Slow Progress for Peace Negotiations in Colombia

After over three years of peace negotiations in Havana, between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC) and the Colombian government, the 23rd of March was the deadline set for a final agreement. However, despite visible and very encouraging progress, it seems that the conclusion of Latin America’s longest-running civil war is not here just yet.

The peace process is certainly underway, most importantly in that FARC announced its unilateral ceasefire in July last year and the government vowed to end air strikes on FARC camps. The ongoing negotiations in Cuba that commenced in November 2012 have also attracted international congratulation and endorsement, perhaps most so in the case of the U.S.

‘Plan Colombia’, launched in 2000, entailed large quantities of American military aid donation that aimed to assist in the implementation of a peace deal. More recently, Obama announced last month that, up from the prior $325 million of donation, he would launch ‘Peace Colombia’ and be asking the U.S. Congress for $450 million in aid for the war-devastated nation, supporting demining, humanitarian and counter-narcotics projects. In his meeting with Colombian president, Juan Miguel Santos, at the White House, the American president promised that the U.S. would be “your partner in waging peace” and that it was “an incredible moment of promise” for the resolution of conflict.

Obama’s seemingly good intentions have come under heavy criticism from various theorists, however, with Dr. Adrienne Pine of American University referring to this latest scheme as an “Orwellian obfuscation”, and blaming its predecessor for only further contributing to the violence. A number of advocates for non-intervention have seen American inclusion in the peace process as little more than a further example of the global hegemon reasserting its influence over the Southern hemisphere. Even the former Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe Velez, has appealed to the United States to rethink its support for the peace talks, although, with admittedly alternative motivations. He has instead called for the extradition of FARC members to the U.S. on drug trafficking charges.

It seems that there are greater concerns at hand, however, primarily in that UN envoy to Colombia, Fabrizio Hochschild, has said that the peace agreement may not be finalized by its March deadline after all, hoping instead that agreement might be reached ‘in the first half of this year’. Although Hochschild describes this “very difficult stage” as the “last kilometer of a marathon”, it seems that there are a number of obstacles yet to be overcome. Firstly, Colombia and the FARC are yet to agree on the details of disarmament and the manner in which the final accord will be ratified. While Santos wishes to put the peace deal to a popular vote, FARC wants it passed by a constituent assembly. Additionally, former agriculture minister, Juan Camilo Restrepo, who helped to draft a rural reform deal with the guerrillas, said last week that the government would not be able to deliver the land reform measures agreed upon. Considering that land reform has been a key point of contention throughout the talks, Restrepo’s warning does not bode well.

Furthermore, despite some form of progress with the FARC, negotiations with the second largest rebel group in the country, the National Liberation Army (ELN), seem to have stalled. Although much smaller in size than FARC, with around 2,000 armed fighters, they could still put the peace of the country in jeopardy. The rebel group has recently increased its presence and started attacks in areas that were traditionally under control of FARC. Last month saw an ELN-imposed 72-hour shutdown and a wave of attacks against military, police and infrastructure in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of their charismatic co-founder, Camilo Torres.

With these issues threatening to undermine the incredible progress that has been made, it seems that international observers must simply hold their breath and hope that after a quarter of a million people dead and millions displaced, the imminent end for five decades of civil war may still be in sight.

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