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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Peace Talks in Colombia

June S. Beittel
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

In August 2012, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that exploratory peace talks with the violent leftist insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), were underway in a bid to resolve a nearly 50-year internal armed conflict. The initial dialogue between the Santos government and the FARC’s leadership, carried out in secret, led to the opening of formal peace talks with the FARC—the oldest, largest, and best financed guerrilla organization in Latin America. The formal talks began in Oslo, Norway in October 2012 and have moved to Havana, Cuba, where they continue. These official talks between the government and FARC are the first in a decade and the fourth effort in the last 30 years. Some observers maintain that conditions may be the best seen to date for moving toward a negotiated peace settlement as talks at this time may appear to both sides to be more attractive than continuing to fight.

It now appears that the Santos peace initiative was anticipated in the proposal of several legislative reforms enacted in the administration’s first two years in office including a law to restitute victims of the conflict and a “peace framework” law. In addition, the warming of relations with neighboring countries such as Ecuador and Venezuela since President Santos took office in August 2010 helped lay the groundwork for the peace process. Venezuela, Chile, Cuba, and Norway have actively supported the process, which has been lauded by most countries in the region.

Congress remains deeply interested in the political future of one of the United States’ closest allies in Latin America and has expressed that interest by its continued investment in Colombia’s security and stability. Over the years, the U.S.-Colombian relationship has broadened to include humanitarian concerns; justice reform and human rights; and economic development, investment and trade. The United States is Colombia’s largest trade partner. Colombia is Latin America’s fourth largest oil producer. It is a valued source of energy imports to the United States and an increasingly important destination for U.S. investment. Colombia is and has long been a major source country for both cocaine and heroin and drug trafficking has helped to perpetuate civil conflict in the country by funding both left-wing and right-wing armed groups. Colombia, in close collaboration with the United States, through a strategy known as Plan Colombia begun more than 12 years ago, has made significant progress in reestablishing government control over much of its territory, combatting drug trafficking and terrorist activities, and reducing poverty. Between FY2000 and FY2012, the U.S. Congress appropriated more than $8 billion in assistance to carry out Plan Colombia and its follow-on strategies.

Since the formal peace talks were announced, the White House and U.S. State Department have issued several statements endorsing the FARC-government peace process. While the United States has no formal role in the talks, its close partnership with Colombia forged initially around counternarcotics and counterterrorism cooperation, makes the outcome of the talks significant for U.S. interests and policy in Latin America. Progress in the peace talks—and a potential agreement—may affect the U.S.-Colombia relationship in such areas as U.S. foreign assistance and regional relations.

This report provides background on Colombia’s armed conflict and describes its key players. It briefly analyzes prior negotiations with the FARC and the lessons learned from those efforts that apply to the current round of talks. It examines in more depth what has transpired in the current talks between the FARC and the Santos administration. The report examines some of the constraints that could limit the success of the peace talks, and looks at the prospects for the current negotiations. The report concludes with a discussion of potential U.S. policy implications and identifies some issues the 113
th Congress may wish to consider contingent upon the terms of any peace agreement, if any agreement is reached. For more information on Colombia, see CRS Report RL32250, Colombia: Background, U.S. Relations, and Congressional Interest, by June S. Beittel.

Date of Report: March 1, 2013
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: R42982
Price: $29.95

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