Colom­bia: af­ter 51 years, peace?

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Gwynne Dyer Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

End­ing Colom­bia’s 51-yearold civil war has taken a very long time. The first cease­fire and peace talks be­gan in 1984, and col­lapsed two years later. There was an­other un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt in 1991, and yet an­other, in­volv­ing four years of ne­go­ti­a­tions, in 1998. It’s a bit like por­cu­pines hav­ing sex: you have to move very slowly and care­fully, and it can still go wrong in the end.

But more than three years af­ter the cur­rent round of peace talks got un­der­way, the govern­ment of Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel Santos and the lead­ers of the Revo­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia (FARC) are al­most there. On Tues­day they asked the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to pro­vide a one-year un­armed mis­sion to su­per­vise a cease­fire and the dis­ar­ma­ment of FARC’s forces.

It’s still a tricky process. Take, for ex­am­ple, the case of the “false pos­i­tives”.

In med­i­cal re­search, a false pos­i­tive is a test that says a dis­ease or con­di­tion is present when it ac­tu­ally isn’t. In the Colom­bian civil war, “false pos­i­tives” were civil­ians killed by the army even though they were not mem­bers of FARC. There were at least 3,000 “false pos­i­tives” be­tween 2004 and 2008.

More­over, the Colom­bian sol­diers do­ing the killing knew the vic­tims were not FARC mem­bers. The army was re­ward­ing them for high body-counts, and they just needed more bod­ies to get their bonuses.

When the scan­dal broke, sev­eral hun­dred of th­ese mur­der­ers got long prison sen­tences — but th­ese con­vic­tions could be over­turned un­der the new “Spe­cial Peace Ju­ris­dic­tion” that was agreed last De­cem­ber.

The key task now is to make it worth­while for FARC mem­bers to dis­arm.

The Spe­cial Peace Ju­ris­dic­tion, agreed in De­cem­ber, will hear con­fes­sions from guerilla fight­ers who com­mit­ted war crimes and crimes against hu­man­ity, and de­ter­mine the repa­ra­tions they must make to vic­tims.

But ex­cept in the most ex­treme cases, they will not be sent to jail.

So how can you keep the for­mer sol­diers who are serv­ing long sen­tences for their own crimes in jail?

It’s thorny ques­tions like this that have made the ne­go­ti­a­tions so long and com­pli­cated, but they are fi­nally com­ing to a con­clu­sion.

The ne­go­tia­tors in Ha­vana (Cuba has been host­ing the talks) are work­ing to a March dead­line for a fi­nal cease­fire, and it looks like they may ac­tu­ally make it this time.

Colom­bia has paid a very high price for this war. The coun­try’s eco­nomic growth rate, al­though a re­spectable 4 per cent an­nu­ally in the past decade, would prob­a­bly have been twice as high with­out the war. In fact, the whole thing has re­ally been a bloody and point­less dis­trac­tion from the real task of de­vel­op­ment.

When FARC, then the armed wing of the Colom­bian Com­mu­nist Party, first took up arms in 1964, Colom­bia was a coun­try des­per­ately in need of change. Al­most 40 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion were peas­ants who did not own any land, and barely half the pop­u­la­tion was lit­er­ate. But all the long FARC in­sur­rec­tion did was slow things down — and it didn’t slow them much.

To­day only 23 per cent of Colom­bia’s peo­ple still live on the land; the rest are in the cities. Lit­er­acy among 15 to 24-yearolds is over 98 per cent. Landown­er­ship is still largely un­re­formed, but that mat­ters a lot less than it used to.

In the midst of the end­less war, Colom­bia has be­come a mod­ern so­ci­ety any­way, and a demo­cratic one at that.

So it’s high time to end the war, and even FARC has rec­og­nized that. The peace deal in­cludes amnesties for all but a few of its mem­bers and a guar­an­tee that they will have full political rights.

The govern­ment has promised that it will tackle land re­form in a se­ri­ous way (which will be quite ex­pen­sive). And FARC has promised to end its in­volve­ment in the drug trade, which was prob­a­bly its big­gest source of funds.

In the 1970s al­most ev­ery coun­try in Latin Amer­ica had ei­ther a ru­ral in­sur­gency or an “ur­ban guer­rilla” move­ment (or both).

They meant well, of course, but they didn’t do much good. In fact, they did more harm than good, but this is re­ally the last of them. An era is end­ing. Good rid­dance.

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