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Colombia’s Peace Gambit

BOGOTÁ – Two-thirds of Colombia’s population believes that the dialogue now taking place between the government of President Juan Manuel Santosand the rebel group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) might actually turn out to be successful.They believe that the conflict’s end could be in sight, with the FARC, possibly the world’s oldest extant guerilla organization, laying down its arms and joining the official political arena.

After 38 years of conflict, Colombians’ optimism is striking. Since 1982, at least three negotiation attempts have failed. The Unión Patriótica, a party created in the 1980’s as a vehicle for political participation by rebels, dissolved following the extermination of 1,500 of its members at the hands of unknown paramilitary forces.

Then, in the 1990’s, the government abandoned negotiations when the FARC assassinated a former secretary of state. And, in 2002, the government ended a dialogue with the rebels after officials became convinced that the FARC did not seek peace, but wanted merely to take advantage of the 42,000-square-kilometer area that would be demilitarized for the negotiations.

After his election in 2002, President Álvaro Uribe pursued a hardline security policy, supported by the United States. The strategy was so popular that the constitution was amended to allow for Uribe’s reelection in 2006. While he was not allowed to run for a third term, no candidate in the 2010 election suggested altering his iron-fisted approach, or proposed renewing talks with the guerillas.