The Handshake That Will Change Colombia

The Handshake That Will Change Colombia
For about 50 years now the Latin American country of Colombia has been involved in a military struggle that has claimed the lives of about 220,000 persons. Even though there are other groups involved in this struggle, the conflict has been principally between the government forces and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army, popularly known as FARC.
But on Wednesday, September 23, 2015 things took a positive turn; for the first time the world witness a handshake between the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, and the leader of Latin America’s most oldest guerrilla movement, Commandante Timoleon Jimenez.

FARC’s Background
The FARC was formed in 1964 after the peasant revolt. At a certain point in time it could boast of about 18,000 fighters amongst whom were women. Official sources say the group has between 7000-10,000 fighters today. They are principally lodged in the South Eastern rainforest of the country and have been involved in high profile killings and kidnappings. One of their most celebrated interns was the Franco-Colombian politician, Ingrid Betancourt, released in 2008 after spending 7 years with the group. In recent times FARC has suffered major setbacks from the government’s military might and the death of the group’s legendary leader, Manuel Malrulanda, in 2008, yet the group lives on because violence only weakened it but did not solve the incompatible views of the major players in the Colombian conflict.

The Conflict
The FARC was a paramilitary wing of the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) formed in the aftermath of the violent crackdown by government forces of the peasant revolts. The group says using violence is the only way they can defend the rights of the rural masses. Over the years the conflict has given rise to bombings, bloodshed, assassination, and disruption of activities, with the population paying the highest price. They are frequently being displaced and from time-to-time subjected to the violation of their rights by the military and FARC forces. This violent insurrection has also slowed down the development process of the area. With the lull in military activities three years ago, following the beginning of talks, it is expected that other players like the National Liberation Army (ELN), the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) will get involved in the peace process as the guns give way to the smiles and hugs, especially with the handshake of these major players.

The Negotiation
In his speech last Wednesday, President Santos said they will create a Tribunal that will investigate and try all those suspected of war crimes and drug trafficking from both the government’s end and the FARC forces.The FARC’s leader, Commandante Timoleon Jimenez, expressed his satisfaction for being part of a negotiation process that will lead to a positive outcome.
Discussions which are taking place in the Cuban capital of Havana are being facilitated by Norwegian and Cuban delegates with the host president, Raul Castro, present at the signing ceremony last Wednesday. The parties involved have promised to come out with a settlement in six months’ time. The Wednesday meeting was preceded by talks between the government and a delegation from FARC which started in November 2012.
Gradually, major political powers are coming to the conclusion that conflicts can better be managed through dialogue as it becomes an opportunity to transform those differences that had caused them to pick up arms into gains, not just for one party, but for everybody.