Colombia: Prospects for Peace

Last week, Rodrigo Cadete, one of the leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) dissident group, died in a military operation in the southern Caqueta region. The Colombian military claims responsibility for his death, along with the death of nine other militants. According to BBC News, Colombian Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said Cadete had been working to unite the group. “had been trying to unite some of the 1,700 members of the FARC.” On January 17th, there was a deadly car bombing at a Bogota police academy. The car bomb was claimed by Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN). The bomb left 21 military personnel dead, and 68 injured.
These attacks inform growing fears of a return to civil conflict in Colombia. Terrorism in Colombia is not new, since 1964 the country has been involved in a 52-year armed conflict involving the government and rebels, militant groups, and drug cartels. Although, following the historic peace agreement between FARC and the government, in September 2016, fears were temporarily allayed about ongoing civil strife in the country. As part of the deal, FARC members turned in their weapons and ammunition. The United Nations supervised the disarmament and demobilization of FARC rebels. In fact, after the agreement, arms-related fatalities in Colombia dropped from 3,000 a year to only 78.
Despite these signs of progress, the ELN has filled in for FARC to become the country’s largest guerilla group. The ELN has been responsible for deadly bombings, kidnappings, drug production, and extortion. Their goal is to overthrow the government to install a communist alternative. The death of Cadete demonstrates that the FARC may also not be completely irrelevant following the peace agreement. The Los Angeles Times reported that the ELN added about 1,000 former FARC rebels to its group, which now numbers about 2,500
. There are concerns that the January bomb attack will stall any opportunity for a peace deal with the ELN. President Ivan Duque had expressed his unwillingness to negotiate with the group until they ceased criminal activity and released people they had kidnapped. Nonetheless, continued engagement and discussion are important components in resolving terrorism. The Colombian government and the ELN militia must mutually understand and recognize the demands on each side; it’s also important for awareness and acknowledgement of the motivations for groups like FARC and the ELN. If the government can address the reasons these groups are using acts of terror, then it can better provide alternatives and solutions for these rebel groups acts of terror. For example, in the 2016 negotiations the government promised to create “transition zones” for the FARC rebels, as it was designed to integrate them into Colombian society, and provide reeducation, health care, and other social services. Although, there are criticisms that the government is failing to fulfill its obligations to provide these services. They have stalled in their provision of health services and drinkable water to former militants, which this risks collapsing the 2016 peace deal, and foreclosing future potential for an agreement with FARC. Thus, the government should guarantee and follow its commitment to the 2016 peace deal, and expand the framework for those negotiations to the ELN rebels.
Overall, violence in Colombia has decreased significantly since 2016, but the conflict is not over. The 2016 FARC agreement demonstrated that when both the government and the rebel groups come to the table to discuss their concerns and their primary goals, that concessions can be made, and progress can be agreed upon. Therefore, inclusion of the ELN in a peace agreement, and continued negotiation is important to strengthen the response to recent acts of terrorism. The civil war was a deep-seated conflict, therefore, solutions to the violence won’t be quick or easy, but continued negotiation between the government and ELN can begin to resolve the violence.
Sources

Colombia Farc: Dissident leader Rodrigo Cadete killed in military operation (2019, February 3rd). Retrieved February 10th 2019, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-47106730
After 21 die in a bombing, Colombians fear a resurgence of terror (2019, January 18th). Retrieved February 10th 2019, from https://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-colombia-bombing-20190118-story.html

Violence and killings haven’t stopped in Colombia despite landmark peace deal (2019, February 6th). Retrieved February 11th 2018, from https://theconversation.com/violence-and-killings-havent-stopped-in-colombia-despite-landmark-peace-deal-111232.

Human rights workers are getting killed in Colombia. Here’s what could help save the peace (2019, February 11th). Retrieved February 11th 2019, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2019/02/11/human-rights-workers-are-getting-killed-in-colombia-heres-what-could-help-save-the-peace/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.3e410247c891.

Shannon Howley

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