Colombia's Road to Peace

 In 1991 Colombia was a war zone. Pablo Escobar, one of the worlds most notorious drugs lords, had unleashed a campaign of terror in order to fight extradition to the United States. This resulted in the death of thousands of people, including politicians, judges, police officers, journalists, and innocent civilians. Escobar was also responsible for the death of 3 presidential candidates and the bombing of Avianca Flight 203 in which more than 100 people died. He had the country in a state of chaos. 

When the president at the time, César Gaviria, allowed him to design his own luxury prison, known as La Catedral, the Colombian people were furious. They called the president out for negotiating with a terrorist and for giving into his outrageous demands. Gaviria, however, knew he had no choice. He did not care whether Escobar had his own soccer field, bar, and king-sized bed if it was going to save the country from more bloodshed. In order to stop the violence, and to keep an eye on Escobar, he knew had to accept to his terms. He could either negotiate with him or see thousands of more people die. 

Flash-forward almost 25 years later and we find Colombia in a similar situation. Since October 2012, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos has been conducting peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in hopes that an agreement can be reached to put an end to the 50-year-old civil war. The war in Colombia is one of the world's longest running conflicts and has the cost the lives of roughly 220,000 people. While the conflict has been a bloody and horrible part of Colombia's history, the signing of an agreement between the government and the rebels is only the start of the long and arduous journey the country is going to have to embark on if it wishes to see true peace. 

Colombia finds itself in a deteriorating state. A stalling economy, rampant corruption, lack of civil society, and violence, while having improved in recent years, are all factors that have the country at such a dire juncture. With the Colombian people so bitter many of them flock to the main opposer of the peace talks, the popular ex-president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe. Mr. Uribe, a politician similar to Donald Trump in the sense that he stirs up the hate and anger of his followers, has built his entire political career on fighting against the FARC, and he knows that if the peace talks succeed, he will become somewhat irrelevant in the political scene. While Mr. Uribe and his devoted followers say that they want to see the FARC receive harsher punishments for their crimes, (a bit ironic when you see Mr. Uribe's administration is accused of working with paramilitary groups responsible for the killing of thousands of innocent civilians), many would much rather continue carrying out the war than negotiate.

I suppose that if you come from the very small percentage of elites in Colombia one can make that sacrifice. But if you are a mother living in rural Colombia, afraid that the FARC's violent antics will result in your child stepping on a mine or being recruited and never seen again, you just want it to be over. Yes, the FARC are terrorists, but aren't the corrupt politicians that played their part in Uribe's "parapolitics" scandal just as bad? Aren't the politicians that rob the country blind every day, choosing to steal money from resources that keep people healthy and alive, just as guilty as to why the country finds itself in such turmoil?

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "Accomplishment will prove to be a journey, not a destination." Although the future of the talks is unclear, if it comes time for Colombians to participate in a referendum on whether the final agreement will go through or not, they should support it rather than fight it. Peace in Colombia will not be found in the Havana, but rather will start there. The Colombian people must understand that the signing of a piece of paper is not the silver bullet to peace, and that true order in the country will only be accomplished if they themselves work at it. They must work on strengthening their civil culture: respecting traffic signs, valuing democratic values and procedures, and by speaking out against what is not right. The government, on the other hand, most work ruthlessly and without fault to reform the education and justice system. The signing of an agreement with the FARC will not bring peace, but rather will open up the road to it, and it is up to the Colombian people whether or not they want to continue to travel on it.