Has Colombia's time come?
August 13th, 2014
02:45 PM ET

Has Colombia's time come?

By Virginia M. Bouvier, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Virginia M. Bouvier is senior program officer for Latin America at the U.S. Institute of Peace and editor of Colombia: Building Peace in a Time of War. The views expressed are the author’s own. 

With violence exploding in Gaza, airstrikes in Iraq, armed groups terrorizing Nigeria, Syrian extremism spilling into Lebanon, and the return of war in Sudan, the cause of peace can seem daunting. Closer to home, however, there is cause for hope.

Prospects for peace in Colombia are looking better than they have in years. If successful, the current peace process would put an end to an internal armed conflict that has lasted half a century. The conflict has taken the lives of some 200,000 Colombians, forcibly displaced 6 million more (granting Colombia the dubious honor of world record holder for the highest number of displaced), and destroyed countless livelihoods. Peace in Colombia would open a new era for growth and prosperity and contribute to regional stability.

As President Juan Manuel Santos noted in his inaugural speech on August 7, “Colombia’s time has come.”

During his first term in office, Santos opened peace talks with the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP), and earlier this year launched exploratory conversations for peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s second largest armed insurgent group. His campaign for re-election was widely portrayed as a referendum on the peace process, and his victory in June gives him a mandate to finish what he started.

On August 12, talks with the FARC entered their 27th round, and the Colombian government and the FARC have now reached preliminary agreements on the first three of five substantive agenda items – rural agrarian development, political participation, and drugs – and are deep in discussion on the remaining substantive items, including victims and the end of the conflict. A sixth and final agenda item will address the mechanisms by which the Colombian population will endorse any agreements reached.

These are not easy issues, bumps may still come along the way, and a final agreement is in no way guaranteed, but the prospects for reaching agreement look good.

For decades, the United States invested resources in building the capacity of the Colombian government to defeat the numerous insurgencies. In the last 15 years, the United States provided Colombia with more than $9 billion under Plan Colombia, mostly to the Colombian military and police. But with a peace process in place and a resolution on the horizon, the U.S. must reorient its policies to winning the peace, and a new peace policy should build on lessons learned in conflict zones and peace processes around the world.

Policymakers should keep in mind the following:

1. Peace processes are key moments to promote democratization and more just structures, overdue reforms, and greater equality. But if the window of opportunity for social change is missed, such processes can solidify patterns of injustice and exclusion, and make change more difficult and a return to violence more likely.

2. Spikes in violence, which are often efforts by armed actors to gain leverage at the peace table or actions by disgruntled sectors to sabotage the process, have derailed many a peace process. They have also been used to catalyze support and underscore the urgency of ending the violence through the peace process.

3. Maintaining peace requires patience, commitment, and managing expectations.  Peace accords rarely come easily and often take years to be signed. Implementation of the accords can take even longer, and attitudinal change won’t happen quickly. Carefully cultivated hostilities toward groups don’t disappear overnight, and victims terrorized by war don’t suddenly shed their trauma with the signing of a peace accord.

4. Half of all peace accords fail within the first five years after they are signed. Autonomous, independent civil society organizations, including especially women’s organizations, are key guarantors of peace. They can hold the parties’ feet to the fire until they sign (as did the bold women of Liberia, who locked the negotiators in until they reached a peace deal). They can participate in education efforts to ensure acceptance and legitimacy of peace accords by the populace, and they can monitor and verify that the parties comply with their commitments once an agreement is signed. Early and consistent support for these organizations is critical, particularly given that levels of implementation prove to be a key indicator of whether a conflict will reignite.

5. A successful peace process will need to ensure that those who lay down their weapons are able to have a political voice and that the dignity and rights of the victims are restored.

6. The unfinished business of peace processes can have high costs. Addressing underlying structural inequities that cause violent conflict and allow it to persist may take more time, but this approach is more likely to reduce violence in the long run. The recent waves of Central American children into the United States remind us of the consequences of letting deep social and economic inequities go unattended.

7. Investments in truth-telling, justice, reparations, and reconciliation processes will help guarantee that peace will be sustained. The United States has played a role in supporting truth-telling processes, both financially and by declassifying relevant documents for truth commissions and historical memory processes, in Guatemala, Chile, Peru, El Salvador and other conflict zones. Such support for truth-telling processes could play an important role in Colombia as well.

As the United States realigns its priorities toward peace in Colombia, it should be at least as generous in the transition to peace as it has been in supporting the execution of the war, and it should be clear that it is in for the long haul. Supporting peace and human rights in Colombia is the surest path to security, regional stability, and economic prosperity. It is also the right thing to do.

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Topics: Latin America

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Let all hope that Virgina M. Bouvier is right about the prospects for peace in Colombia. In fact, Pres. Juan Manuel Dos Santos should give the members of F.A.R.C. roles in the Bogota government. These people could do a lot toward rising the living standards of ordinary Colombians.

    August 13, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Reply
    • CapitanColombia

      Joey, you're pretty ignorant if you believe that murderous narcoterrorists should have a role in the Colombian government.
      How would you feel about Al-Qaeda having a role in the US government?

      August 13, 2014 at 3:41 pm | Reply
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        @ My Troll, please answer @ Capitan Colombia's response to your forgery.
        Tell him to keep all of the shipments from Chivor and Muzo coming.

        August 13, 2014 at 5:54 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

        Actually CapitanColombia, the F.A.R.C. Guerillas have a left-wing ideology which generally favors the poor. Please don't condemn these people out of hand. Do you remember the right-wing terrorist of Argentina and Chile? I do.

        August 13, 2014 at 10:59 pm |
  2. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    @ My Troll,
    My long post addressed to you was rejected.
    I worked in Argentina during the period you mentioned above. I felt extremely safe
    when I was alone on the sidewalks, as a well armed peacekeeper was always in sight.
    I attended parties of the cultured and cosmopolitan government leaders and bankers.
    I could have lived there happily.

    August 14, 2014 at 6:04 am | Reply
  3. Ginny Bouvier

    Reblogged this on COLOMBIA CALLS and commented:
    Take a look at my piece at the Global Public Square of CNN.com for a few thoughts on what lessons from other conflict zones might offer Colombia.

    August 14, 2014 at 8:43 am | Reply
  4. The GOP Solution

    The GOP Solution: Turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Female, and Gay people into slaves. Then whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Male, and Straight. Or until they are dead. Then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military during the next "unfunded/off-the-books" war. And don't forget the GOP all time favorites........TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!..........and........GET RID OF SS AND MEDICARE!!!

    August 14, 2014 at 9:37 am | Reply
  5. Laker

    Santos has proven to be a weak President who thinks you can negotiate with terrorists and killers. The fact is that you cannot, and Colombia is now sliding back into increased terrorism and violence. Weak Presidents always produce the same result.

    August 16, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  6. A fragile social fabric

    You are pretty ignorant. For the last 70 years Colombia has been spoiling by a minority that has been in the power. President Santos belongs a family which has ruled the country since his great uncle was president (Eduardo Santos). The Colombian current vice president German Vergas is grandson of Carlos Lleras Restrepo another president. There was a period of violence between 1930 to 1950 called "periodo de la violencia partidista" The two parties that existed these days " liberal y conservador" were killing each other, but the people who died was poor people as farmhands. This people became guerrilla. In 60's a few people in cities who didn’t have access to political power became richer because two kinds of wealth. The first wealth was commodities like coffee, sugar, coal, oil. The second wealth was pretty more danger, narcotics. In 2000 Colombia was a basket case country. President Alvaro Uribe tried to fix the social fabric from 2002 to 2010. From 2010 until now the old political minority has reigned. And it wil for the next four years...

    August 18, 2014 at 1:07 am | Reply
  7. A fragile social fabric

    P.S. Guerrilla for the last two decades has become the main cartel of Colambia. It doesn't have political ideals any more. We have seen this scenario before when Pablo Escobar was alive, remembering " La catedral" the luxury jail built by Cesar Gaviria in 90's. We must ask these question: Where is the money? Who will become richer again?

    August 18, 2014 at 11:13 am | Reply
  8. Manolo

    Many historians could say that the colombian's period of violence is from 194? to 195? or more or less but they can't deny that before that period there wasn't violence ( 'Masacre de las Bananeras" 1928). Right now , these days we see the former president Ernesto Samper take possession as General Secretary of Unasur.We must remember who is E.Samper. He received money from the main narcotraffic cartel late 90's. For colombian politicians there is not ideology just convenience.U.S.must watch carefully what happen in Colombia.

    August 29, 2014 at 7:43 pm | Reply

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