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Peace in Colombia?

Posted on Friday, August 31, 2012 in Mamie
Astoundingly, just as we are getting ready to head back to the United States, the Colombian government under President Juan Manuel Santos and the guerillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)  are preparing to sit down for peace talks. It has been ten years since the last attempt at formal peace negotiations - an attempt that ended very suddenly and very badly - and helped open the way toward a much tenser time highlighted by the years of President Uribe's tenure which we caught the tail end of in 2009 and 2010. Rumors of these talks have been bubbling here and there for a while, but without much to back them up. We didn't pay much attention. Then Uribe began to accuse Santos of such talks (yes..."accuse" is the appropriate word, even when talking about attempting peace talks), but who can pay attention to Uribe anymore? He has, in my humble opinion, acted very poorly as a former president during most of Santos' term - very publicly critiquing Santos' every move, even though Santos was his hand-picked successor - so what is one more unsupported blast from Uribe? And then BOOM! Santos formally announces that there have indeed been conversations with the FARC and that the ELN (another guerilla group) have manifested interest in joining in talks to bring an end to the violence in Colombia. AMAZING. For those of you who speak Spanish, here is the official televised announcement. Santos underscores that these conversations are being held with three basic tenets in mind:
  • We will learn from past errors to not repeat them
  • Whatever process must lead to the end of the conflict, not to its prolonging
  • Operations and military presence will be maintained on every centimeter of the national territory
The last point has much to do with the first in that the most recent talk called for a demilitarized zone within Colombia in which the talks would take place, and that will not be repeated. It is interesting, in part, because the FARC has always maintained that they would only negotiate within Colombia, but that seems to have been laid aside now with talks likely happening primarily in Cuba (although most details are still to come). The FARC have not officially made a statement regarding the peace talks, but they have previously promised to put an end to kidnappings (a pre-requisite given earlier remarks from Santos), and after a sharp increase in rebel attacks between July and August, they have dropped drastically since last week.
There is, of course, no guarantee that this will bring about peace in Colombia, but I do think people here want it to. According to the latest Gallup poll, 60% of polled Colombians are in favor of a political solution to the problem. Support for a military-only solution to the conflict is at 37%. (This leads me to wonder what the option is for the other 3%, but I digress...). In a podcast from February 2012 from the Washington Office on Latin America about the 10th anniversary of the failed talks, one point brought up was that in some ways those talks failed because everyone believed they would. That is to say, folks never really bought into the process (and were not brought into it well enough), and that along with a host of other reasons played its role in their demise. And I bet that is true.
Even now, folks have only tentative hope. I do not know what a Gallup poll would say if they asked not what people favor, but whether they believe that whatever they favor will work. It has been too long since there was peace here. There is really almost no living memory of it. There are, however, many living memories of its failure, and of the ways in which some peace talks have resulted in increased violence - either during the talks as a means of influencing events, or in the aftermath of their breakdown. Having little hope makes sense, and yet making sure they do have hope  is incalculably important.
So what we ask of you right now is to pray not just for peace but also for hope. Pray for the willingness to imagine peace - not just an invented peace but a real, lived, true peace. Pray that the vulnerability that will be necessary to achieve such a peace is still possible and that the sacrifice of opening their hearts to such a hope will be rewarded. Pray for the peacemakers - yes, always - but pray for the hope of peace as well.
To read a good (and short) analysis of the prospects for peace from Adam Isacson, an expert on Latin America and particularly Colombia, click here.
If you are interested in more details about the proposed structure of the peace talks, the text of the peace talk agreements to end the conflict can be found here in translation. And for an overview timeline of the peace process in Colombia, click here.

Bring on the comments

  1. Gary Cozette - Chicago says:

    This is GREAT news, truly a hopeful sign. Thank you for your presence in Colombia these past 3 years, and for the solidarity in this peace process begining to unfold.

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