Untangling the Knot: Colombia Enters Peace Talks

Ask most any Colombian living today and a sad, knotted up story from somewhere within the past 50 years comes out. Some are told by sons of fathers whose credibility crumbled after defending Marxist drug-dealers. Some are told by the sons of fathers whose lives were taken during Medellín’s cartel violence in the 1980s. Some are the fathers of daughters whose lives were taken hostage for years on end. Fortunately, many of those stories are rare in 21st century Colombia. But a handful of Marxist revolutionaries still account for this Andean nation’s history of terror, which is alive but now weaker than ever before.

That terror might end soon. And with it, a deeply complex anxiety and distrust that plagues many parts of Colombian society.

The Financial Times reported that on August 27th, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londoño, leader of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), have committed to entering into peace talks that will begin on an unknown date in October in Oslo and Havana. They will be facilitated by Venezuela and Chile. In a video broadcast from Havana on (DATE) Londoño (nom de guerre “Timochenko”) declared that “war is not the exit, but rather dialog.”

The Financial Times reported that “the 50-year old conflict costs Colombia’s $370bn economy an estimated two percentage points of output each year, has caused between 50,000 and 200,000 deaths and displaced up to 3m people.” The opportunity for a peace deal brings the possibility of impressive savings for Colombia’s national government. The Farc will be satisfied to see violence disappear as well, since the group’s numbers have dwindled by more than 50% of it’s membership in the early 2000s due to relentless military attacks authored by Uribe. But satisfaction will only be concrete if they also get concessions like policies to rid Colombia’s poverty in exchange for laying down arms.

Santos says the country will enjoy a “peace dividend” of 2% of GDP if the talks lead to success. But forgone spending, according to the Financial Times blog beyond BRICs, might not be re-routed into investment as fast as some might expect. Colombia is likely to continue high levels of spending on security even if the talks lead to Farc putting down its weapons.

Santos’ job isn’t an easy one. He has been drawn and quartered by international pressure groups, and scolded by his predecessor and former colleague, Alvaro Uribe. And even though it has not been too overbearing, foreign influence of the North American flavor is surely a worry. But if he succeeds in bringing the Farc to the table and signing a peace treaty, then both the Farc and the Colombian people could win dividends greater than just GDP savings – they could win a democracy freed from a half-century’s worth of violence and terror.

Even if Colombia and the Farc sign onto a peace deal, there are still tricky knots to untie. The drug-trafficking industry is used as a revenue instrument for the Farc. An entire industry cannot be dismantled in a flash when profits are entwined in a maddeningly complex network of international black market and legitimate trade networks. The matter of whether or not the Farc’s secretariat deserve punishment or pardon is another polemic matter that could arouse deep cracks between the government and its people and possibly rupture Colombia’s strong diplomatic relations with the US. The US, after all, has spent roughly $700mil per year mostly on Colombian military aid. It also has a bounty of $5mil on several secretariat members’ heads. However Santos and Timochenko set out to untie the knots in October, it is hoped that the stories Colombia tells will get lighter, and hopefully its people will have a chance to loosen up its gnarled past.

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