PEACE AT LAST

Colombia 2016 | DIPLOMACY | FOCUS: PEACE AGREEMENT

The armed conflict between the Colombian government and several rebel groups that has spanned more than five decades and claimed the lives of thousands is moving toward a peaceful conclusion.

Colombia is on the brink of putting an end to its longest running guerrilla conflict after more than five decades of war against the left-wing FARC rebels. This bloody conflict is now one step closer to its end after President Santos and the FARC leader, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (referred to as “Timochenko"), signed an historic bilateral ceasefire on June 23 in Havana. That agreement laid the groundwork for a final peace treaty, which was finalized in August. Both sides agreed to the creation of temporary transition zones for the nearly 7,000 rebels that will include camps and protected areas not accessible to civilians.

Santos is set to be the Colombian president who finally achieves successful peace negotiations with the FARC rebels, following three previous attempts to do so. Peace talks stalled in the 1990s and violence escalated until the 1998-2002 term of President Andrés Pastrana, who restarted conversations with FARC leadership. The process ultimately failed, and Pastrana's successor, Álvaro Uribe, headed a US military-backed offensive against the guerrillas. Colombia's National Army scored several important victories against the rebels during the following decade, a period in which Santos served as Minister of Defense between 2006 and 2009.

In November 2012, the Santos administration and a group of guerrilla leaders headed by Timochenko began the current peace process, which is now one giant step closer to coming to a close after the announcement in late June. A key aspect of enforcing peace will be bridging the huge economic gap between Colombia's rural areas and the rest of Colombia, particularly in Llanos Orientales, the Western area of the country where the FARC rebels traditionally garnered support from the locals, using it as a stronghold. One of the points of the current peace process, agreed upon in May 2013, addresses the access and use of land for dispossessed peasants and features the creation of a fund to meet that objective. Furthermore, both sides decided to implement national agriculture plans to develop those areas and improve the current infrastructure.

The government and FARC leaders also agreed to reduce the harvest of illicit drugs, one of the main sources of funding for the guerrilla group. Farmers will be discouraged from harvesting materials used for illegal drug production through a national crop substitution program that will be sponsored by the Colombian government. Reducing the drug trade and implementing national policies to boost land productivity are paramount to ensuring the successful development of rural areas.

The government will facilitate the transition of FARC into a political movement after a final referendum on the deal is signed. A system of transitional justice will also be created for the victims of the conflict. This section was one of the most delicate and harsh topics in the peace process, as it establishes the creation of an integral system comprised by judiciary mechanisms and extra-judicial authorities that will be implemented to guarantee the rights of the victims. An important factor will be the creation of a truth commission, a temporary extrajudicial organization that will work on clarifying and investigating the worst cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict. Another key element will be the formation of a Special Jurisdiction for Peace that will judge the crimes.

President Santos has consistently insisted on the need to validate the document by the Colombian people via a referendum, which it was announced in late August would take place in early October. Peace with FARC will be an historical milestone in finally achieving peace in Colombia, where other guerrilla groups and criminal organizations still operate. The next bump in the road for peacemaking will be reaching an agreement with the National Liberation Army, the second largest guerrilla group in the country. This talk will take place in Ecuador, though the priority remains finalizing the current process with FARC.