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Colombia’s Risky Peace Gambit

11:05 AM, Oct 3, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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Meanwhile, he launched a new military offensive against his country’s oldest and largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has been waging a campaign of terror against the Colombian state since the mid-1960s. The offensive was a huge success, as government forces killed some of most legendary and powerful FARC commanders, including Mono Jojoy and Alfonso Cano. (Santos called the death of Cano “the most devastating blow that [the FARC] has suffered in its history.”) By mid-2012, government forces had weakened the FARC so much that Santos formally announced a new round of peace talks, in hopes of finally ending a conflict that has claimed an estimated 220,000 lives.

Bogotá’s peace initiative was connected to the restoration of diplomatic ties with Venezuela and Ecuador. Chávez had provided the FARC with material aid and safe haven for many years, and Correa had allegedly received up to $400,000 from the Colombian guerrillas during his 2006 presidential campaign (according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies). For that matter, relations between Colombia and Ecuador had collapsed in March 2008 after Colombian military forces raided a FARC camp just across the border on Ecuadorean soil. (The 2008 raid killed FARC leader Raúl Reyes and yielded a wealth of computer files linking the organization with both Chávez and Correa.) By achieving détente with Caracas and Quito, Santos was creating the conditions that would allow for serious peace talks with the rebels. Just last week, he praised the Venezuelan government for its role in promoting the talks.  

A year after they first began, the negotiations have made substantial progress on land reform, but not on anything else. The government and the FARC are still very far apart on issues such as political participation, drug trafficking, criminal justice, and victims’ compensation. For example, FARC leaders have called for Colombia to draft a new constitution and delay its 2014 elections. Both proposals are nonstarters with the government. Bogotá enacted a “Legal Framework for Peace” (LFP) to facilitate the negotiations, and the LFP (which has survived a constitutional challenge) lays out broad parameters for ending the FARC war, achieving reconciliation, and delivering reparations to victims. But the details remain highly controversial, with critics on both the left and the right warning that the LFP could lead to “amnesty” for war criminals.

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