Colombia has been the host of some of the most extreme and brutal violence in Latin America’s history. The country’s half-century long conflict has taken the lives of almost a quarter million women, men, and children, and displaced nearly six million more. The United States has financed much of the conflict in recent years, investing $9 billion since 2000—much of it to bolster Colombia’s security forces.
Yet peace may be near. On May 16, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest guerrilla group, signed a preliminary accord on the drug—the third of five negotiating points in their ongoing peace talks in Havana, Cuba: illicit drugs. The agreement offers a viable plan for the FARC to end its involvement in the Colombian drug trade, alternatives for the small-scale cultivators of crops destined for illicit drug markets, and meaningful policy reforms at the national level for addressing issues of drug consumption and public health.
Hope too lies with an announcement that came earlier the same day. Following national and international pressure—including an inter-parliamentary letter signed by 245 representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, and Ireland—the FARC announced a unilateral ceasefire. While the government maintains that it will not end military operations until an agreement is signed, and though the FARC’s temporary ceasefire ended on May 28, this act is encouraging because it both significantly decreased violence and will likely increase confidence at the negotiating table. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, hundreds of thousands of Colombians continue to be affected by the conflict every year. Ensuring that all parties respect international humanitarian law is essential and will likely help to advance the peace talks.
Domestic political shakeups, though, threaten to disrupt this progress. In the first round of Colombia’s presidential elections on May 25, sitting president Juan Manuel Santos, who began the talks to the dismay of many former political allies, came in second to conservative hardliner Oscar Ivan Zuluaga. Zuluaga, who is allied with former president (and current senator-elect) Alvaro Uribe, has made clear his skepticism towards the talks. While he has now softened his stance in advance of the runoff election, his longtime opposition to the process remains concerning. Santos and Zuluaga will face off in a second-round vote on June 15.