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Should the FARC Peace Talks Win a Peace Prize?

It is the time of the year when our attention turns to the Nobel Prize awards. The ceremony began this Monday with the award in medicine, followed by physics on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday and garnering the most speculation, literature and peace this Friday. The Norwegian Institute reveals nothing, giving free reign to speculate who, among the award’s 276 candidates, will win.

This year’s candidates represent a variety of nominees. There are world leaders including Pope Francis who has been nominated for his progressive policies, German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her stance on the Syrian refugee crisis and Ukrainian affairs, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for their participation in this summer’s nuclear talks. Organizations such as the United Nations Refugees Agency (UNHCR) and a proposed dedication to the 70-year anniversary to the bombing of Hiroshima are also on the list.

Latin America also has a strong nominee. The region’s former contestants have been widely acclaimed. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias was mediator during Central America’s most recent civil war period, Guatemalan indigenous and human rights activist Rigoberta Menchu, and authors, Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Colombia and Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa, are just a few. With such stanch competition the past and the present, do Colombia’s controversial peace talks between its government and the number one leftist terrorist group have what it takes to win?

Why it will win

If Colombia’s peace process were to win, it would be a model for other talks between long-time enemies who have little hope for reconciliation. Local support for resolving one of the country’s deadliest conflicts is widespread. Incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos was reelected after winning on a liberal ticket that supported negotiations rather than continued warfare. International support is strong ranging from communist Cuba which is hosting the 3-year long talks to Colombia’s biggest ally, the United States.

Recognition of the talks’ efforts are not unfounded. Colombia’s guerrilla civil war dates back to the 1960s, a decade where various ideological groups matured into armed outlaws, mainly the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The birth and strengthening of these peasant guerrilla groups have been a major challenge for the country on the human, economic, security, judicial and political levels. A 2014 Red Cross report estimates that the conflict has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions.

Such impact has forced local administrations during the last 50 years to find solutions including military combat, dialogue, deterrence advertising, etc. The solutions have varied in nature depending on the strategy and shift in agenda policies. However, these solutions have not been successful since these violent group’s acts against the state and its citizens have persisted.

Under ex-President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) and his democratic security policies, the FARC was under fierce attack which considerably reduced its combat capability and put it for the first time in years in a position of relative weakness. According to the National University of Colombia, in 2000 the FARC had 16,000 men under arms. Today, estimates of the Armed Forces, according to intelligence reports, do not reach 7,800. Likewise, the success of Uribe’s policy to “cut off the guerrillas from urban centers, roads and production facilities forced the FARC to take refuge in the southern jungles of the country,” has helped weaken the terrorists both in numbers and morale, but has increased their will to find alternative means of promoting their ideology.

These developments, complemented by the election of Juan Manuel Santos as President of the Republic, have created the environment to seek a consensual solution to the country’s armed conflict. Both the government and the FARC have seized this opportunity and are, since August 2012, negotiating peace terms in Havana, Cuba.

The face-to-face interaction between two mortal enemies operating in one of the world’s most violent regions is worthy of the Nobel Committee’s attention. While there was little to no hope for peace under Uribe, who continues to be his successor’s number one critic, proclaiming that one “should not negotiate with terrorists,” the current talks are the most successful to date. There have been five attempts at negotiations between the guerrillas and the Colombian government. The peace negotiations were held in five legislatures under Presidents Belisario Betancur (1982-1986); Virgilio Barco (1986-1990), César Gaviria (1990-1994) Ernesto Samper (1994-1998) and finally, Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002). Although these attempts at dialogue were not well managed, they agreed on the complete eradication of subversive struggles in Colombia and laid the groundwork that allowed the rethinking of the current strategies and opened the way for the present negotiations to achieve success which is worthy of the world’s highest recognition for peace efforts, the Nobel Peace Prize. The reconciliation date may be quite soon.

“In exactly six months, we will be saying our final goodbyes to the longest war not only in Colombia, but in all of America,” President Santos announced late September during a joint press conference in Havana, “A Colombia at peace will be safer because security forces dedicated to warfare can then re-concentrate on the safety of innocents.”

This makes the mutually set agreement deadline March, 23 2016. The question is now whether the negotiation’s four broad points, land reform, political participation, illegal drug trade and transitional justice, can not only be signed, but last.

Why it will loose

While much has been accomplished, a complete accord is still in the works. First, the challenge of winning the prize over other Nobel Peace Prize nominees is dwarfed by challenges back home. Confidentiality, the demilitarized zone, the reintegration of ex-combatants into civil society and enacting a ceasefire are factors of considerable debate since the negotiating table’s establishment. However, the popular ratification fully depends on the civilian population, which, as stated above, provides legitimacy but at the same time, is one of the main challenges of the peace process’ success. After nearly 600 days of talks, many Colombians have growing doubts and negative perceptions about the progress. The popular ratification, therefore, may further this nominee’s chance for international recognition in Oslo.

Likewise, Congress will have on its hands the task of making legal arrangements if there is to be ratification which is yet another challenge to the talks’ full implementation. The weakening of the coalition political party, National Unity, because of the internal division in the Conservative Party between those who want to remain part of it and those who prefer to be independent and the arrival of the Democratic Centre and the legislative opposition force, pose great challenges in terms of legislative support for the peace talks.

Another, more theoretical challenge for the peace talks being awarded the Nobel Prize is the ethical question of awarding it to an incumbent head of state. Has the Norwegian Institute awarded one of the world’s highest peace honor to leaders whose peace policies or lack thereof are yet known? US President Barack Obama, elected to office in 2008, won the prize in 2009 and his administration’s conflict involvement across North Africa and the Middle East have puzzled many.

Might the recognition of successful peace negotiations with the rebel organization spark further conflict within the South American country’s political and social institutions?

Since the beginning of this process, Uribe has become one of his successor’s biggest enemies and opponents to the peace talks. The critics have been adamant and specific. How would the guerrilla leaders be tried after reaching an agreement? For example, Uribe frequently questions the various unilateral cease-fires declared by the FARC, which, for him, have been no more than “cheating” the public as the terrorists “rest their forces” to strike “stronger in the future.”


“I think Colombia has no choice but to be successful in the negotiations,” Nobel Peace Prize winner and ex-President Oscar Arias recently told Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper, “These people do not deserve the continuation of an armed struggle. So they must support the process, because the alternative to its failure is that in the country continue killing. That should not be an option.”

Therefore, with a Nobel Peace Prize winning peace agreement, Colombia and the world would further learn that the only way to solve problems is not by defeating or exterminating others, but through dialogue and consensus. Through recognition of successful multilateral peace efforts, we learn to view the opposition not as an enemy that must be annihilated.

Certainly an agreement with the FARC will not bring immediate peace. A country that has been built on 200 years of socio-economic and political disability cannot achieve stability and peace in a generation. But the Norwegian Institute has at least considered the Colombian government-FARC peace talks to be a good start. This Thursday’s ceremony will tell if it’s Nobel caliber.