Colombia’s Failed Peace

Why It Failed, and What Comes Next

FARC fighters at a rebel congress, September 2016. John Vizcaino / Reuters

Peace came tantalizingly close. On October 2, the Colombian people went to the polls in what was meant to be the final act of the conflict between the Colombian army and the Marxist rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Latin America’s oldest and bloodiest civil war. Colombians were asked to vote yea or nay on a peace accord to end the war, a conflict whose longevity, at more than half a century, earned it the moniker of “Latin America’s endless war.”

Victory had seemed like a foregone conclusion. The war had torn apart Colombian society by killing almost a quarter of a million people (more than 80 percent of them civilians) and driving an additional six million from the countryside to the cities. Millions, traumatized by the violence, left the country altogether. The war also poisoned the country’s politics, wrecked the economy, and tarnished Colombia’s international reputation. After all, the conflict with the FARC is the last of the many guerrilla conflicts that flourished in Latin America during the Cold War, and its persistence to this day stands in the way of presenting Colombia as a modern, progressive society.

More importantly, the peace accord before the voters was the product of four years of delicate negotiations with the support from the Obama administration, the Cuban government, and the European Union, and a full review by the country’s highest court. Only six days before, on September 26, in a ceremony in the resort city of Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño (alias “Timochenko”) had signed the accord. They were both dressed in white to symbolize peace, as were the hundreds of war victims, including war widows, former FARC hostages, and relatives of people murdered by the FARC, who the government had flown to Cartagena as a symbol of national reconciliation. 

Befitting the occasion, a who’s who of the international community was in attendance, including UN

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