After half a century of armed conflict, negotiations are underway between the government and the FARC, Colombia’s largest rebel group. The peace talks began on November 19, 2012 and are now in their third round in Havana, Cuba.
While the negotiators focus on rural development and possible land reform at the table, violence has increased in Colombia. The FARC declared a unilateral ceasefire from November 20 to January 20, though violence continued during this time. After the ceasefire expired on January 20, the FARC resumed kidnappings and increased its attacks. Hostilities on both sides intensified, leaving many in both Colombia and the international community feeling cautious and skeptical of the peace process.
Recently, however, both parties expressed the belief that the peace process has progressed and is now at a critical juncture. Humberto de la Calle, head of the government negotiating team, said “We have passed from approaching each other to (a time for) agreements.” Meanwhile, Ivan Marquez, the chief FARC negotiator, said “Never before…had a peace process made so much progress.” A joint statement said they had made progress on matters such as: access to and use of land, fallow land, registration of property, and the protection of natural reserves.
While the two parties may disagree on specific land reform measures, both see the importance of reaching an agreement on this issue. According to the United States Agency for International Development, more than half of the land in Colombia belongs to less than 1% of the population. Addressing this inequality has been the FARC’s leading cause throughout the decades-long conflict, and both parties appear to believe progress on this top agenda item is being made.
Provided that violence in Colombia does not upset negotiations, we may continue to be cautiously optimistic. While Colombians struggle towards peace, we can support this process by petitioning for U.S. policy that promotes an end to violence and addresses the deep economic and social injustices that have fueled the conflict. Now is the time to join together and bring peace with justice to Colombia.