The oldest armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere could soon come to an end—at least on paper.
The government of Colombia announced it will sign a historic ceasefire agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a guerilla movement that started in the 1960s as a Marxist-leaning insurgency, but eventually turned to kidnapping, drug trafficking and acts of terrorism.
Government and FARC representatives say they will meet in a ceremony on Thursday in Havana, Cuba, where the two sides have been in talks since November 2012.
Yet despite the promise of looming peace, the country remains polarized on several controversial issues that have been negotiated as part of the peace accords, such as the inclusion of FARC members in Colombian politics.
Many Colombians are taking to social media today to discuss the ceasefire through the hashtag #ElUltimoDiaDeLaGuerra, or “The Last Day of The War.” It's a hopeful and joyful celebration, but also one that's cautious:
“After 60 years we turn the page on war and start a new one that fulfills the promise of peace for Colombians.”
"To reach the final day of war does not entail an end to corruption or that there will be justice, food, health and education for everyone. But it’s a step forward.”
“Decades of pain and blood that should have never been spilled. The end is near and I rather believe than oppose peace.”
Analysts insist the process will continue to be lengthy and complicated despite Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' announcement that July 20 will be the "deadline" to conclude the peace talks.
Peace, analysts say, will be a process that requires daily work from society as a whole.
Cynthia Arnson, a Colombia expert for the Washington, D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson Center, says many Colombians are worried that this push for peace will allow the FARC to get a pass for prior crimes such as enlisting child soldiers and carrying out terrorists attacks.
The government has said FARC members will not face jail time as long as they admit their crimes and collaborate in the process of "transitional justice." Certain reparations will allegedly be paid and some of the former guerrilleros will be monitored and confined to certain geographical areas.
Colombians are also guarded in their optimism because many remember the failed four-year peace talks that began in 1998, which basically allowed the FARC to regroup and rearm.
President Santos, however, doesn’t have a lot of space to maneuver, Arnson says.
“You don’t get a guerrilla force that has six to seven thousand fighters, plus an unknown number of militia, to lay down their weapons if what awaits them on the other side is a prison cell,” she told Fusion.
The analyst says balancing the demand for peace with the demand for justice is a crucial and extremely difficult aspect of the peace process.
“There’s a lot of really exaggerated rhetoric about Castro-Chavismo coming into Colombia once the FARC is able to participate in government,” Arnson said. But she reminds Colombians that even though the FARC will be able to participate in politics, it will still have to win elections.
Perhaps the most crucial element of the peace process will be transitioning guerilla fighters into productive members of society and the economy. Full integration of former rebels will be key to preventing them from evolving into another criminal organization.
“The biggest danger in the post-accord era is the strengthening of organized crime; how Colombia will prevent FARC fighters from going into criminality,” Arnson said. “How much of that will be dismantled and weakened is really the million dollar question.”
Inter-American Dialogue President Michael Shifter told Fusion that successfully finishing the negotiations on disarming the FARC and guaranteeing their security could avoid potential setbacks. He said the government also needs to define how the so-called “Concentration Zones,” where FARC members will be able to settle, will function.
Shifter says there's no real guarantee for peace, and President Santos is still expected to put the accord to vote in a nationwide referendum.
Even though that's pending, Shifter said Santos is already working with the U.S. government to turn Plan Colombia (the U.S.-funded anti-drug campaign that has targeted the guerrillas and organized crime) into what will now be known as “Peace Colombia.”
“At this very moment Colombia receives $300 million a year from the U.S. government, and when the country enters the post-conflict era the idea is to give them $450 million to help them implement the accords like generating employment for former guerrilla members,” Shifter explained.
But he says the referendum could prove crucial since it will be very hard to implement peace measures against a fierce opposition being lead by former President Alvaro Uribe who claims the government is being too easy on the FARC and a nation that certainly wants peace but remains divided on what it needs to compromise to achieve it.