This comment is a continuation of the YIRA Winter 2016 International Trip Group’s Bogotá, Colombia Trip Summary.
The persistence of the FARC conflict in Colombia is in itself fascinating. When we think about attempted revolutions and civil wars in Latin America, we tend to think in historic terms –about people who have revolted and fought and since reconciled. While the FARC of 2016 is an undoubtedly perverted version of its original ideologically-driven rebel group, it is nonetheless shocking that this conflict has lasted for over half a century; any current-day discussion about FARC is both historic and political. This was my mindset upon arriving to Colombia: the country was sitting at a historic impasse, and that we were lucky enough to interview individuals who had insight into what the highly secretive peace processes entailed. The peace negotiations would herald a new stability of peace, and so long as an agreement was reached, the negotiations would be a success.
For the most part, the academics and politicians that we interviewed confirmed this belief. The peace process (at least what we know of them) is not perfect, but they are better than the alternative—which is continued violence. I left all of these interviews feeling strongly that the peace negotiations were good for the country, and that Colombian citizens should vote to approve them. The marginal effort required to decimate the remaining members of the FARC was colossal; peace is clearly a better alternative.
I do think that Colombia will eventually approve whatever settlement is reached. But that doesn’t mean that they will be happy about it. What our research could not take into consideration was the role that emotion and personal experiences with the FARC played in shaping Colombians’ perspectives of the negotiations. As a student with no personal connection to Colombia (a personal interest, sure, but no history or familial ties), it is inevitable that my opinion towards the FARC negotiations will lack a nuance that pervades most Colombian citizens’ opinions. Our discussions with academics and left-leaning politicians highlighted the benefits of the newest round of negotiations, but they often discounted the visceral–mostly negative–reactions of the Colombian people to the FARC.
In my conversations with Colombians outside of a formal interview setting, few of them were as enthused as the academics. They worried about their country turning to the populism of Venezuela and other floundering Latin American states. They worried that the negotiations were a Trojan horse, a way of distracting the government forces while the FARC secretly built up their capacities. They worried that murderers would end up as elected officials, without facing anything resembling justice. For people who know victims of the FARC, this last worry is paramount—and this is understandable. But these concerns are not limited to one demographic—they are the worries of Colombians living in the US, working at prestigious think tanks or as doctors at Yale New Haven.
In considering all of these conversations, I struggle to summarize my views towards the FARC negotiations. I do want the negotiations to succeed, and I want the Colombian electorate to approve them. But I also empathize with the frustrations and fears that this process has elicited. To say that the negotiations are on outright success would be a gross oversimplification—even if this is true from a logistic standpoint. But when considering the sentiments of the Colombian people, I wish there were a way to better reconcile my objective analysis and the harm that FARC has caused people throughout the country.
On a separate note, I have to include a brief acknowledgment of my newfound love for the country of Colombia. Although I was only able to briefly explore Cartagena and Bogota, I was overwhelmed by the warmth, kindness, generosity of people that I met. That sounds trite, and a lot like what every New Englander says about people they interact with who aren’t from New England. But I cannot overstate the extent to which this was cliché was true in Colombia—there are a number of occasions that I was benefactor of random acts of generosity. As I write this in New Haven on this bleak February day, there isn’t much I wouldn’t give to be enjoying an arepa in the Candelaria.