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An Investment in Colombia's Peace

President Obama hosted President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia in the White House this week to celebrate the imminent signing of a peace agreement that could end one of the longest-running conflicts in history.

Having spent $10 billion over the past 15 years training and supporting Colombia's security forces, Washington officials are understandably feeling proud of America's contribution to the country's turnaround. After nearly three and a half years of peace talks, the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a Marxist-inspired insurgency, expect to sign an armistice in March.

"We all know that it's easier to start wars than to end them," Mr. Obama said at an East Room ceremony. "But after half a century of wrenching conflict, the time has come for peace."

As Mr. Obama's phrasing suggests, the administration knows that even a formal peace accord cannot by itself heal the wounds of a long and painful conflict. The next phase will require a well-managed transitional justice process, a concerted effort to address the country's entrenched inequality and new approach to counternarcotics. Mr. Obama hopes to contribute $450 million to the peace effort to build up legal institutions, improve education and promote economic growth.

One of the early challenges of the post-truce era will be the establishment of special tribunals. The Colombian government and the FARC reached a deliberately vague agreement on transitional justice last year, which has raised valid concerns that serious war criminals could go largely unpunished.

It is unrealistic to expect that every war crime committed during the five-decade war will be punished. However, the most serious crimes committed by FARC commanders and Colombian military personnel should lead to meaningful sanctions. If the tribunals are perceived as incompetent or too lenient, the prospect of a lasting peace will be in jeopardy.

One of the main goals of Washington's long effort to stabilize Colombia was to cut cocaine production in half. Yet the drug trade is still booming, kept afloat in large part by strong demand in the United States. There is no easy fix to this problem, but the time has clearly come for a new approach.

[Source: By The Editorial Board, The New York Times, 05Feb16]

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small logoThis document has been published on 15Feb16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.