Today, Latin America takes one step further on the path to Colombian peace. After 52 years of violence and nearly four years of negotiation, the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas have settled on a peace agreement, which is scheduled to be released to the public today.
While the agreement is not official until Colombian voters approve, the current ceasefire and the fact that some kind of agreement has been reached have the potential to end the last large-scale armed conflict in the region.
Unrest in Colombia: A Basic History
The FARC is a rebel group that has been attempting a Marxist revolution in Colombia since 1964. FARC stands for Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
During the 1950s, Colombia had a period of war called ‘La Violencia’, during which 200,000 people were killed. This period of slow civil war was a battle of power between the wealthy and the poor in rural areas. During this time, there were few opportunities for the poor to own land. It left much of the country in a state of poverty, crime, and chaos, which was the perfect environment for the FARC to develop.
From the 1960s and 70s, the FARC expanded, promoting the idea of protecting the poor. In response, the wealthy created defense organizations to battle the rebels. Civil war within the country continued through the 1980s and 90s as the drug trade in Colombia flourished, especially in rural areas. The drug trade helped both the FARC and the wealthy defense organizations in different ways, providing money and inciting violence.
In the 1990s, the United States began to intervene in the drug trade in Colombia, and incidentally began to weaken the FARC (in some ways, even more so than the drug trade). Around the turn of the century, the Colombian government began to intervene, which led to the Havana peace talks that have taken place during the last four years.
The Next Steps
Currently, there is a ceasefire in place. As of today, 24 August, 2016, an agreement has been reached in the Havana negotiations that have been ongoing since late 2012. Until the details are released later today, many are unsure whether the agreement will have a positive effect on Colombia.
A vote will be held, likely in October, for Colombians to ratify the peace treaty. As it stands, Colombia’s two largest political parties lie on opposite sides of the vote, and polls of Colombians have shown mixed results.
The biggest argument against the treaty comes from those who want the FARC to pay for their crimes; past versions of the treaty have been lenient and include opportunities for FARC officials to play a role in the future Colombian government.
What Could Colombian Peace Mean for Travelers?
Travel to regions of the world where conflict is common tends to decrease, especially when the media portrays a region as dangerous. However, unrest in Colombia has led to conflict in other parts of Latin America, and peace here has the potential to improve the region’s reputation tremendously.
The United States, for example, warns travelers to Colombia of several dangers related to the FARC and drug trafficking. An effective peace treaty can have a positive effect on Colombia’s reputation, inciting confidence in travelers.
Today, Medellin and many of Colombia’s largest cities have come a long way from the violence of the past. However, many travelers are attracted to Colombia through word of mouth rather than through the mainstream media – which could change if a peace treaty is ratified.
Photo by Camilo Rueda López