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Last Updated:10/9/06
Memorandum: Regarding reports of CIP involvement in possible "humanitarian exchange" talks, October 9, 2006


October 9, 2006

To: Interested colleagues
From: Adam Isacson, Colombia Program, Center for International Policy
Re: Regarding reports of CIP involvement in possible "humanitarian exchange" talks

Álvaro Leyva, a former Colombian senator and minister who has been involved in his country's peace processes since the 1980s, is serving as a facilitator for what might become a round of talks with the FARC guerrillas. These talks, if they occur, would aim to secure a "humanitarian exchange:" the release of 62 individuals whom the insurgents have been holding, in some cases for as long as eight years, in exchange for the release of FARC prisoners in Colombian jails.

We note that, in recent declarations before the Colombian press, Mr. Leyva has been mentioning a potential role for the Center for International Policy in this effort. For instance, the following is a translated excerpt from an interview with Mr. Leyva published in Sunday's edition of the Colombian daily El Tiempo.

El Tiempo reporter Yamid Amat: Do you think that an encounter is far off?

Álvaro Leyva: I do not. Trust must be established. How? Through the media, through the presence of friendly countries. For example, I am of the opinion that there is an American NGO that understands the issue.

El Tiempo: To do what?

Álvaro Leyva: To be present and to encourage this to turn out well. That NGO is called Center for International Policy, and it played an important role in Central America.

El Tiempo: Have you consulted with them?

Álvaro Leyva: Yes, of course. And they have told me that they are willing to come, to do what is required. This mission would be headed by the president of this NGO, Mr. Robert White, and he would be accompanied by another expert in Colombian affairs, Mr. Adam Isacson. This NGO will give confidence to some as well as to others.

El Tiempo: Will the FARC have reservations about the fact that they are Americans?

Álvaro Leyva: But we are not in an armed conflict with the United States, it is a bad thing to mix geopolitical situations and local circumstances that make the Colombian phenomenon a problem for American security. I also consulted the Community of Sant'Egidio and they are willing to come.

El Tiempo: Who are they?

Álvaro Leyva: This is an NGO of the Vatican, legally established within the Vatican state. They helped to achieve peace in Mozambique.

The Center for International Policy ratifies Mr. Leyva's comments about our willingness to assist the current movement toward dialogue. We see such assistance as well within one of the main goals of CIP's Colombia Program: to build support in the United States for a negotiated solution to Colombia's violent conflict.

This work has brought CIP President Robert White and CIP Colombia Program Director Adam Isacson into regular contact with Álvaro Leyva over the past several years. We share his belief that building communication and relations of trust are central to the success of any future process, even though doing so will be slow and often politically difficult.

At this point, no effort has been made to define in any detail what role CIP - a U.S.-based non-governmental organization - would play. We have not discussed it in detail with Mr. Leyva or anyone else, and we feel that it makes little sense to do so at this early stage, while the process has yet to take shape. No date has been set for a mission led by CIP President Robert White. While our knowledge of the U.S. context as it relates to the talks might make us a useful resource, it is premature to speculate any further.

If a process does develop, and a role for CIP along with it, we will try to be as transparent about our activities as circumstances allow. Our expectation, though, would be to stay in the background and focus on the objective of winning freedom for those in captivity, with the longer-term goal of building the confidence and communication necessary for further movement toward a negotiated solution.

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