At his first meeting with Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces in February, Bernard Aronson began with a joke. “Maybe you were expecting Miss Universe?” he asked, referring to the Colombian winner of the international beauty contest just a few weeks before.
“Well, you’ll have to settle for me,” Aronson told the six guerrilla representatives gathered around a diplomat’s swimming pool in Havana. They laughed, he laughed and the ice was broken.
Since then, Aronson has met regularly with representatives of the FARC — the group’s Spanish acronym — as the Obama administration’s special envoy to peace negotiations between the guerrillas and the Colombian government. He is due to return to Cuba, after testimony at a House hearing, this week.
It is a strange role for the representative of a country that has designated the FARC an international terrorist organization and that has spent billions over the past two decades supporting Colombia’s war against it. A number of senior FARC leaders were extradited to this country and are now serving sentences for drug trafficking, murder and other crimes; dozens are the subject of outstanding extradition requests, some of them reportedly among the Havana negotiators.