Colombia’s Peace Finally at Hand

Exclusive: In a world darkened by war and disorder, a rare glimmer of optimism broke through as Colombia’s government signed a long-delayed peace accord with the country’s primary guerrilla movement, as Jonathan Marshall describes.

By Jonathan Marshall

With terrorist massacres hitting the news every few days, and financial markets reeling over the uncertain future of Europe, it’s no wonder pundits like Roger Cohen of the New York Times are warning that “the forces of disintegration are on the march” and “the foundations of the postwar world … are trembling.”

But the news media have given only glancing coverage to one of the most positive developments of our time: the end to 52 years of armed conflict between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos.

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos.

That bloody war took the lives of a quarter million people and displaced another 6.9 million, more even than in Syria. It produced countless crimes and atrocities against civilians, fed the international drug trade, and presented extraordinary challenges to the preservation of Colombia’s imperfect democracy.

On June 23, the same day Great Britain voted to exit the European Union, the shooting officially stopped in Colombia with the signing of a definitive, bilateral ceasefire in Havana, Cuba. (Hmm, could the key role of the Cuban government have had something to do with the American media’s disinterest?)

Already, United Nations observers — all from other Latin American nations — have arrived in Colombia to monitor the agreement. The Colombian government has dispatched 2,000 troops to the northern part of the country to safeguard the demobilization of 1,200 FARC guerrillas, the first of as many as 20,000 who will lay down their guns once a final peace deal is signed.

The troops will play an essential role in protecting the ex-guerrillas from violence by right-wing paramilitary groups, such as “Los Urabeños,” which have terrorized FARC sympathizers as well as peasants, union leaders, students and others who make up the political base of the Left in Colombia.

The ceasefire is a stunning achievement given the deep wounds left by unbridled violence on both sides. The talks took 3½ years, testing the patience not only of negotiators, but of the general public, which lost faith that the two sides could ever reach a settlement. (The smaller Marxist guerrilla group, ELN, has yet to reach a similar deal to lay down its arms.)

A Surprising Peacemaker

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who came to office with hardline credentials, surprised many by pursuing peace so relentlessly and at considerable expense to his popularity. But there was no mistaking his passionate conviction after the signing of the agreement:

Ex-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. (Photo credit: World Economic Forum)

Ex-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. (Photo credit: World Economic Forum)

“Today a new chapter opens, one that brings back hope and allows us to slowly heal our wounds, giving our children the possibility of not reliving the history that has caused our country so much harm. . .

“This is a critical step, a historic moment. However, the end of the conflict isn’t our final destination; the end of this conflict is our starting point so we can build together, united in our differences, a country where everyone has a place. Peace is possible, and more certain than ever. Let us build it now.”

The Cuban commentator Elio Delgado-Legon, applauding Colombia’s renewed hopes after more than half a century of war, asked, “Who could be against peace in Colombia?” His answer: only “the dim-witted and over-the-top reactionary minds, who have made war a lifestyle and who benefit from it in some way, without caring about the population’s suffering.”

The reality, however, is that former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, one of America’s staunchest allies — a favorite of both President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. military aid — is spearheading mass protests against any “capitulation” to FARC.

Uribe, now a senator from the right-wing Democratic Center party, is leading a petition drive and other forms of “civil resistance” to defeat any peace settlement with FARC, whose fighters he brands — not entirely without justification — as “terrorists.”

At the beginning of April, he organized huge marches in Bogotá and Medellín, the country’s two largest cities, to protest the peace process and demand the resignation of President Santos. One of the country’s leading newspapers reported that Uribe’s protest was backed by Colombia’s largest paramilitary drug-trafficking organization, Los Urabeños, which managed to shut down much of the north of the country for 72 hours after assassinating a dozen policemen.

While one Colombian senator likened Uribe to Donald Trump, President Santos — Uribe’s former defense minister — simply termed Uribe’s anti-peace campaign “totally irrational.” Santos added, “I laugh when some go around trying to collect some signatures for . . . the war to continue . . . Because war is a factory of victims.”

Many ordinary Colombians are also concerned, however — not because they oppose peace, but because they have not been consulted by the government as to the future of guerrilla resettlement or land reform policies aimed at easing rural discontent.

American Support

To its credit, the Obama administration has given unambiguous support to the peace process. The White House lauded the ceasefire and praised the “courage and leadership” of President Santos in persevering with negotiations over nearly four years. It also committed funding to support implementation of a peace accord and to rid the country of land mines. (Colombia has the second highest number of landmine victims in the world behind Afghanistan.)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The cause of peace would be advanced if Hillary Clinton, Obama’s presumptive successor, went more clearly on record in support of Santos as well. That would mean breaking with Uribe, whose “legacy of great progress” she championed during an official visit to Colombia as Secretary of State in 2010 — against the advice of human rights campaigners who cited his administration’s responsibility for mass killings of civilians and ties to paramilitary drug traffickers.

The fact is, peace still needs all the help it can get in Colombia. In the famous words of one astute social observer: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; “Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War”; and “Israel Covets Golan’s Water and Now Oil.”]

12 comments for “Colombia’s Peace Finally at Hand

  1. Claus Eric Hamle
    July 2, 2016 at 14:25

    There will not be peace in Colombia until the rich begin to pay taxes. Dr Uribe paid 0.40 %, The very rich in Colombia don’t pay anything. That’s the problem.

  2. Joe Tedesky
    July 2, 2016 at 00:37

    June 23rd 2016, we should write this date down. Another date that maybe worth recording will be January 20, 2017, because on that date it is possible our worst nightmare will come alive. Sorry, I don’t mean to be so dramatic, but we’re talking about a possible Hillary Clinton presidency here. With that, why do I feel so insecure over such things, as President Santos of Columbia negotiating a well earned cease fire, or a very misunderstood English voter voting to exit the EU, I mean what on earth could disturb this kind of stuff from having their own political evolution? Three initials, HRC!

    In my imaginary worst case scenario, I see Hillary with a Middle East plan where everything is on the table. I see her plan as it unfolds out, to be so big, that no one, I mean no one in the American media, will even consider giving any air time to a newly ignited war sparking back up in a place such as Columbia. Places like Columbia will be so forgotten about, that only a Godzilla arising out of the waters off the shores of Cartagena might see the light of day somewhere within the American news media empire of it’s well censored audience. Us news junky’s will need to do our web searches most inquisitively to stay ahead of the obscurity which will surround these lessor than important stories, that our media could care less about. Hillary will have all the attention on her, as she conquers the world, and you and I will be able to watch this conquest on our TV’s in our comfortable homes. Just like it should be.

    Then again, let’s hope Hillary’s time in the White House will be spend worrying about what intern Bill had met that day. Maybe a Grandma Hillary will find a new joy, by amusing herself with her two new young grandchildren. Is it possible Putin could donate to the Clinton Foundation, and save us from WWIII? Seriously, is it likely that Hillary will take a disliking to Mrs Netanyahu, and the Palestintian’s are finally given their freedom? Maybe Bill will get ditzy in the head, and start talking out loud about what really happened to Vince Foster.

    So after all of that, I’m just going to write the date June 23rd 2016 down, and in about 18 to 25 months come back to this story, and hope for the best. Congratulations Columbia you deserve lots of peace, and may you enjoy it, and let us all hope that time is a long time in duration. You certainly earned it.

  3. July 1, 2016 at 21:25

    ” … FARC, whose fighters he brands — not entirely without justification — as “terrorists.”

    while the “los urabenos,” a militant force which excises power outside of popular consent, funded by the narcotics trade are a “paramilitary drug-trafficking organization.” this “organization” uses violence to coerce a community to adopt a policy which would not have been considered were it not for the threat of violence.
    the FARC on the other hand … use violence in conducting a war.
    while being limited in resources, they are 20,000 strong. this requires that at least 20,000 families (at minimum) grant the FARC consent. the FARC have far more legitimacy as a popular force than the “los urabenos.”
    the “los urabenos” are to Colombia and washington, as the wahabist forces of ISIS are to Syria and washington.

    July 1, 2016 at 19:08

    “In news on Honduras, six National Police officers have been indicted in U.S. federal court on charges of conspiring to traffic cocaine into the U.S. The conspiracy allegedly involved the son of ex-Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, who took power after the U.S.-backed coup in 2009. The indictments come amid mounting scrutiny of the Honduran security forces, following allegations by a former Honduran soldier that murdered environmentalist Berta Cáceres appeared on a hit list distributed to U.S.-trained special forces before her assassination.” — Democracy Now, June 30, 2016

    Good that Hillary was no longer in position to sabotage the peace accords with the FARC; same with her protege, Uribe.

  5. Pablo Diablo
    July 1, 2016 at 17:56

    We can only hope it lasts.

  6. David Smith
    July 1, 2016 at 13:50

    So FARC “lays down its arms” but the Satanist Contard Death Squads keep theirs??? The Cocaine-Cartel-Governnent Of Colombia cannot defeat FARC on the battlefield so it uses the peace table because the Death Squads are only effective against unarmed people. A phony peace as a prelude to a new terror war against the Colombian people.

  7. Knomore
    July 1, 2016 at 13:24

    Hillary Clinton as an Ambassador of Peace is an oxymoron. Her power base is people like the NeoCon Kagan family (although they’re trying hard now to shed that label). See Robbie Martin’s excellent documentary called A Very Heavy Agenda. HRC will probably make Victoria Nuland of Ukraine infamy her secretary of state — if she’s elected President. The Kagan family and their pernicious, perverse and shameless bid to dominate US foreign policy is the subject of one of Robert Parry’s articles here.

    With these people at its head, the US is a force for world disintegration, for continued plunder and the murder of innocent peoples everywhere.

    The citizens of the US need to study the workings of the peace process in places like Columbia because we fool ourselves if we believe the wars are only over there. The spirit of who we are as a nation has made those wars possible and the chickens always come home to roost.

  8. Knomore
    July 1, 2016 at 13:04

    Discrediting… If the US and its grasping stance toward the rest of the world is finally discredited, the peoples of the world will become free to create alternatives that benefit them — and not the United States–or not necessarily only the United States. Brexit suggests that people are finally beginning to wake up. The awakening will unleash harsh blowback upon the people whom the US fears, but once there is an opening, the floodgates will open. Are we at this threshold? One can hope.

  9. Brad Benson
    July 1, 2016 at 09:05

    If Obama and the US are supporting the deal, there is some other motive besides peace. Santos will have his hands full if he allows the US to get involved in any way.

    • doray
      July 1, 2016 at 11:02

      Ditto. If the US is involved, peace is not the primary motivation.

    • deang
      July 2, 2016 at 03:29

      Exactly. And, no matter what Colombia’s right-wing president says, it is right-wingers like his government and the associated paramilitaries who tend to break ceasefire agreements, not groups like the FARC, viz, Israel’s constant bad faith re Palestine, where the Palestinians are always blamed for Israel not honoring agreements. Also, just like in Guatemala, as long as you have thousands of cops, soldiers, and exes of both who have been trained in repression, torture, and murder, they will continue to be a problem for years to come, maybe in the form of gangs, maybe employed as both public and private cops, maybe as the paramilitary death squads euphemistically called “autodefensas” by right-wingers.

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