tion. But that doesn’t mean that the people involved in such
conflicts are doomed to an endless conflict.
THE CASE OF COLOMBIA AND THE FARC
If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the best known intractable
conflict around the world, the best-known one in the South
America is undoubtedly the Colombia-FARC conflict, which
started in the mid-1960s with the formation of the major guerrilla groups, the FARC and the ELN.
Origins of the conflict and its intractability
As often occurs in intractable conflicts, the causes of this
50-year conflict are different from the causes of its intractability. According to Cynthia Arnson and Teresa Whitfield in their
chapter on Colombia in the book Grasping the Nettle, there were
three main sources of the conflict: (1) the creation in 1957 of the
National Front, a power-sharing arrangement between Liberals and Conservatives that ended a longstanding violent conflict
between them, but caused the exclusion of other actors in the
political process, (2) the persistent inequity in Colombia’s land
tenure and the State’s lack of action and interest in the country’s
frontier territory, and ( 3) the intense urban growth that received
the attention of the government, at the expense of the social
conflicts and needs in the rural area.
Yet according to Arnson and Whitfield, the causes of the
Colombia conflict’s intractability are basically two: First, the historical weakness of the Colombian state, unable to provide its
population with security and accountability through the justice
system (a problem aggravated by legislation called Law 48 that
essentially authorized private armies and led to the flourishing of
many paramilitary groups). Second, the evolution of illegal armed
actors – both guerrillas and paramilitaries – financed by revenues
from drug trafficking, extortion, and kidnapping.
Until recently, there was a history of failed negotiations between
the FARC and the Colombian government: first in 1984 in the
administration of Belisario Betancur, when the guerrillas declared
a ceasefire and concentrated on launching a political party called
Unión Patriótica; then in 1991-92 with the talks and negotiations
in Caracas and Tlaxcala, during the Gaviria administration; and
finally in 1998-2002, during the Pastrana administration.
After the breakdown of the peace process in 2002, write Arnson
a particular kind of negotiation fatigue set in. This fatigue
reflected disgust with the persistent abuses of the FARC
and a conviction that its actions during the negotiations
demonstrated a lack of political will, but also a wide-
spread perception that the process was also a victim of
government mismanagement. This mismanagement
was detected in the failure to insist on sufficient and
verifiable conditions for the demilitarized zone, a lack of
competence on the part of the government’s various
negotiating teams, and the government’s inability to
develop a coherent negotiating strategy.
The latest negotiations.
The current negotiations differ somewhat from the previous negotiation models. It was accepted that dialogue should
progress in the midst of the military confrontation, in a demilitarized meeting zone. Both Government and the FARC agreed to
a simple but essential agenda, and started developing complex
arrangements over structural matters, political pluralism and
What has changed to address the conflict’s intractability?
First of all, there were a change in the FARC’s perspective. Its
leaders admitted that they no longer sought to take power by
force, probably due to the government’s military build-up and
change in the geopolitics in the region, especially in Venezuela.
Also, Bernard Aronson, the US representative for the Colombian
peace process, showed the FARC that across Latin America,
guerrillas have won power through elections, after disarmament,
taking responsibility for their crimes and accepting justice for
The current peace talks have an agenda made of six points, that
try to address the causes and effects of the conflict simultaneously:
1 rural reform, to diminish poverty in the
countryside and fight land inequality;
2 political participation by the FARC and other
3 a post-conflict drug policy;
4 both the FARC and the State taking
responsibility for their victims;
5 the end of conflict through abandonment
of arms by the FARC and measures for its
integration in society; and
6. the implementation of the agreement, with
both disarmament and the implementation of
From the beginning, the most difficult point to negotiate
has been transitional justice, and the expectation that the
FARC’s leaders would face punishment for their actions. But
the change in international law that no longer accepts blanket amnesties for crimes against humanity and the hardening
of public opinion against the FARC (because of its terrorist
bombings and kidnappings) changed the scenario and forced
the leaders to accept justice. The acceptance by the government that its leaders would also face justice if they committed
crimes helped as well.
Now, the peace agreement needs to became law. The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, has said that the Colombian
people will have the chance to approve or reject any deal, probably through a plebiscite. All being well, the talks will culminate in
an agreement, with the FARC’s demobilization.