For 48 years now, Colombia has been in a state of insecurity and constant intrastate warfare. On one side stands the Colombian government and in the other, their challenger, Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), otherwise known as FARC. But peace may replace the decades of war that Colombians have experienced very soon. For the first time in a decade, peace talks are going on between representatives from FARC and the Colombian government, having started on the 17th of October in Oslo and moved to Havana on the 5th of November. Those talks continue this week, with a senior commander of Colombia’s main rebel group saying the talks are “going well.”
While representatives from each group talk, blood continues to be shed in Colombia. On the night of the 19th, 2 days after talks started, FARC rebels killed 5 Colombian soldiers in the Putumayo region near Ecuador. While Members of FARC have suggested a cease fire, President Juan Manuel Santos has shot down any chance of a ceasefire, due to the fact that during the last peace talks, a ceasefire was called and FARC used it to rearm and regroup.
FARC formed out of the socialist and liberal groups that fought in La Violencia, the 1948-1958 Colombian civil war. Studies show that the FARC is now at one of its weakest points in history, with membership at the all time low of approximately 8000 members. If peace is to be achieved it will call for not only a demobilization of the FARC guerilla fighters, but also a heavy demobilization of the Colombian Army, numbered at approximately 400,000. While the Colombian military will need to maintain a reasonable amount of its armed forces for obvious reasons, analysts are uncertain as to what these former guerillas and soldiers will do should peace be attained.
At this point in time FARC meets its financial needs through coca cultivation and cocaine production, and the 400,000 members of the military have a job because of the insecurity that the FARC breeds. Should FARC lay down their arms, there will be a large unemployed populous and a gap that needs to be filled in the drug trade. This, along with the fact that the FARC is its strongest and is most rooted in the rural, coca producing areas, leads many to believe that if peace is achieved Colombia will face an equally insecure fate. There is a very high probability that after these former soldiers and guerillas are without work they would set up either an large very powerful cartel, that would be in constant conflict with the Colombian military. Or the more likely outcome where they would have multiple cartels and trafficking gangs, the likes of which we are seeing right now in Mexico.
But not all hope is lost. If peace is achieved, we could also expect to see heavy foreign interest in Colombia. With abundant natural resources in the region, large urban populace, ports in the Caribbean and the Pacific and considerable amounts of petroleum, Colombia could be a cheap and efficient trade partner for the United States. Having increased from $278 million in 2003 to $4.3 billion in 2011, the Colombian oil industry could see even more growth should peace and stability be brought to the region. It will be up to foreign investors to employ enough of these former guerillas and soldiers in order to bring stability to the region. Until peace arrives, investors are hesitant to invest heavily in the area, as FARC rebels continue to attack foreign oil wells and refineries.
The fate of Colombia for better or worse is yet to be determined. Whether or not the country finds peace through foreign investments and development, or continuous violence from armed cartels will be determined by these peace talks. How well each side can make compromises and cooperate on each other’s agenda will determine the direction Colombia will go in.