Experts on Colombia Gaze into the Crystal Ball
By Dialogo November 20, 2012
Colombia is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, which could be the negotiation table for peace talks, stated specialists about the Colombian conflict during a meeting in Miami, Florida on November 16, three days before peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government resumed in Havana.
The conference, organized by the University of Miami’s Center for Hemispheric Policy, was focused on the topic “Colombia’s Security Challenges: the Peace Process and its Chances for Success,” in an attempt to forecast the result of this new effort for ending the internal conflict that has afflicted the country for over 50 years.
According to Román Ortiz, head of the Colombian consulting firm Decisive Point, the strategic balance of negotiations is now in favor of the State. “I can’t think of any other organization more unpopular than the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Their current political situation is the most challenging in their history, politically isolated inside and outside the country,” he said.
Ortiz added that this equation entails an overwhelming military and police force, which amounts to 55 force members per guerrilla combatant, and for the first time, the insurgency group admits they are willing to disarm and demobilize if an agreement is made.
In this sense, presenters coincided that Juan Manuel Santos’s government decision of not accepting a ceasefire is key, since it could contribute to the permanent demise of the FARC, while their representatives hold discussions in the Cuban capital. He said that this is an essential difference compared to past negotiations, when the group used the truce to reemerge with greater energy.
“If military operations are limited, the only thing you get is an extension of the conflict. The Colombian Military is completely operational at this moment, and the forces are exerting their pressure better than ever,” said Jorge Mario Eastman, former Colombian Deputy Minister of Defense during Álvaro Uribe’s presidency.
Bruce Bagley, head of the Department of International Studies at the University of Miami, also recognized the professional capability of the Colombian Military, which forced the FARC to retreat to remote areas in the Colombian territory. “They are different breed, a different generation, they have combat experience, they have been trained by the best Armed Forces, not only of the United States but also by others. They are very different to the Military in Colombia in 1995. It is a difference between night and day.”
However, Bagley pointed out that it would be risky to think that the Military’s strengthening and the strikes towards important FARC leaders during the last year mean that the organization has been defeated. According to the expert, the FARC contains elements that generate about $300 million annually in drug trafficking and organized crime-related activities. He said that they are motivated by ambition; therefore, they could decide not to join the peace process.
Both the University of Miami professor and the rest of the presenters agreed that, even though they cannot predict when and how negotiations would conclude, they are sure the FARC will be even more divided and weakened in Havana. In addition, they concurred that these circumstances are ideal for the highly expected transition towards a post-conflict society. “In terms of security, internal and external political situation, elections … the stars are lined up for that transition to take place,” Jorge A. Restrepo, from the Bogota’s Resource Center for Conflict Analysis, concluded.