The peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) are moving slowly, despite some positive news. According to sources close to the peace talks, the main sticking points that underscore this 50-year conflict remain unresolved. Differences regarding the land tenure system and redistribution of the latifundia remain unsettled. FARC negotiators call for a structural political reform that goes beyond the minimal political guarantees offered by the government. The gap remains wide and the positions of the parties are not closing.
According to the same sources, the FARC is committed to the negotiations and betting on its ability to mobilize enough popular support to achieve a meaningful socioeconomic and political reform. The Santos government cannot walk away empty-handed, especially given the upcoming presidential election in which Santos is seeking a second term. Both sides are serious about negotiating, so what is preventing the parties from reaching an accord?
A critical limiting factor is the continued US support for the Colombian military. US strategy has not yet shifted gears from war to peace, as it continues to support the Colombian military with weapons, high tech support, intelligence, and drones. This US aid strengthens the military’s rejection of proposals to reduce its size or budget. Keep in mind that almost one percent of Colombia’s population is part of the 450,000 strong military, which includes the police, and is among the largest in Latin America. The sheer size and inertia of the military, exacerbated by its obsolete Cold-War doctrine, constitutes a major hurdle to peace, especially given the counterproductive US stance.
A second challenge comes from the economic position of the bourgeois faction that Santos represents. These elite are committed to the fallacy that Colombia’s economic success comes from the export of primary commodities such as oil, coal, gold, emeralds, and uranium. Santos and his economic team are adamant about this commitment and refuse to acknowledge the shortsightedness of this rentier-model. The exploitative nature of the commodity exports negatively impacts land use in the agrarian economy, exacerbates land concentration, and contributes to mining environmental disasters. The “mining locomotive” thinking that Santos’s team considers the panacea of development is, according to a recent study of the National Accounting Office, irrational and disastrous even by bourgeois standards. The combination of concessions, tax exemptions, and favorable contracts to multinational corporations mean that Colombian taxpayers end up subsidizing these companies. Under the existing laws, this is plain and simple looting, and the FARC arguments are falling on the deaf ears of the government.
This economic model is irreconcilable with the vital interests of the peasants, the generation of employment, and Colombia’s food security. The FARC and the ELN are demanding a strategy of sustainable development that protects the peasants’ economy, food security, the environment, and communal rights for the indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations. The FARC position calls for an expansion of the Peasant Reserve Zones, economic areas that prioritize small farmers and limit land concentration. The Peasant Reserves coverage originated with Law 160 of 1994 and the government rejects any expansion of the zones, causing a sticking point.
A final limiting factor is the entrenched fear of reform among the elite. The reactionary coalition consisting of large landowners, cattle ranchers, conservative caudillos, segments of the military, and large corporations supports Santos, but their worries that any reform would undermine their economic and political interest limit his ability to maneuver. In the political division where the FARC is gaining the support of the working class and peasant movements, the US position and support is a critical factor. Either the US helps the enemies of peace and sustainable development or helps break the deadlock, enabling Colombia to escape from the vicious war system.
Nazih Richani is the Director of Latin American studies at Kean University. He blogs at nacla.org/blog/cuadernos-colombianos.