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At last, some really good news: Colombia’s war with the FARC could finally end

FARC soldiers in 2002.
FARC soldiers in 2002.
Carlos Villalon/Getty Images

Open a newspaper, watch the news, or turn on a presidential debate, and it can seem like Dementors have been placed in charge of writing the world’s headlines.

Syria is a nation-size charnel house. Afghanistan is in such bad shape that US troops may be bogged down there for decades to come. China’s economy may be faltering. It’s easy to get the impression that the world is not only terrible but also in the midst of an uninterrupted slide toward being even worse.

But this week has brought a huge piece of genuinely good news that has gone almost completely unnoticed: One of the world’s longest-running conflicts, the war between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group, may finally be coming to an end. It now looks all but inevitable that Colombia will see a true resolution to the war it has struggled with for decades.

The FARC’s long, bloody war

The FARC is a leftist rebel movement, based in Colombia's vast rural areas, that since 1964 has waged a rebellion against the Colombian government in an attempt to launch a Marxist revolution. Its name is short for Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

The group grew in power during the 1980s and early '90s when the drug trade was flourishing in its territory in rural Colombia. Colombian cartels became increasingly powerful players in the cocaine trade in the 1980s, which the FARC exploited by levying "taxes" on the cultivation of coca plants within territory it controlled; the extra revenue allowed it to expand its operations. (The drug trade fueled both sides of the conflict: Elite-backed right-wing paramilitaries who opposed the FARC were also deeply involved in drug trafficking.)

The FARC also committed kidnappings as a source of revenue and political pressure. Many of its victims were held in the mountains for years at a time.

The war has been devastating for Colombia. It has claimed more than 200,000 lives directly, as well as displaced millions of people from their homes, caused deep damage to the Colombian economy, and undermined the rule of law.

In short, an end to the war would be a very, very good thing.

Is it finally time for peace?

Last week, the government and the FARC announced that they have agreed upon the key terms of a peace agreement. And this week, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a mission that will go into Colombia after the deal is finalized to help monitor and verify the process of laying down arms. For the first time, it truly seems likely that this war that has raged for more than five decades and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives will finally come to an end.

This final agreement is the result of a long and painstaking process. The current round of peace talks began in earnest when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos took office in 2010 after running on a promise to end the war.

Santos's peace negotiations immediately proved controversial — he faced considerable opposition from former President Álvaro Uribe and his political allies, who believed that negotiated peace with the FARC was not possible — but he persevered with the negotiations, which were brokered by Cuban President Raul Castro.

And slowly and steadily, those peace talks have made progress. Just over a year ago, the FARC announced an indefinite unilateral ceasefire and called on the government to do the same. The government refused, but the talks continued. In September 2015 the government and the FARC agreed on a resolution to the thorniest area of dispute: how to handle transitional justice for conflict-related crimes. In December, the FARC announced yet another indefinite unilateral ceasefire (the previous one having proven to be finite after all).

Now it seems that the parties have, at long last, finally completed their negotiations. President Santos asked the UN to monitor the peace deal, and the Security Council unanimously approved a monitoring mission. Barring any unexpected developments, it appears the conflict really is ending.

Peace is a process, not a moment. The combatants will still have to be demobilized, the transitional justice will need to be carried out, and political institutions will have to support and preserve the peace agreement. But this story is a nice reminder that the tragedies of today can be the hopeful bright spots of tomorrow. It took 50 years, but this terrible war may finally be ending.