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Geopolitics

Why Peace Is Close In Colombia, Even If FARC Will Never Surrender

President Santos' decision to try to negotiate an end to a decades-long civil war is the only path for a nation that has suffered too much already.

Juan Manuel Santos in 2011
Juan Manuel Santos in 2011
América Economía

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos not only has the historic opportunity to end the longest and most violent conflict in Latin America’s contemporary history, but also the duty to do so.

He must sit down with the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) now in Havana.

The conflict, which started in 1984, has left 5.5 million victims: of murders, disappearances, kidnappings -- people have been left disabled, women have been raped, children displaced, entire towns pillaged. And the conflict continues, with more victims every day, which forces Santos, all Colombians, and the entire Latin American community to think pragmatically.

Our conclusion is that there is no alternative to the one that has been undertaken by the President.

Following the path of a relentless war in the hopes of total military defeat of the FARC is a pipe dream. Former President Álvaro Uribe is the one who most adamantly opposes negotiation today. Despite the fact that he used all of the Executive’s power to greatly reduce the power of the guerillas, they are still strong. FARC still counts up to 8,000 combatants spread across 67 fronts in territories they know inside and out, where they can strike at any time and hide permanently.

They also have access to abundant resources, which, only in terms of drug trafficking profits, are estimated to be $1.5 billion per year. They also count on combat experience that dates back to 1964. Moreover, additionaly military pressure would undermine the legitimacy of the state's security policy, and increase the number of innocent victims. In the past innocent people were killed because of a policy that offered incentives for each head of a dead guerrilla.

Finish the task

If knocking out the FARC, as Uribe advocates, is not possible, forcing them to give up as Santos intends to do is instead the urgent goal. Yes, the bloodshed could actually end. Today, the guerrilla group is beaten to the point where they finally realize that they are not going to win political power in Colombia. This is the main point that differentiates this peace process from the last negotiation in 2001 under Andrés Pastrana. This time, it is reasonable for the FARC to retreat with the best possible conditions.

Having reached this point is a credit to Uribe. The former President had the virtue to resist the status quo of a standoff that had been reached between the government and the guerilla. That situation could have accepted FARC and other armed groups as permanent diseases endemic to the country. This would have meant giving up on the defense of Colombian citizens and endangering the nation's future prosperity. According to the Foundation for Higher Education and Development (Fedesarrollo), an independent research entity, this war cut into GDP growth by 3.2% points in 2012.

However, Santos must be the one to finish the task by balancing a negotiation in which Colombians interpret signing the peace treaty with the FARC as the surrender of the guerilla group, even if it does not say it in those terms. At the same time, the conditions the rebels demand must seem magnanimous concessions granted by the State as the one responsible for ensuring the common good. This is crucial in a country so driven by thirst for revenge.

At the same time, the Colombian context is a complex breeding ground for conflict. The FARC notwithstanding, rural policy is in great need of reform given Colombia's long history of social inequities and strife.

It is then important to recognize that peace with the FARC would not end conflict in the nation as a whole. Despite the fact that this guerilla group is guilty of decades worth of atrocious crimes, it is not guilty of many other ills afflicting Colombia.

The Colombian conflict is one where, all too often, victims turn into victimizers and victimizers become the victims. It is one where the heroes are also the villains and where everyone drinks from the corrupt fountain of drug trafficking. All this has generated countless armed groups from Left and Right, as well as common criminals of the most violent and corrupt sort. Sadly, a part of the State’s administration is not exempt from this.

That being said, we must vow to begin to put an end to this story somewhere. Santos has had the vision and the political strength to face the FARC. Supporting his efforts is a historic necessity.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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