In Colombia, the army and the guerrillas of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia have been for waging war for half a century. Neither side is close to victory, yet they fight on.
The fight had its roots in a vast gulf between rich and poor, especially inequality of land ownership. The situation was complicated as the drug trade became a factor, and peasants raising coca started to depend on rebel groups for protection from the government. More than 220,000 Colombians have been killed in the conflict since 1958, most of them civilians, according to Colombia’s National Center of Historical Memory.
Ending this war will require dialogue and cooperation – there is no other feasible path for Colombia. And while it is deeply upsetting to have to negotiate with a comrade’s killer, the two sides will not be able to forge a lasting peace unless they work together.
On June 15, Colombians will head to the polls for the nation’s next presidential election, and the result will serve as a referendum on how the conflict could play out over the next several years.
On one side there is President Juan Manuel Santos, who is seeking re-election and betting that the peace talks in Cuba between FARC leaders and government representatives will continue to be constructive. Santos and his supporters want to give the negotiations more time; FARC leaders have implemented a cease-fire this month, which many people consider a sign of progress.
The candidate opposing him is Óscar Iván Zuluaga, a critic of the peace talks who is backed by former President Álvaro Uribe – whose pro-military policies against the leftist rebels devastated their ranks. Zuluaga has said he would call for a temporary suspension of the negotiations in Havana and resume them only under stricter terms.
It is now up to Colombia’s voters to decide which path to take. No matter which candidate wins, I hope that he will heed recent advice shared by President Barack Obama regarding his views on foreign policy: “Don’t do stupid stuff.”
It is with this phrase in mind (or a saltier version of it, according to The New York Times) that Obama has resisted pressure to send American soldiers into harm’s way. Obama believes that sending American troops to Syria, for example, would not bring a swift end to the civil war there. And he knows that the mere presence of American troops in Ukraine would not immediately bolster the nation’s sense of sovereignty as it grapples with Russian aggression.
It’s obvious that Obama doesn’t want to make the same knee-jerk mistake that his predecessor, George W. Bush, made when he launched a war in Iraq in 2003 under the false assumption that Saddam Hussein’s regime was hiding weapons of mass destruction. More than 188,000 people have died in that conflict since, according to the website IraqBodyCount.org.
Simply put, the smart thing to do in these situations to is to avoid reacting without thinking, and the smartest thing to do is not to wage war in the first place.
“Some of our most costly mistakes,” Obama said recently during his commencement address at the United States Military Academy, “came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences.”
Politicians in Colombia should listen closely to those words. All Colombian children, and most adults, have never known a single day of peace. War is normal there. It would be easier for the government to keep fighting for another 10, 15 or 50 more years than it would be to continue the long peace process.
However, peace requires more courage and intelligence than conflict does. As the war correspondent and author Sebastian Junger, who has spent half his life in war zones, said to me in a recent interview: “Every war ends with a negotiation.”
Is there a way to free Colombia from what Albert Einstein once called the “menace of war”?
The answer is yes, of course. But leaders must first resolve, like Obama, not to do stupid stuff. And the idea that peace can somehow be achieved by continuing to wage war is definitely stupid.
By Jorge Ramos Avalos.
(Jun 04, 2014)