Pope Francis Nudges FARC and Colombia to Reach Negotiations Amid Skepticism

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Last week, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government announced from Cuba that they would reach a peace agreement in six months. It’s a historic moment that could put an end to the nation’s more than 50-year conflict with the leftist rebel group, during which 220,000 people have died and over 6 million have been displaced. And like last December’s historic announcement that the United States and Cuba would begin normalizing relations, Pope Francis had his hands in it.

When it was founded in the 1960s, the FARC promised to represent the rural poor in its fight against the wealthy elite who ran the Colombian state, championing ideals of social equality and land reform. The elite responded by creating right-wing paramilitary groups to oppose the rebels, and the two have been engaged in a civil war ever since. Along the way, things got complicated by the drug trade – which fueled both sides of the conflict – and the FARC’s adoption of extortion, kidnapping, and illegal gold mining as ways to exert political pressure and finance their war.

It is the hemisphere’s longest-running insurgency, and it may finally be coming to an end. “We have agreed to create a special jurisdiction for peace that is going to guarantee that the crimes committed during the conflict, especially the most serious ones, will not remain unpunished,” said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, according to CNN.

Today, Pope Francis admitted that he was involved in trying to push FARC and the Colombian government to negotiate and that he spoke twice with Santos on the matter, according to AFP. Francis added that peace in Colombia is something he’s always wanted. The pope wasn’t too clear about how big a role he played in brokering this agreement between FARC and Colombia; after all, it comes after three years of arduous peace talks. Still, it recalls Francis’ key role in pushing Cuba and the U.S. to renew relations. President Barack Obama has thanked the pope for his role in the warming U.S.-Cuba relations. Pope Francis wrote letters to both Obama and Raul Castro calling on them to “resolve the case of Alan Gross and the cases of the three Cubans who have been imprisoned here in the United States and also encouraging the United States and Cuba to pursue a closer relationship,” a White House official said, according to Time.

Though some Colombians are optimistic that FARC and the Colombian government will reach a deal, others feel that things will only get worse as a result. The Miami Herald interviewed a dozen South Florida Colombians, and many expressed skepticism and fear that a peace accord could allow guerillas to seize power and/or slink off without being held accountable for their crimes. “The claim that peace is closer than ever, that’s a lie,” said Jesús Yépez to the Herald. “President Santos has been manipulated by the guerrillas.” One woman said that she didn’t believe it would happen because Manuel Santos has jumped the gun before. Even those who believe they will reach a resolution think FARC will go unpunished.