Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, announced Tuesday that his government has agreed to a road map to launch peace talks with the country’s largest and oldest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Santos said the talks will begin in October in Norway, and continue outside of Colombia. The negotiations mark the first time since 2002 that the government and the FARC will sit down to discuss a possible end to the brutal, nearly 50-year-old civil conflict that has claimed thousands of lives.
Shortly after Santos spoke, the FARC’s leader, Rodrigo Londono, released his own statement in which he said it was time to seek a lasting peace. That statement would have been fine had the FARC not posted a snarky music video on YouTube one day earlier. In that video, rebels rap about traveling to Havana to seek help in negotiating a truce and sing that the government wasn’t able to defeat them.
The video is a misstep because the lyrics seem to mock the talks and will surely provide fuel for critics of such negotiations. Among those is former President Alvaro Uribe, who opposes any peace talks with the FARC and is a vocal critic of Santos' approach. Others have suggested the FARC is using the talks to buy time while it regroups.
But that’s unlikely given the terms of the peace talks. First, the negotiations will take place in Oslo and Havana, with Norway and Cuba helping to broker the negotiations. And second, the talks won’t include a cease-fire. That’s important because it means Colombia’s army will continue military operations against the rebels. In recent years, the FARC has suffered heavy losses, including the capture or killing of key leaders. The now-weakened rebel group is surely not in a position to launch large-scale attacks. And the group publicly said in March that it would stop kidnapping Colombians for ransom, and it has released many of its political prisoners.
Clearly, there are no guarantees that the talks are going to result in a peace accord. But Colombia stands a better chance now than in previous years of ending the bloodletting. Santos, a former defense minister under Uribe, can’t be painted as a dove. After all, he oversaw key military operations against the FARC. And he’s not likely to alienate the country’s powerful elite since his family is one of them.
At the same time, Santos has proved he isn’t blind to inequities in the country. In 2011, he launched the Victims and Land Restitution Law, an ambitious measure that calls for restoring up to 4.9 million acres (an area nearly the size of New Jersey) to those displaced by the internal conflict since 1991, as well as providing reparations to those victimized in the struggles since 1985. That measure marks the first time Colombia’s government has sought to compensate survivors of the brutal conflict, including peasants who were forced off their farms at gunpoint or who fled, fearing for their lives.
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