Colombian Peace Negotiations with FARC Rebels

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BOGOTÁ, Colombia — On Sunday, July 15, Juan Manuel Santos was re-elected as president of Colombia. During his campaign, Santos promised to continue his peace negotiations with FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), Colombia’s largest rebel group. Santos believed that his win in the polls reflected the citizens’ desire for him to continue his peace efforts, calling it a “mandate for peace.”

“I heard very clearly that people wanted peace, and they wanted more social justice, and they wanted more pro-active international relations,” Santos said in Bogotá following his re-election. Santos believes that his re-election will add momentum to on-going negotiations, and hopes that a deal can be agreed upon by the end of the year.

Since the FARC rebels declared war on Colombia in 1964, the guerrilla organization has conducted bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and executions throughout the country, has been the cause of death for tens of thousands of people and has led to the displacement of millions.

The guerrilla group believes in the redistribution of wealth from the richer citizens to the poorer, and is opposed to multinational corporations and foreign governments–especially the United States.

FARC has gained support from other organizations and governments, including Cuba under Fidel Castro. The group has also been linked to drug trafficking, an operation which has supplied them with hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

In a negotiation on May 16, 2014, the FARC agreed to sever all ties with the drug trade and work with the government to help farmers substitute drug crops. This breakthrough in the peace process is believed to have helped Santos win his re-election, since there was a strong belief the negotiations were not making enough progress beforehand.

Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, Santos’s opponent who won 45 percent of the vote, wished to make the conditions for the peace talks stricter, with threats to end them altogether unless the rebels agreed to an immediate ceasefire. Although everyone wants peace, Zuluaga believes these calm negotiations are not the way to do it. “A democratic state does not sit down to negotiate with narco-terrorists,” he said in an interview.

Under what was called “transitional justice,” Santos states that the rebels who had not committed crimes against humanity would be able to do social work instead of jail time. Other topics negotiated by the government and the rebels included land reform, future political participation and drug trafficking.

The topics that have not been agreed upon between the government and the rebels are disarmament of the rebels and victim reparations.

The proposed treatment of the rebels still remains controversial among Colombia’s citizens. Many believe that the former FARC members should be forbidden to hold office, yet no statements have been made prohibiting them from holding office thus far.

“The crucial question is where you draw the line between justice and peace. If you ask the victims, they want more justice. If you ask the future victims, they want more peace. This is what we have to negotiate,” Santos said.

There are opposing viewpoints in the government as well. Although Santos beat Zuluaga in the election, former president Alvaro Uribe’s party, Centro Democrático, is clearly against Santos’s efforts. This party will hold 19 out of the 102 senate seats in the next congress, the second largest number behind Santos’s U party of 21 seats.

Although there are many who want to handle the FARC rebels in a different manner, Santos had enough constituent support to win the Presidential election as well as substantial political support from the government. His National Unity coalition includes the Liberal and Cambio Radical parties, and he will most likely be able to gain support from the leftist Polo Democratico and the Alianza Verde party as well.

With all the discussions on how to handle the rebels, it is still clear that the majority of Colombia is willing to work towards peace and stand behind the means to obtain it.

Sources: BBC, The Economist 1, The Economist 2, Encyclopœdia Britannica, The New York Times, The Guardian
Photo: The Morning News

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