It seems we can add the FARC leadership to the growing list of unlikely admirers—including Cuban President Raúl Castro and Bolivian President Evo Morales—of the Roman Catholic pontiff. Speaking from Havana, Iván Márquez, the chief negotiator for the FARC in the Colombia peace talks, called the possibility of meeting with Pope Francis “something extraordinary.”
“Imagine the impact of having the support of Pope Francis in this collective effort we Colombians are undertaking to achieve reconciliation after decades of confrontation,” he said, adding that so far no meeting was scheduled, and that his statements simply reflected an “aspiration” on the part of the FARC negotiators.
Márquez’s statement comes as the peace process inches back from one of its most difficult phases. On July 20, the FARC reestablished an indefinite, unilateral ceasefire, injecting a degree of hope into a process that seemed headed for failure amid an escalation of violence that followed the collapse of an earlier ceasefire. In the days after the new agreement was set, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced a deal to deescalate the conflict. And yesterday FARC negotiators met with UN delegates in Cuba to discuss steps towards the implementation of a bilateral ceasefire.
However, it is unclear whether public confidence in the negotiations has recovered after plummeting over the course of the spring and early summer. A July poll showed supporters of a military solution to the conflict evenly matched with supporters of peace talks for the first time since the talks began in 2012, and found that only 33 percent of Colombians thought the negotiations would result in a conflict-ending agreement. In this context, the FARC’s bid to engage with Francis, who is viewed favorably by 83 percent of Colombians, may signal a genuine effort to win back public support for the negotiations.