MADRID – After four long years of talks in Havana, Cuba, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has negotiated an end to successive governments’ armed conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the most resilient insurgent group in Latin America. Colombia’s civil war, which lasted for six decades, has killed an estimated 220,000 people and displaced another six million. Ending it was a remarkable feat of diplomacy, and Santos deserves the world’s applause. Indeed, he should be far and away the leading candidate for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Three significant factors led to the peace accord: the Colombian armed forces’ increased effectiveness, which enabled them to decimate the FARC’s ranks; Santos’s previous diplomatic groundwork, wherein he repaired Colombia’s previously fraught relations with neighboring Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, an axis that had long contributed to sustaining the FARC by providing logistical and political support; and, finally, Cuba’s new policy of rapprochement with the United States, which Santos was wise to exploit in his own efforts to make peace.
With the conditions for negotiations in place, Santos also had to address the root cause of the conflict. He did this by signing the Victims and Land Restitution Law in June 2011, in the presence of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The law was a watershed, because it simultaneously pacified violent regions, delivered justice for millions of dispossessed peasants, radically improved standards of living, and blunted the appeal of a guerrilla group that used the banner of land reform to justify its untold atrocities. It even drew praise from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia for its special provisions for women and children survivors of human rights abuses, and for those targeted for their perceived sexual orientation.
While not flawless, the Victims and Land Restitution Law clearly helped pave the way for peace and national reconciliation in Colombia. Indeed, none other than the FARC’s former leader, Alfonso Cano (the nom de guerre of Guillermo Sáenz Vargas), acknowledged this in 2011.