The conflict with guerrilla groups has been going on for almost 52 years in Colombia, during which time it is estimated that approximately 220,000 people have lost their lives and that 80% of these victims were civilians. There are also many people whose lives have drastically changed due to kidnapping or displacement from the rural areas to the cities.
The current peace negotiations started almost four years ago and concentrated on reaching agreement on five substantive issues:
1. Land reform: economic and social development of rural areas and provision of land to poor farmers.
2. Political participation of rebels once a peace deal is reached.
3. Illegal drugs trade (one of the main sources of funding for the FARC): all illicit drug production will be eliminated.
4. Transitional justice: amnesty for combatants, excluding those who have committed the most serious crimes.
5. A bilateral and definitive ceasefire, cessation of hostilities, and laying aside of weapons.
Now that the cease fire agreement is signed, the next step will be the signing of the complete peace treaty followed by a referendum in which Colombians will have the opportunity to ratify the accord. Details of the agreements reached can be found in Spanish, English and French on the official website.
When the paramilitary groups demobilised some years ago many turned to crime and formed criminal gangs.
Personally I would like to see the government set up an entity whose task is to employ the ex-guerrillas and provide them with work in environmental and social projects in the Colombian countryside in return for a fair salary. This would be a productive way for them to pay something back to Colombian society to make up for the damage, distress and upheaval they have caused over the years. The alternative if they are not willing to do this work could be a prison sentence.
Another view widely held is that even though the peace process is a step in the right direction, there are other problems such as organised crime, delinquency and corruption that also need to be tackled. There are also those who feel it is not right for the guerrillas to not face prison terms after all the atrocities they have carried out, however, if this were the case then I do not believe there would be a peace agreement as nobody is likely to negotiate and sign a peace accord that would lead to their prolonged incarceration.
As the great Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
What is encouraging is that Colombia at least has a government that is willing to use dialogue rather than aggression to find a solution, the debate is whether you agree or not with the concessions made.
As the late Ludwig Erhard, former chancellor of Germany said, A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece.”
Certainly there will be many challenges ahead and the way those challenges are met will determine the success of this historic accord.
Meanwhile the new political soap opera, Brexit, continues to grip Europe and divide what was once a United Kingdom.