The May 27 agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) concludes a six-month peace process which started in Oslo and moved to Havana, and could end a conflict that started in 1964. The main issues, predictably, have to do with land rights and the exploitation of peasants in a country where one per cent of landowners hold 52 per cent of farms, only 22 per cent of potentially arable land is cultivated, and 6.5 million hectares have changed hands, been vacated, or stolen as a result of the violence. The deal is not, however, comprehensive; talks are to resume on June 11, and must address still unsolved problems, such as implementation. The government of President Juan Manuel Santos rejects Farc’s demand that some nine million hectares be declared autonomous zones, but is apparently prepared to target rural development programmes at the relevant areas. A more difficult issue involves Farc’s transformation into a political movement in the current system. Farc is rightly cautious about this; it attempted a similar move in the 1980s by forming the Patriotic Union party, but over 3,000 of its members, including two presidential candidates, were murdered.
Crucially, both sides now seem to accept that a military solution is impossible. Mr. Santos has diverged from some of his predecessors by acknowledging that Colombia is in a state of civil war; from 1999 to 2008 Farc and the National Liberation Army of Colombia controlled 35 per cent of the country’s territory, and Farc still holds the south-eastern forest and the plains at the foot of the Andes. Secondly, the recent agreement, although it has been criticised for not requiring enough concessions from Bogotá, enables Colombia to start healing some of its wounds; for example, about 30 per cent of Farc’s recruits are minors. As for Farc’s drug-based funding, the organisation has maintained tighter control over cocaine production than, for example, the Bush administration in Washington would accept, despite CIA reports that Farc was not a major source of drugs for the United States market. Farc has collaborated with the United Nations in replacing coca farming with sustainable food production, and can now start to draw world attention to the damage subsidised U.S. agricultural exports do to farmers in Latin America. In addition, Mr. Santos must continue to use help from regional states such as Venezuela, which has played a role openly acknowledged by the Colombian government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, in making the talks a success; failure to use such assistance and good offices could result in a tragic waste of Colombia’s best opportunity for peace in decades.