Colombia’s Peace Process: Déjà Vu in a Polarized Country

The current peace process in Colombia between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC rebel group is unfolding in the midst of a polarized atmosphere. The kidnapping of two policemen by rebels only days before the dialogue in Cuba was to resume made evident the consequences of negotiating in an ongoing war. Even though the FARC considers the "right" to capture "prisoners of war" to be part of its confrontation against the state, it sews doubts - in the public and the government - about the commitment of this guerrilla group to the peace process. Only a few months ago the guerrillas had pledged their willingness to halt kidnappings. Kidnapping the policemen is only one of several actions, including kidnappings of civilians and attacks against infrastructures, taken by the FARC since the unilateral ceasefire ended in late January.

Most Colombians want the conflict to end and support the opening phase of the current peace process (71 percent according to Gallup). At the same time, however, citizens deeply mistrust the FARC and doubt that an agreement will actually be reached (54 percent say they are “pessimistic”). As in the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, public opinion is enthusiastic and hopeful about reaching a long-awaited peace, but the long war and the failure of previous negotiations awaken its worst demons. With this mindset, those who support the current process do so with a cautious and fragile optimism, one that can dissipate in the absence of quick and tangible results.