Foreign Policy

Is Colombia coming closer to the end of a long road to peace?

Sunday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) declared that they will stop the practice of kidnapping for financial gain. This announcement is a milestone, not just because of Colombia’s past reputation as the kidnapping capital of the world, but also because of the profitability of this practice for the FARC-EP. Kidnapping, along with drug trafficking and other illicit activities, has been a main source of income for the revolutionary movement since its inception in 1964. The FARC-EP also claimed that they would release the last ten members of Colombia’s security forces they hold hostage, some of whom have been held captive for as long as fourteen years. However, there has been no word as to if the FARC-EP will release hostages taken in ransom-based kidnappings. True to the form of the FARC-EP, no date has been provided for the prisoners’ release. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has repeatedly declared that no negotiations between the FARC-EP and the government would take place until there is a release of hostages and an end to the FARC-EP’s kidnapping campaign. With Sunday’s declaration, the door has now potentially been opened for negotiations.

The Associated Press notes that analysts are not convinced the FARC-EP will follow through with their promise. According to analysts, the revolutionary movement has become fragmented and its leaders might have trouble imposing the kidnapping ban. I, however, am cautiously optimistic that this could be a step down the long road to peace for the country of my birth.

The Colombian security forces are, finally, winning the war against the FARC-EP (but not the War on Drugs) through intelligence gathering and precision strikes, which have killed many of the FARC-EP’s top commanders. These significant victories have negatively impacted the morale of the revolutionary movement’s dwindling membership. Furthermore, the practice of kidnapping has hurt the FARC-EP’s standing with the public (on whose behalf they supposedly fight). As the state has continued to expand its governing capacity and service providing, public support for the FARC-EP has eroded and they are desperate to regain public favor.

In the past, the FARC-EP has used hostage releases and the (empty) promise of peace negotiations to influence public opinion. The last set of significant peace talks took place a decade ago and dissolved in spectacular fashion with the FARC-EP retreating to the mountainous and rural regions of Colombia to continue their war against the state. However, there is new leadership in place, and the aforementioned pressures have severely weakened the movement and the FARC-EP leadership must consider all potential options, including peace negotiations with the government.

Unfortunately, Sunday’s announcement does not mark the end of the armed conflict that has plagued Colombia since before the conquistadors arrived in the 16th century. However, with this announcement, I see light at the end of the tunnel. The US should be keeping a close eye on this developing situation, as Colombia is our strongest ally in South America, a large recipient of foreign aid, and a key partner in the never-ending War on Drugs.

I hope that this is not more false hope from a group that has previously (repeatedly) lied about laying down their arms. But dialogue can potentially begin because one of President Santos’ pre-conditions has allegedly been met. It is also important to note that Santos is far more willing to negotiate with the FARC-EP than his ultra-militant and uncompromising predecessor Alvaro Uribe (who, to be fair, has personal contempt for the FARC-EP because they killed his father in a botched kidnapping attempt in 1983).

The skepticism of the analysts monitoring this situation is well founded and I acknowledge that it may be naïve of me to hope that peace will finally come to Colombia, but the people of Colombia, both at home and abroad, deserve it. A los FARC-EP: si de verdad representa el pueblo, cumple su promesa.

– Max Rava

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