrés Pastrana administration’s agreement with the FARC in the late 1990s.
In previous commentaries for VOXXI, I have argued that while I believe a peace agreement can be reached with the FARC’s leadership, I do not believe that all FARC fighters, estimated at around 8,000, will agree to demobilize.
But what will be the effect of the Andromeda scandal on the Colombian population? The aforementioned poll highlights that 39 percent of polled citizens favor the peace negotiations to end the conflict with the FARC.
This is a respectable but not overwhelming percentage, probably adding to the fact that the negotiations have gone on for a year, yet the violence continues.
(The FARC has been blamed for a mid-January motorcycle bomb that killed two individuals and injured around 40.)
The coming weeks (particularly after the report on Andromeda is presented by February 15) will be critical for President Santos as he will have to demonstrate what kind of statesman and leader he truly is. A true head of state needs to have a firm control over his military.

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