Peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continue this month. The goal of the dialogue is to negotiate an end to the violence which has plagued the Andean state during the sustained conflict.
The decision to bring this dispute to the negotiating table is a change in tactics by President Santos following years of an increased military response. Indeed, it can be argued that the FARC have been forced into talks by the success of this strategy. The military onslaught saw the group’s numbers plummet to around 9,000. The deaths of senior figures, coupled with high profile successes for the government in targeting rebel camps has further weakened the group’s position.
The potential for successful peace talks is, arguably, strengthened by the Colombian Presidential election taking place in 2014. The popularity of Santos rose in response to his pursuit of negotiations and it is widely considered that a positive outcome would all but guarantee his re-election. However, should talks disintegrate the situation would be much more difficult for the President; a fact the FARC will undoubtedly be aware of.
The cause for pessimism does not end there. This will be the fourth attempt at peace talks, with the FARC having been accused in the past of utilising the opportunity to rebuild lost strength; something the government has attempted to nullify by refusing to a ceasefire.
Furthermore, while the population supports the talks, it does not do so unreservedly. A majority opposes former members of the FARC taking part in elections,1 while 78% wants its leaders imprisoned, even if this harms negotiations.2 With the election looming and Santos requiring successful talks, this does not present the President with a strong mandate to secure a deal at any cost.
However, should a deal be struck, questions remain over whether it would be followed. The structure of the FARC has progressively become more fractured, with it believed that only 15 of the group’s 67 fronts have a direct line to the organisation’s governing body. There is concern that its members would turn to organised crime sans ideology should an agreement be forthcoming, with any commands from higher up being ignored.
The peace talks between the two parties have provided a level of cautious optimism that an agreement is achievable. However, history suggests that until a deal is signed, and proved to be workable, nothing is certain.
1 “QAP Colombia Opina 2012-3 La Gran Encuesta – Medición 5, Especial Proceso de Paz,” Ipsos Napoleon Franco, entrusted by: Alianza de Medios, RCN Radio, RCN Televisión, La FM and Revista Semana”, September 10, 2012, accessed October 18, 2012, http://m.semana.com/documents/Doc-2331_2012911.pdf