This Time is Different: Nearing a Peace Deal in Colombia

BY: KATHERINE GAN, CONTRIBUTOR

Colombia.

A country unfortunately known for sustaining the illicit drug trade and maintaining high levels of violence as well as its incredible natural beauty and economic growth. The former problems can be attributed to one group: FARC. Founded in 1964 by Manuel Marulanda, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had Marxist ideals and opposed the right wing government. Nearly 50 years later, the group has become associated less with political revolution and more with narcoterrorism through the use of tactics such as bombings, murder, kidnapping, and extortion. These attacks are funded by the FARC’s key role in international cocaine trafficking and gold mining not only in Colombia but also in countries such as Venezuela and Mexico. Its actions have contributed to civil conflict in Colombia, with as many as 220,000 dead in the past half century alone. Due the severe humanitarian costs of civil conflict, the Colombian government has repeatedly extended an olive branch to FARC to sit down for negotiations or settle for a ceasefire. While past attempts have critically failed and only exacerbated the violence in the region, the ongoing peace talks hold much promise.

Initially, successful negotiations between a government and a terrorist organization seem to be highly unlikely and hold naive expectations. However, at the end of the day, both groups want peace in a region that has been ravaged by conflict for over 50 years. Already, there have been signs of progress. The peace talks between the government and FARC hold six primary objectives, with land reform, political participation, and the termination of the illegal drugs trade already settled. The most sensitive topic so far has been transitional justice—the punishment for those who have committed crimes against humanity. For FARC leaders, the possibility of criminal prosecution, prison, or even extradition to the United States was enough to break the three year long negotiations. However, in September of 2015, both sides finally settled on a truth-and reconciliation process, in which top commanders (on both sides) would appear in front of a special tribunal, composed of both native and international judges, to make their case. While the deal is not complete, this reconciliation on the most disputed issue in negotiations represents a crucial step towards peace and safety for Colombians.

To many, this peace deal will be yet again another broken promise and false feeling of security for both Colombia and the rest of the world. Analysts and civilians in Colombia are skeptical that FARC, a terrorist organization, is willing and able to change. That is why it is crucial to look at the strength and ability of the organization to fight back. Lately, the group has been faltering. Due to a U.S.-led military campaign and fighting with other rebel groups, FARC has already lost half of its ground troops and a substantial number of commanders. Additionally, the group’s previous support from Venezuela for arms and a sanctuary seems unlikely, as the Venezuelan regime is beginning to lose power. Moreover, for Cuba, there are significant diplomatic advantages to brokering peace, meaning Castro’s government is less likely to intervene and throw support for FARC. It is crucial to understand that FARC itself does not believe its original goal, of obtaining Colombia by power, is feasible or realistic, partially due to the mass casualties it has inflicted and suffered. As unlikely as it seems, FARC is also searching for peace; the negotiations with the government are the quickest and most efficient way of getting there.

The United States has an essential role in mitigating conflict in the region. The original Plan Colombia, outlined by President Bill Clinton in 1999, provided billions of dollars in aid in counterinsurgency and the failed war on drugs. Nevertheless, the plan had a vital role in weakening FARC and pushing the organization towards peace talks. That is why President Santos has asked the United States to jumpstart Plan Colombia 2.0, estimated to cost up to $500 million annually in reintegrating FARC troops and building infrastructure and public services throughout the country. Financial assistance from the United States would certainly ensure negotiations are carried out smoothly and help both sides reach their March 23rd accord deadline. Moreover, politically, the United States, as a part of the UN Security Council, plays a vital role in mediating the conflict by urging countries to join in the process as well as contribute in funding to Colombia. Only with the backing of the global community can FARC and the Colombian government pave their way to peace.

Success may seem improbable and far away. However, the times have changed. FARC, the Colombian government, and even the United States are willing and have shown steps towards commitment to peace. For Colombians, that means promises fulfilled not broken, and security not violence in the region.

How should the governments of Colombia and America work to eliminate the threat of FARC? Leave a comment below.