BOGOTA (Tribune News Service) — As government and guerrilla negotiators begin the 34th round of peace talks in Cuba on Tuesday in hopes of ending Colombia’s half-century conflict, they’re going to have a powerful force behind them: momentum.
In the last several weeks, the two sides have made life-saving breakthroughs to reduce violence even as the talks, which started in October 2012, inch along.
Last week, President Juan Manuel Santos declared a one-month halt in air force bombings against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrillas. That concession came after the rebels declared a unilateral and indefinite ceasefire in December that, despite scattered skirmishes, authorities say is being honored.
In addition, the FARC recently vowed to quit recruiting children and agreed to help identify and clear anti-personnel mines, which have maimed or killed at least 11,068 people since 1990.
The drumbeat of good news comes as the country itself is warming up to the process. In a Gallup poll released this month, 72 percent of Colombians said they favored a negotiated peace agreement and 53 percent believed peace might be possible this time.
The talks are going on behind closed doors in Havana, but both sides insist progress is being made.
The negotiators have already reached partial agreements on agricultural and land reform, the FARC’s future participation in politics, and how to extract the group from the lucrative cocaine trade.
Even so, there are thorny issues ahead. Among them is justice: How will the government hold the FARC accountable for its crimes and still get the guerrilla high command to agree to a peace deal? (Both the United States and Colombia classify the group as a terrorist organization.)