Land for Peace in Colombia

The Key to Ending Bogotá’s War With the FARC

A FARC rebel monitors the delivery of released hostages from a cocoa plantation. (Jaime Saldarriaga / Courtesy Reuters)

Even as Colombian troops face off against rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the jungle, negotiators from both sides have been making headway in peace talks in Havana. The issues on the agenda include the FARC’s participation in the country’s political process, drug trafficking, and the government’s payment of reparations to victims of forced displacement during the armed conflict. For some months now, though, Colombian officials and FARC representatives have been focusing chiefly on land reform as the key to remedying Colombia’s high levels of economic and social inequality -- a main driver of the conflict. 

In an encouraging sign, the two parties are expected to announce the contours of a preliminary agreement on land issues this month. But for this agreement to lead to a lasting peace, the parties should look to examples of past negotiations in Guatemala and El Salvador and focus as much on implementation as on the content of the deal itself.

Going into the talks, the FARC’s position on land was less revolutionary than it had historically been. Previously, it had advocated confiscating all latifundios (large farms) and turning them over to the poor. The government, for its part, insisted on protecting property rights and mechanizing agriculture to increase food production, which would have meant more competition for small farmers. Although the FARC’s rhetorical attacks on what it calls the “oligarchy” continue, the organization has limited its claims to only those latifundios that are unproductive. And those demands substantially overlap with new rural development laws that the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture has proposed.

On paper, then, the FARC and the Colombian government are not so far apart. That does not mean, however, that peace is assured. There are a few real sticking points. Whereas the FARC has noted its opposition to foreign investment in the countryside, the government sees

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