Colombia: ‘proof that world peace is possible’

Fighting talk: The Global Peace Index computes that the world became 2.4% less peaceful in 2015.

Last week a deal was agreed in Colombia that could end the western hemisphere’s last remaining war. It is proof, says the country’s president, that world peace is more than just a pipedream.

Victoria Sandino was 25-years-old when she left for the jungle. She was on her way to join Colombia’s Marxist guerrilla forces, known as FARC. It was 1990, she had earned her journalism degree, and she wanted to ‘do something for this country,’ she recalls.

FARC claims to speak for Colombia’s poorest citizens. Since 1964, it — along with several other groups — has fought a brutal civil war against the government. In 52 years, the conflict has killed over 220,000 people and stripped 7m of their homes; when Sandino joined the rebels, her family had been displaced five times.

But in 2013 she laid down her weapons and took her place at the negotiating table with Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos. Peace was finally in sight. And last week, Santos announced a deal.

If Colombian voters approve it in October’s referendum, it will signal the start of a hopeful new chapter for the country. FARC’s soldiers have agreed to surrender their arms, which will be melted down and reformed into three monuments to peace.

It is a historic moment for Colombia. But Santos and the psychologist Stephen Pinker have argued in The New York Times that it is also a ‘milestone in world peace’. For the first time, not a single armed conflict is taking place in the entire western hemisphere. After centuries of violence, no nation in the Americas is at war with itself or another. It has no military governments.

In fact, all of the world’s wars are now concentrated in North Africa and the Middle East. ‘We inhabit a world where five out of six people live in regions largely or entirely free of armed conflict,’ say Santos and Pinker.

That should make us optimistic. If the Americas can go from war to peace in a few decades, why should not the same thing happen again, ‘even in the world’s most stubbornly violent regions’?

No one thinks it will be easy. Ending war involves enormous amounts of compromise, dedication and forgiveness. But could the dream of world peace one day be a reality?

Peace out

It is a lovely idea, say some, but the 2016 Global Peace Index tells a very different story. It found that the world has got more violent over the last decade, not less. Besides, the ongoing wars in the Middle East do not just involve Middle Eastern countries; they are complex struggles involving a web of international interests stretching from the USA to Russia.

Have faith, say Santos and Pinker. There were times in history when Europe, Asia, and the Americas all seemed trapped in never-ending cycles of violence. Now they are almost entirely at peace. Of course it will not happen tomorrow — but we should not assume that humans are doomed to destroy each other; we are capable of so much more.

You Decide

  1. Is negotiation and compromise always the best way to end disputes?
  2. Will you see world peace in your lifetime?

Activities

  1. Colombia is a beautiful, vibrant nation. Its jungles, beaches and mountains are all breathtaking. Create a new tourism campaign poster for the country now that five decades of war are ending.
  2. Choose one of the least peaceful countries from the map at the top of this article. From your own research, write one paragraph explaining the causes of violence, and another suggesting possible solutions.

Some People Say...

“To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

Winston Churchill

What do you think?

Q & A

Why are we talking about world peace? Everything feels hopeless.
It’s true that violence has got worse in some parts of the world. But Santos and Pinker are thinking from a historical perspective. During the cold war of the 20th century, South America saw wars in Paraguay, Colombia, Peru and the Falklands. In 1981, 11 South American nations had authoritarian or military governments. Now there are none. Things can always change.
Will Colombians approve the peace deal?
It is unclear. The country’s former president Alvaro Uribe is leading the campaign against the deal, arguing that it is too lenient towards FARC. The group has committed several atrocities in the past, but the deal allows it to form a political party — and if its soldiers confess to their crimes they will not go to jail.

Word Watch

FARC
Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).
220,000
From a 2013 internal Colombian report.
7m
From the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) in 2016.
Deal
The peace deal includes government commitments to invest in rural Colombia and to include FARC in the political process; FARC in turn will disarm and desist from the drug trade. Soldiers who confess to war crimes will be offered community service rather than jail.
Referendum
To be held on October 2nd. Current polls suggest it will be close.
Western hemisphere
The half of the globe to the west of the Prime Meridian, an imaginary vertical line running through Greenwich, UK.
North Africa
For example there are conflicts in Libya, Sudan, South Sudan, and Nigeria.
Middle East
The world’s most violent war is currently in Syria, followed by Afghanistan and Iraq.
Global Peace Index
Compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace. It reports 81 countries becoming more peaceful, 79 less peaceful in 2015; but also terrorism at an all-time high thanks to Boko Haram and Islamic State.

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