Colombia’s Remarkable Peace Process

This It is an opportunity Colombians should embrace. They have given a younger generation of Colombians a clear way to start relegating this war to the history books.

The life of every Colombian alive today has been defined, to varying degrees, by violence. The government has been at war with Marxist-inspired guerrilla groups for more than five decades, a ruinous conflict rooted in earlier cycles of violence.

This week, the government of Colombia and the nation’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, reached a deal under which the militants promise to disarm and join the political system. If the peace accord is approved by voters in a plebiscite in October, Colombians will have a remarkable chance to realize the potential of a nation that has suffered from decades of violence, entrenched inequality and weak institutions.

It is an opportunity Colombians should embrace.

The pact calls for sweeping structural reforms and social investments that have the potential to transform the country into a more prosperous and equitable society. They include comprehensive agrarian reform, which would narrow the gap between Colombia’s booming urban centers and the historically impoverished and neglected countryside. The FARC has vowed to halt its involvement in the drug trade, which has been an accelerant of the conflict in recent decades. Restoring government control over regions where cocaine is grown and trafficked would make it easier to confront the scourge in an effective manner.

Under the pact, FARC members would surrender their arms to United Nations personnel and disclose the nature of their involvement in the conflict to a special tribunal that would include Colombian and international jurists. Those who admit to grave crimes — like kidnappings and executions — would be subject to periods of restricted mobility for five to eight years, during which they would be expected to perform community service. Those who have committed less serious crimes — like drug trafficking — would receive amnesty. This arrangement is not ideal, as it inevitably would leave many crimes unpunished. But if it is managed carefully, it could allow many victims to have their day in court while holding war criminals — including members of the military — accountable to some extent for the worst atrocities of the war.

The deal would also allow FARC members to run for office in legislative elections in 2018 and would set aside a minimum of five seats for them in the House and Senate. Many Colombians are uneasy about this, arguing that it rewards militancy as an entry point into politics. But the FARC and other guerrilla groups were formed during an era when segments of society felt excluded and found the political process impenetrable to all but the elites. Building a more inclusive political system would lower the risk that marginalized communities in the future will regard violence as the most effective means to bring about change.

As a lasting peace for Colombia starts to look increasingly plausible, the architects of this process deserve credit for their vision and tenacity. President Juan Manuel Santos and his team of negotiators have been principled, indefatigable and cleareyed throughout the protracted negotiations, which have deeply polarized the nation. The FARC, which agreed to negotiate after suffering withering setbacks on the battlefield, appears to have negotiated in good faith and has enforced a cease-fire that has held for over a year.

Victims of the conflict, many of whom have supported the process fervently, deserve recognition for their willingness to forgive. By facing down an enemy across the negotiating table, they set a laudable example at a time when so many of the world’s armed conflicts appear intractable.

They have given a younger generation of Colombians a clear way to start relegating this war to the history books.

New York Times |

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