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Peace In Colombia: Progress But Challenge Remains In Highly Polarized Nation

This guerrilla who did not wish to be identified by name, said he lost his arm during the conflict in Colombia. He is painting an image that marks 53 years since the formation of the FARC, the Spanish acronym for the the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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META, Colombia—Making peace after five decades of armed conflict in Colombia is a process fraught with challenges. The stakes for the United States stake are enormous both politically and economically. The two countries have a free trade deal and American companies like Coca-Cola and ExxonMobil are major players in Colombia. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is at the White House today to talk with President Donald Trump about protecting Colombia’s nascent peace process. After supporting the Colombian military for years—seven billion dollars since 2000 in its fight against leftist rebels —the U.S. is now helping to finance peace after a deal to end the conflict was signed in November. The U.S. Congress approved a 450-million dollar package earlier this month called Peace Colombia to help Colombia craft a durable peace. That number is likely to be reduced next year however as the Trump administration has been clear that it plans to reduce foreign assistance packages.

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Driving through the hills of Meta, where the Colombian Andes cascade down into a lush green valleys, where sunbeams dance on the bluest of skies, it is hard to imagine the bloodshed that once unfolded here.  Meta was ravaged by a war that pitted Colombia’s army and private militia against leftist guerrillas known as the FARC—-the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The FARC began as a rebellion against economic inequality in the 1960s. It then entered the cocaine trade to finance the conflict. And sowed terror in rural Colombia, killing civilians and extorting businesses.

Colombian soldiers at a checkpoint in the mountains of Meta, Colombia. The army battled the guerrillas here but today, guerrillas are asking for a greater military presence here to protect the region from incursions by organized crime and private militia. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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Fronteras Desk In Colombia: Key US Ally Debates Peace Accord With FARC Guerrillas

The image on a Bogotá home suggests violence has been raining down on Colombia for too long. (Lorne Matalon)

The image on a Bogotá home suggests violence has been raining down on Colombia for too long. (Lorne Matalon)

BOGOTA, Colombia—A peace deal is expected to be signed in March 2016 between the government of Colombia, a key ally of the United States in South America, and the largest guerrilla movement among several that have fought for decades to topple the Colombian state. The guerrilla group is known as FARC, the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The U.S. has spent billions of dollars in Colombia backing the government against the FARC and another guerrilla group known as the ELN, the Spanish abbreviation for the National Liberation Army, under the terms of Plan Colombia.

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The plan is a multibillion-dollar security package, the majority of which has been deployed to combat drug trafficking, though critics of the government in Colombia are unhappy that much of the assistance from the US went to the Colombian army, which has been accused in the majority of human rights abuses during the armed conflict.

President Barack Obama welcomed his Colombian counterpart in early February. Now, Mr. Obama is pledging to push Congress to grant financial support for the peace talks. But in Colombia, the path to peace is under intense debate.

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