Opportunity for peace

Thu, Jul 18, 2013, 01:00

News that the chief negotiator of Colombia’s Farc guerrillas believes the country’s bloody conflict may be nearing an end confirms the intense peace process between the movement and the government is bearing fruit. Since November last year they have met in Havana, with help from Norway. Ivan Marques says Farc has been briefed on the Provisional IRA’s approach to arms decommissioning and now sees a way to resolve it. Last month agreement was reached on land reform. Talks on drugs, compensating victims and political implementation of any agreement remain to be completed.

These developments are welcome for a country suffering grievously from the fighting that stretches back to the 1960s and has its origins and momentum deep in Colombia’s social and economic life. Farc guerrillas at one stage had an estimated 18,000 armed members, controlled over one third of the land and financed it by drug trafficking, kidnaps and ransoms. Some 600,000 people have died in the fighting and three million have been displaced. Highly unequal land distribution, large scale farming controlled by multinational agricultural companies and prolonged military aid from the United States are the major issues at stake.

Farc lost much public support because of its ruthless pursuit of power, but now realises military victory is impossible and is under pressure to negotiate. The liberal government led by President Juan Manuel Santos inaugurated the talks after he was elected in 2011. As the talks move towards the decisive stage political change to reinforce the legitimacy of any agreement reached justifiably comes centre stage. Mr Marques now proposes a constitutional assembly to entrench a peace deal and hold future presidents to it.

President Santos faces re-election next year, including vehement opposition from his predecessor Alvaro Uribe to any deal. Daring and courageous initiatives are now needed from both sides to ensure the opportunity for a lasting peace is seized.