OP-ED: Peace in Colombia, a light in dark times
These are dark times in the world and good news are few and far between. But as the end of the war in Colombia proves, they do exist. And boy, are they welcome!
In Havana, the sight of Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos shaking hands with Timoleón Jiménez, known as “Timochenko,” the FARC's guerrilla commander, after 52 years of bloody conflict, was as moving as it was improbable, as surreal as it was transcendental for the entire continent.
“Peace will be a victory for Colombia, as well as for all America,” said Cuban President Raúl Castro, under whose auspices the negotiations were conducted. “In a world disrupted by war and violence, the achievement of peace in Colombia represents a hope for millions of people on the planet whose main preoccupation is survival.”
An emotional Santos agreed.
“This is a peace of everyone, without exception. This is the peace we have been dreaming about,” he said at the Laguito Convention Center as the “End of Conflict and Cessation of Hostilities” ceremonies came to an end in the Cuban capital.
Fighting back tears, Timochenko, who thanked former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, responded with his own words of hope: “May this be the last day of war.”
The final treaty will be signed July 20 th in Colombia. The signing will be the culmination of almost four years of extremely difficult negotiations conducted in Havana during which overcoming the deep seated mistrust by both parties many times seemed like an impossible dream.
But the dream came true in a deal that effectively ends the longest-running insurgency in the Western hemisphere, more than half a century of violence that took the lives of as many as 220,000 Colombians. In Bogotá, the Colombian capital, people took to the streets in jubilation.
They were “hugging each other and singing the national anthem,” the BBC reported.
“The only dreams that are achieved are those that are attempted, that’s what we feel today,” said Timochenko, who added the FARC is not abandoning its struggle for social justice. “We are going to do politics without arms, by legal and peaceful means” he said. “We were enemies, but from now on we will have to be allies for the good of Colombia.”
Santos, a hawkish former minister of defense under the sinister former President Álvaro Uribe, a sworn enemy of the peace talks, also spoke of a future in which battles will be fought only in the political arena.
“Now that we have agreed to peace,” he said, “as head of state and as a Colombian, I will argue, with equal determination for their right to express themselves and to continue their political struggle by legal means, even if we never agree. That is the essence of democracy.”
The road ahead is sure to be a long and difficult one, but Colombians, exhausted by 50 years of violence and death, have embraced peace. A peace that can only become real with true democracy and greater social justice.