SANTIAGO – Gabriel García Márquez’s great novel One Hundred Years of Solitude starts with a colonel who “started 32 civil wars and lost them all” facing the firing squad. The site of the event is the fictional town of Macondo, but few readers are fooled: the novel is about García Márquez’s native Colombia.
Last week, Colombia’s civil war – the sole remaining armed conflict in Latin America – formally came to an end. It lasted more than 50 years, cost a quarter-million lives, and displaced six million people. It seems hard to believe, but peace is finally here.
Pessimists will point out that much remains to be worked out, fighters have yet to hand in their weapons, and the final peace agreement has not been signed. Still, the handshake in Havana between President Juan Manuel Santos and guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (known by the nom de guerre Timochenko) marks the end of a tragic era and the beginning of a far more promising one.
Beginning in the 1960s, Latin America was infected by a bad case of what Lenin called “Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder.” Donning fatigues and taking to the mountains was the cure for all social ills. Guerrilla movements were born and grew, often only to split up and engender new ones. In many places – especially Central America – violent insurgency became endemic.