The Untold Story behind the Historic Agreement to End Colombia’s 52-year Civil War

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Army AL&T News

On Wednesday, the Colombian government and the country’s largest rebel group announced an agreement to end their 52-year civil war. What’s not making today’s headlines is the U.S. military assistance that was instrumental in bringing the rebels to the negotiating table.

The agreement, announced in Havana, was the culmination of four years of negotiations between the government and the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The brutal war left some 220,000 dead and displaced more than 5 million people in a country of 50 million.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday hailed the accord, saying, “The United States strongly supports this accord that can achieve a just and lasting peace for all Colombians.”

The fate of the agreement is anything but certain, though. In Bogotá on Wednesday, President Juan Manuel Santos said he would present the agreement to Congress on Thursday and that the nation would vote in an up-or-down referendum on the pact Oct. 2. Leading the opposition will be Santos’ predecessor, former President Álvaro Uribe, whose 2002-2010 term was marked by an aggressive fight against FARC. Uribe thinks the deal is too favorable to the rebels, most of whom will receive amnesty.

But the agreement announced Wednesday didn’t materialize out of thin air. FARC’s rebels had enjoyed great success, controlling more than half of the country, until 1999, when Uribe’s predecessor, President Andrés Pastrana, asked the international community for help. The U.S. response was Plan Colombia, a sort of Marshall Plan to help the country eliminate the rebels and the 60 percent of the nation’s cocaine trade they controlled. FARC, which once held more than 50 percent of Colombia’s municipalities, had been reduced to 10 percent of the municipalities by the time of Wednesday’s announcement.

The story behind today’s headlines appeared in Army AL&T magazine’s October – December 2015 edition in an article by Maj. Mario Zaltzman and Charles Meixner that examined the use of U.S. foreign military sales that gave the Colombian armed forces a world-class rotary-wing capability. Those helicopter forces, which allowed government forces to move rapidly and at will anywhere in the country, were decisive in the fight against the rebels.

Read “Aiding Colombia’s Counterinsurgency Fight,” from the October-December 2015 issue of Army AL&T magazine.