Instead of going with my usual essay/blog format, I’ve decided quickly comment on something positive.
Hidden beneath the stories of the 2016 Rio Olympics last month was a story that quietly sneaked into international headlines. You almost had to look with a magnifying glass to see it.
The Colombian War is over. The government and the country’s rebel group, FARC, agreed to a peace treaty, which is waiting to be voted on by FARC members next month.
Colombians and Latin Americans rejoiced. Personally, I was convinced I would father my own children before I ever saw the day.
Like most Latin American countries in the 20th Century, Colombia has witnessed the crippling effects of armed conflicts. Aside from the infamous drug cartels and operations that have been made known to the world through pop-culture, this grittier, decades-long conflict took place over a course of 52 years.
Half a century! Imagine that. Multiple generations of Colombian families have never tasted peace. In that time, Colombia’s military spending increased drastically—according to World Bank data, since 2000, Colombia has devoted at least 3% of its GDP toward military spending. Between 2000 and 2010, the country’s military spending doubled from $5.7 bn to $10.4bn (found on p. 16 of the Financial Times)
The peace process started in June and wrapped up in late August. The deal stipulates that the FARC rebel group will disarm within 6 months following the deal and become a legitimate political party, the same way the FMLN in El Salvador went from being a rebel group to the country’s dominant left-wing party.
Peace is great. But the challenges to reintegrate to society are only beginning for FARC.
It’s been alleged that FARC financed its operations through sketchy deals, ones which included drug trafficking and kidnappings–allegations which FARC denies. As a result, some Colombians don’t look at the ex-rebel group too kindly.
From an outsider’s perspective, it will be a case study on how (or if) Colombians forgive and/or forget the conflict’s past—if it’s anything like the public sentiment towards street gangs in Central America (which usually calls for “exterminating the roaches/rats”), the estimated 15,000-18,000 ex-FARC fighters–some of whom have been FARC fighters for the majority of their lives (these include militia and troops)–could run into some rough terrain. What will state support for their reintegration into society look like?
There’s also the question of what happens to the soldiers on the government’s side: soldiers who were trained to fight may be called upon to adopt a more civic, policing role. How will they deal with this new responsibility?
There are many questions surrounding the future of Colombia, but Colombia laid the first bricks for a road to a brighter tomorrow. Sunny ways are still far off in the horizon, but it has stopped raining bullets. And that’s something the world should rejoice about.