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DU Expert Weighs in on Peace Talks Between Colombia and the FARC Rebels

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Dr. Oliver Kaplan says peace agreement will require support from international community


The headline in El Espectador, Colombia’s left-centered newspaper, said it all: “The guns went silent.” It was a reference to the June 23 ceasefire deal between the government of Colombia and the FARC, the country’s largest guerilla group.

With a signed agreement in place, the five-decade armed conflict – which has come at the cost of an estimated 220,000 lives – could soon meet its own demise and offer peace to both sides.

“As the peace talks have progressed, Colombia has experienced historically low levels of conflict. This ceasefire cements that progress,” says Oliver Kaplan, assistant professor of International Relations and Human Rights at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. “It's never easy to work out the final peace terms of such a long, complicated conflict.”

At this point, there’s no going back. For the rebels’ part, they are still pursuing their socialist ideals, but at this point many are also war-weary and looking toward peace. Prof. Oliver Kaplan, Josef Korbel School of International Studies

While no date has been given for the signing of the final agreement, Kaplan speculates that it will be very soon. The peace talks have come a long way since originally beginning in November of 2012. The three-and-a-half years of negotiating still have some obstacles to clear and, according to Kaplan, will require support from the international community.

“As for the rest of the negotiations, there are final details surrounding the FARC’s demobilization, as well as the implementation, funding and monitoring of the agreement,” says Kaplan. “That’s where the international community has an important role – to assist the parties and hold them to their commitments.”

But even with that support, what guarantee is there that the peace agreement will hold for the long term? After all, these are rebels who have lived a life of war and conflict for more than 50 years. There are signs that point to the peace agreement working, according to Kaplan. He cites the fact that as the peace talks have advanced, Colombians are celebrating this event as the end to the fighting.

“At this point, there’s no going back. For the rebels’ part, they are still pursuing their socialist ideals, but at this point many are also war-weary and looking toward peace,” says Kaplan. “It will not be easy for these fighters to reintegrate back into society after being in ‘el monte’ (the mountains) for so long, and some have themselves also been victimized and suffered due to the conflict.”

Fortunately, Kaplan says, Colombia has a strong reintegration program. He’s done research that suggests that educational programs may be especially important for curbing guerrilla recidivism. Those educational programs and the international community’s willingness to hold both sides accountable could be key to the peace agreement’s longevity.

“If they do,” says Kaplan of the international community’s accountability efforts, “it’s likely that the final agreement will stick.”

This doesn’t mean that all conflict would end. Kaplan warns of the possibility that security could continue to be threatened by neo-paramilitary “criminal bands” that are present in many parts of the country.