Colombia Sits Down With the FARC
Can the first peace talks with the rebel army in over a decade end a drug-fueled war that's half a century old?
The Colombian government will hold new peace talks with the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in hopes of ending a drug trade-fueled civil war that's lasted nearly 50 years. The last negotiations took place in the late '90s, when former President Andres Pastrana awarded FARC a Switzerland-sized haven of jungle which the group subsequently used to train troops and traffic drugs. But FARC membership has since fallen from 17,000 to 9,000, and many of their leaders have been killed—while the strength of the Colombian army is at an all-time high. The government's goal is to get the revolutionary group to lay down its weapons (which the FARC is reportedly willing to do) and dismantle a criminal enterprise that transports upwards of 60% of the cocaine brought into the US. “The trick is to get the guy who is in charge of a front that’s getting tens of millions of dollars a year, has a lot of local power and is doing business [with other traffickers] to actually give it up,” says Adam Isacson, a senior associate of the Washington Office on Latin America.
The FARC's commander, who took over late last year and uses the alias Timochenko, has a $5 million bounty on his head in the US, due to allegedly helping to set the group's policies for “the production, manufacture and distribution of hundreds of tons of cocaine,” and his involvement in hundreds of killings. A successful peace deal would likely see FARC members avoid prison for their crimes—something that many in Colombia vehemently oppose. “I am concerned that the president is being fooled by the FARC," says Colombian senator Jose Dario Salazar. "If the government is winning the war, why sit down as equals at a table?"