|Ready for peace? FARC fighters march down a road in rural Colombia.|
Reports that the Colombian government is in exploratory peace talks with the FARC guerrillas got the country talking about the possibility of something which Colombia hasn't seen for almost 70 years: Peace!
But is peace a real possibility? As El Tiempo reported today, Colombia has tried peace negotiations for the past 30 years, only some of which have succeeded. In 1985, the M-19 guerrillas handed over their arms and became a political party. Those talks followed several failed negotiations with the group, and followed the M-19s disastrous 1985 attack on the Justice Palace, in which many M-19 leaders died. Also, the M-19 ended up obtaining many of their goals, including opening up the country's political system and ending the policy of extradition, thru their participation on the 1991 Constitutional Convention. Of course, the guerrillas also got an amnesty, which enabled them to enter politics. Today, several ex-M-19 members are in Congress, and one, Gustavo Petro, is mayor of Bogotá.
In 1991, most of the EPL, or Popular Liberation Army, signed a peace treaty with the government and demobilized. Afterwards, the FARC assassinated thousands of ex-EPL members.
The ELN, or National Liberation Army, has held multiple conversations with the government. But only a single part of the ELN has demobilized, in 1993.
Colombia's most recent, and probably most controversial demobilization, was that of the right-wing paramilitaries beginning in 2005. The government-paramilitary negotiations were bizarre, since it was an open secret that the 'paras' fought alongside government forces and did their dirty work. The paramilitaries expected to receive what many considered a slap on the wrist, despite their many horrific crimes. However, the Uribe administration ultimately extradited many paramilitary leaders, altho few lower-level paramilitaries have been prosecuted.
What do these demobilizations have in common? While their number and my knowledge are limited, it seems to me that these groups turned in their weapons when they felt weak and/demoralized. An amnesty or soft punishment for ex-fighters also appears fundamental. And, at least in some cases, these groups wanted participation in the political system.
How about the FARC? While they are certainly greatly weakened, they still have a bite. They also earn huge sums from the drug trade. The case is far from clear that the FARC have reached a low enough point to drop their weapons. It would also be difficult for the government, which has long demonized the FARC as terrorists (and for good reason) to give them generous amnesty conditions or allow them participation in government. On the other hand, Pres. Santos' policies favoring the poor and landless give him an opening to satisfying FARC ideological demands without appearing to be giving in much. By the same token, the guerrillas could justify their coming down from the hills by claiming credit for Santos' reforms.
But the most difficult thing for Colombia's government and society could be seeing ex-guerrilla leaders, who are guilty of massacres, recruitment of children and other horrific crimes, living comfortably, whether here or overseas. However, if that ended Colombia's long bloodletting, it would certainly be worthwhile.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours