For 52 years since 1964, Colombia has been in the grip of a brutal and prolonged civil war between leftist F.A.R.C. (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerillas, the Government of Colombia and rightist groups such as the National Liberation Army (E.L.N.). It is a war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, turned an unknown number of communities on their heads. It is a war that has sadly made the name Colombia synonomous with drugs and corruption. But with the peace agreement signed on Thursday, is Colombia on the verge of peace?
Not many New Zealanders would think of visiting Colombia and probably even fewer actually travel 11,000 kilometres to an Andean nation usually in the media for all the wrong reasons. But just this once, Colombia is in the media possibly for all the right right reasons, and for that it has to be congratulated.
The war was not only long and brutal, but it also exacted a hideous toll. 220,000 people lost their lives in the conflict and 7 million were forced from their homes. The road still ahead still has many obstacles to navigate including how to try the perpetrators of the numerous atrocities without undoing the peace deal, and whether or not the F.A.R.C. combatants would be protected from pay back from their enemies. The E.L.N. has not yet started its own peace negotiations with the Government despite having announced its intent. It was also a war with outside intervention, with the United States initially getting involved to stop Communism spreading into Colombia. Later on in pursuit of its “War on Drugs” becoming involved and helping the Colombian Government with intelligence and supplying their forces with equipment. The effect of this was to exacerbate the conflict and make the country a no-go zone for people from many nations.
Initially the distrust between F.A.R.C., E.L.N., other groups and the Government of Colombia was too great to make a peace agreement possible. An initiative to reach a peace agreement in the 1980’s fell over because members of the Union Patriotica which was set up around that time were targetted and murdered. Other problems included how and where to disarm. International support has been substantial with the United Nations monitoring the ceasefire and participating in the demobilization process, a requirement considered essential for the process to succeed.
But for now this is a great moment for Colombia. It is a moment when barring a repeat of the 1980’s, an end to one of the longest running conflicts in recent history may be finally here. Let us hope that the E.L.N. comes to the party instead of ending it, for Colombians deserve much better than conflict.