The opening decades of the 21st century have witnessed the dawning of a new Colombia. The nation has turned the tide on a long-running terrorist insurgency to achieve a level of security and stability that has given birth to one of the region’s most dynamic economies. Colombia moved from isolation to regional leadership.
Despite this dramatic progress, Colombia still carries on its shoulders an internal conflict half a century old. But today, there is a real opportunity for lasting peace.
Last year, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the government had begun talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Shortly thereafter, peace talks commenced in Oslo and have since continued in Havana. In these 12 months — a long time for some, too short for others — the talks have achieved results. Negotiators have reached agreement on two of the six key issues on the table — two issues that address fundamental expressions of the conflict: rural development and political participation. The significance of these accords cannot be underestimated, they are now part of Colombia’s long-term agenda to become a developed country.
Colombia’s rural areas have not progressed at the same speed that urban zones have. Agreement reached on rural development addresses this issue by making historic investments and reforms unlike anything ever seen before. In addition, the agreement on political participation will strengthen and deepen our democracy. For the first time ever, the FARC will have to play by the updated rules of our democratic society. This is good for Colombia and good for the region and the world.
We have never been this close to achieving peace. While many obstacles remain, there is a reason for optimism: In the coming weeks and months, we will seek agreement on additional key issues, such as the solution to the problem of illicit drug trafficking, ending the armed conflict and addressing victims’ rights.
The task of negotiating peace is not easy, but as President Santos said upon embarking on this process, every world leader must take decisive action to solve the fundamental problems of their nation. This is that moment for Colombia. Though our goals are lofty, to continue to advance Colombia’s social, economic and political progress, they must be achieved.
Colombia is not alone in its desire to see lasting peace evolve from this process. In the United States and around the world — from President Obama to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon — there has been a groundswell of support for this effort. A successful conclusion will bolster democratic values in both Colombia and its neighborhood. All polling data show that without question, the great majority of Colombians want peace, not war. We are ready to put the conflict behind us forever.
Entire generations of Colombians have yet to experience a Colombia without violence. It is time to bring peace to the nation and relief to the victims. Colombia is ready to turn the page, and we are well on our way. We all hope FARC understands that fact. It’s their last call.
Luis Carlos Villegas is the new ambassador of Colombia to the United States.