Colombia Gives Peace a Chance

"The stars are aligned to end the conflict in Colombia", at least for the moment, said a cautious but optimist President Juan Manuel Santos to the local "Semana" magazine this past weekend, only days after he announced to the nation and the world a preliminary agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known in Spanish as FARC) for the termination of Western Hemisphere's longest-running conflict and "the construction of a stable and long standing peace".

His government and the Marxist FARC conducted an extremely discreet dialogue in Cuba for the past six months -with the help of Chile, Venezuela and Norway as broker- until a pact was subscribed on August 26 at Havana. The agreement does not include a cease-fire but it provides a road map to negotiate neuralgic topics such as agrarian reform, returning stolen land, reducing poverty and compensating victims.

Would it be possible to achieve peace in Colombia?

History says no, but 78% of the Colombian people say yes to the efforts of their President, according to polls by the National Consulting Center conducted right after the announcement. The numbers are not only favorable for the peace talks but for Santos, whose popularity rose to a record 74%

Time is of the essence for obvious reasons and also because Santos is pondering a second term. Stalled negotiations would only hurt his prospects and credibility. That is, perhaps, why the President has been emphatic: "If there are not advances, we simply won't continue". He told "Semana" that is expecting results in a matter of "months, not years".

Critics of the process -including the controversial ex President Alvaro Uribe, an active boycotter via Twitter- often argue that is just not right to negotiate with "terrorists" and that the biggest flaw of the process is the possibility of impunity for the crimes against humanity. Others point to the links between the FARC and drug trafficking, their undeniably cruel kidnaping and assassination tactics (allegedly stopped since the peace process started), and the contradiction of negotiating peace while both parts are involved in active war. All the mentioned points have of course very deep roots that can make the search for a happy medium an illusion. But Santos said that peace can only be made with an enemy. So the huge disagreements are, in his view, exactly why the whole process is necessary.

According to expert sources interviewed by the political desk of El Tiempo, the main newspaper in Colombia, ten years ago when the last peace effort was conducted at San Vicente del Caguán, the FARC proposed the cease-fire as a goal but not as a starting point. Before putting down the arms the guerrilla required the government to satisfactory comply with 8 out of 10 demands on the table, plus demonstrate control of paramilitary forces, refocus its neoliberal politics and cease mass layouts. But this time around while the FARC proposes a truce to negotiate, it is the government the party interested in offering a cease-fire only as a final step.

Why? Because according to El Tiempo the FARC is going through their worst military phase in the past fifty years and a truce would give them much needed time to breathe. Historically, negotiating in cease-fire mode has only strengthen their capacity. Those who support Santos argue that the strategy is smart this time around, because the country won't compromise its security if the peace process fails.

The second phase of the process will begin on October 8. The big challenge is for both parts to be able to demonstrate sincerity, commitment and ability to act swiftly to take guns out of politics once and for all. Colombia was of course the place chosen by the great Simon Bolivar to liberate the Americas. In a way that dream is still awaiting fulfillment. Is it possible for a country stained with blood, injustice, war and poverty to forgive, amend and stand united for peace? Or will the process turn in yet another chronicle of an announced death? Hopes are high. Come on Colombia: give peace a chance!