BOMBOLO, ANTIOQUIA, COLOMBIA – While Syria’s civil war and political crises in Thailand and Ukraine continue to dominate the headlines, Colombia’s government, led by President Juan Manuel Santos, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) may be about to end the longest and most brutal conflict in Latin America’s history. An agreement would enable Colombia – an important regional ally of the United States – to shift its attention and resources to economic and social development.
The latest series of talks – held in Havana, and mediated by Cuba and Norway – was launched in November 2012. Despite some setbacks, the process has raised hope of a permanent end to the 50-year conflict, which has displaced at least five million people and led to more than 200,000 deaths (an estimated 85% of them civilians), with 23,161 selective killings, 25,007 forced disappearances, 27,023 kidnappings, and 1,982 massacres.
Of course, this is not the parties’ first attempt to forge a peace agreement. In the late 1990’s, President Andrés Pastrana’s government met with the guerrillas – along with representatives from the United Nations and from Cuba, Spain, France, Switzerland, Brazil, and other countries – in a demilitarized area of Colombia to pursue an agreement.
But the talks faced considerable headwinds. The United States never believed in the process, and undermined it at every opportunity. Moreover, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who rose to power in 1999, viewed the FARC as a natural partner in an eventual new alliance of left-wing forces in the Andes. With Europe offering only empty promises, and the UN unsure of how to catalyze progress on the talks’ ambitious 12-point agenda (which included more than 100 items), the effort collapsed in 2002.