Colombia is the third most populous country in Latin America. More interesting is the fact that it can be claimed to be the oldest democracy of the continent. A part a four-years dictatorship, Colombia has seen a number of democratic governments switching power from liberals to conservatives to the now standing more centrist coalition of President Juan Manuel Santos. Furthermore, Colombia can be praised for its responsible policies against the wide spread populism which tends to prevail in the politics of Southern America. In fact, until 1995 Colombia has seen a steady growth of 5% a year and avoided cases of hyperinflation unlike its neighbors. What happened in 1995? Or better, what was happening despite these honorable achievements?
Let’s talk numbers. Between 1970 and 2010 statistics say there have been 29084 cases of kidnaps. To give a more close idea, recent data for the months between January and September 2014 say that there have been 2381 people kidnapped. That means 6 people a week. 220000 is the estimated victims of the 51 years conflict, 80% of which are civilians.
But what Colombians have suffered since 1980s broadens much more than kidnapping and murders. Guerillas took over organized crime and practices of beleaguer landowners, extortions, urban terrorism, child soldiers’ recruitment and drug trafficking wouldn’t stop increasing. The situation in the rural areas was unbearable. Paramilitaries sponsored by landowners to protect them would massacre entire villages to sympathize with the guerrillas. The government writ just didn’t extend to all the country.
Recently Colombia has been under the international spotlight because of the apparently imminent peace. In 2012 Mr Santos promised the peace would have been reached within months. However, this time seems different- hope has its groundings.
But let’s take some steps back. Colombia has always been characterized by guerrillas’ warfare, unequal land ownerships and lawlessness, which lead to general violence in the country. Politics has always seen an unstable relationship between the conservatives and the liberals. By 1956, however, the parts agreed to a more collaborative relation. This was not meant to last long. In 1964 FARC– the Colombian Communist Part- was founded, and one year later the smaller ELN– National Liberation Army. At the same time Cuban revolution pushed guerrillas to more radical position, and lead to open war. By 1990 FARC had 20000 soldiers and ELN 5000. In the following years the President- Alvaro Uribe at the time- projected a plan, which was financed by the United States to fight back guerrillas.
If on one hand his strong arm with FARC reduced guerrillas in the country on the other his political record was not the cleanest. After trying to pass a constitutional reform to continue his mandate, he had to accept and sustain his successor Mr Santos.
So the deal now is on the peacemaking process, which seem more and more getting to an end. But the terms of the peace are very high. If on one hand the Colombian 48 million population has always been mistrustful of its governments, mainly due to the very differentiated morphology of the country- the high chains of Andes which give rise to two long valleys, two very different coastal borders, a corner of Amazon forest and the south-east area made up of llanos (lowlands)- which makes it hard for the state to control and integrate its people; on the other hand consensus has declined to a 29% due not only to the delay of the peace settlements. In fact, public opinion against FARC has grown harsher and harsher, and the terms of the peace Mr Santos is negotiating seems to be very favorable for FARC’s leaders. In fact, the punishment for the leaders of FARC should be governed by the principles of transitional justice of international law. As such, it exists the very probable possibility of no jail time for them, but this will have to be judged by a special committee for peace, which has not yet been defined. Moreover, negotiations brought on the table also the extradition of a 70 members of the guerrillas kept in high security prisons in the US for drug dealing.
All in all, the negotiations had six points in its agenda, two of them- rural development accords and drug-trafficking tackling- have reached a common agreement, but the issue of the punishment FARC leaders brought a pause to the peace-making process. Transparency on their actions is more and more shared – treatments of their hostages, which sometime passed years chained to trees- leads Colombians to despise guerrillas and to want justice to be done.
The idea that no prison time will be granted for them would be a very high prize for peace in Colombia.