Colombia: Ending the Forever War?
2013 (English)In: Survival (London. 1959), ISSN 0039-6338, E-ISSN 1468-2699, Vol. 55, no 1, 67-86 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Is the world’s longest active civil war finally coming to an end? In November 2012 the Colombian government and the left-wing guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) began full-fledged peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba. But the mood in Bogotá is ambivalent, with a yearning for peace tempered by a deep-seated distrust of FARC and its negotiating tactics.
Developments over the past decade have brought Colombia to a point where the prospects for peace are better than at any previous time during its 48 years of conflict. Since 2002, FARC has been steadily weakened; it has lost five members of its seven-person Secretariat, a majority of its foot soldiers and a substantial proportion of its vital, experienced mid-level commanders. The group may now have decided that it is time to seek a dignified exit rather than face a seemingly inevitable decline and further deaths on the battlefield. And the international dynamics of the conflict are shifting as well. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez seems to finally have tired of playing informal host to the group, potentially depriving FARC of a crucial safe haven and its senior commanders of the possibility of keeping out of harm’s way. Meanwhile, political pressure on Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has led to greater action against FARC in that country. And if the current peace negotiations falter, it seems likely that Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos would be replaced in the 2014 elections by a far-right candidate, who would not be inclined to negotiate further. This may thus be FARC’s best chance to seek a negotiated exit, and any concessions the group is able to obtain should be considered a bonus, given how weak it has become.
But the Colombian civil war is the quintessential intractable conflict, making the coming negotiations profoundly challenging. Structurally, Colombia’s illegal markets, large inaccessible territory, vast inequality and weak state institutions in peripheral regions make any outright military victory against FARC highly improbable. This is also the fourth attempt at peace negotiations during the conflict and FARC has used previous episodes to buy time and gain publicity. No one has forgotten the last round of talks in Caguán in 1999–2002, when FARC used a demilitarised zone it was granted as a base to plan attacks against the Colombian military in other regions, increase coca cultivation and recruit extensively, fully believing that with more fighters they could take over the country.
But even if FARC is negotiating in earnest this time, several challenges to reaching a mutually acceptable agreement remain. Firstly, mutual distrust between the negotiating parties is strong and deeply seated. Secondly, FARC seems to be trying to expand the issues under consideration beyond those agreed upon in preliminary discussions. Thirdly, while FARC has announced a one-sided ceasefire, the government has continued military operations, creating a risk that military confrontations will impede progress at the negotiating table.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
London: International Institute for Security Studies , 2013. Vol. 55, no 1, 67-86 p.
Colombia, Civil War, Conflict Resolution, Organised Crime, Terrorism, FARC
Research subject Political Science
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-216511DOI: 10.1080/00396338.2013.767407ISI: 000314349600006OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-216511DiVA: diva2:690084