If all goes as planned on Thursday, the leaders of Colombia and FARC, the country’s long-lived drug-running-terror-guerrilla group, will meet in Havana to sign a ceasefire that represents yet another major step toward ending one of the longest-running wars in the world—a conflict that began more than 50 years ago and has claimed more than 220,000 lives. A final peace agreement remains to come, supposedly by mid-July, and then it will have to be approved by the people of Colombia in a referendum.

Even then, the violence that has been a scourge of the Colombia countryside for centuries will not end entirely. Not all FARC fighters are likely to accept the cease-fire, and even some of those who end their war on the government are likely to continue their lucrative sideline in drug dealing. Colombia will hardly be able to demobilize its substantial military and police forces; they will need to deploy into FARC-held areas to bring them under the control of the democratically elected government. There are understandable concerns among many Colombians, including many in the security forces, about whether FARC will genuinely end its armed struggle.

Still, though it is hardly a certainty, Colombia now has a real chance for peace.

It would never have come as far as it did were it not for two factors. First is Plan Colombia—the U.S. aid program that began in 2000 and delivered $10 billion in assistance for Colombia to fight narcotics traffickers and, after 2001, to fight FARC as well. Second, and more important was the presidency of Alvaro Uribe, who was in charge of Colombia from 2002 to 2010. He inherited a failed state with roughly a quarter of its territory controlled by FARC; the guerrilla group ran an area the size of Switzerland. Narco-traffickers were another law onto themselves, as were various right-wing militias formed to fight both the leftist rebels and the drug dealers.

Uribe transformed the situation by expanding the military (which he paid for by raising taxes) and cleaning up its act to reduce corruption and brutality. He negotiated the disbandment of the right-wing militias and implemented a “democratic security” strategy to put security forces 24/7 into the countryside to get close to the people and deny FARC room to operate. Instead of sweeping through rural areas, the Colombian security forces instituted a “clear, hold, and build” strategy that has so often paid dividends in counterinsurgencies.

As a result of the Uribe offensive, the ranks of FARC declined from more than 17,000 to fewer than 7,000, and they were relegated to remote areas of the countryside, many of them clustered around the border with Venezuela, which has thrown the group a lifeline. Once the guerrillas had threatened Bogota and other urban areas; no more. (I wrote about the “Colombian Miracle” in The Weekly Standard in 2009.)

There are few leaders in recent decades that have been as important and transformational as Uribe. But his post-presidency has been difficult. Ever since he was succeeded by his former defense minister, Juan Manual Santos, Uribe has been scheming to get back into power and trying to sabotage Santos. Today, Uribe opposes the peace deal with FARC, which he believes will unfairly give the rebel group an amnesty for its many crimes. He has even called Santos a traitor for negotiating the deal.

But most Colombians are heartily sick of this long-running war and are willing to take a chance on the peace deal. If the peace deal holds, it will be a clear endorsement of the population-centric counterinsurgency strategy that Uribe implemented with American aid and advice—the same strategy that other American allies must now employ against insurgents in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other battlefields.

Unfortunately, there are few Uribes to go around. For all his faults, this former president is the kind of transformational leader that nations need to defeat entrenched insurgencies. He is many times the leader that a Karzai or a Maliki ever was. Instead of meddling in Colombian politics, it would be nice if Uribe could lend his talents to a country like Mexico, which desperately needs his guidance to defeat the drug gangs that are nearly as threatening as FARC ever was.

+ A A -
You may also like
Share via
Copy link