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Colombia’s Long Road to Peace

NEW YORK – The peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) reached this month by the country’s government has received much-deserved praise. It is a historic achievement, one that promises to end more than a half-century of kidnapping, forced displacement, indiscriminate attacks on villages, and violence that has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.

Colombia is well versed in bringing an end to violent confrontation. After a decade-long mid-twentieth-century clash between the country’s two major political parties – known simply as “la violencia” – a bipartisan settlement, approved in a plebiscite in 1957, ended the conflict.

In 1990, the Colombian government reached political settlements with several rebel groups. The M-19, for example, became a major force in the 1991 Constitutional Assembly, with some of its leaders becoming active participants in democratic political life.

But some guerilla organizations – including the largest, the FARC, and the much smaller National Liberalization Army (ELN) – proved difficult to bring into line. Negotiations with the ELN are ongoing, but do not seem promising. Negotiations with the FARC failed three times – in the 1980s, in the early 1990s, and at the turn of the century.