Panel of Professors Talk Colombian Peace Process

To what extent will Colombia’s peace process result in long-lasting reparation? Co-sponsored by the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center and the Organization of Latin American Affairs, “Truth, Justice, and Reparation: Lessons from the Peace Process in Colombia,” provided a space for scholars and students to explore this question Monday night in Devlin 101.

The Colombian peace process refers to the negotiations and November 2016 agreement between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The agreement aims to bring an end to the Colombian conflict, the 52-year, asymmetric war fought between the Colombian Government, paramilitary groups, crime syndicates, and left-wing guerilla factions.

Ines Maturana Sendoya, director of the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center and a Colombian citizen herself, introduced the program.

“This historic agreement gives me hope for something different and better for Colombians,” Sendoya said. “But we must see how this peace process rolls out.”

Robert A. Karl, professor of modern Latin American history at Princeton University, was the event’s first speaker.

“I want to begin by asking you all a burning question,” Karl said. “How many of you have seen Narcos?”

The wildly popular Netflix show provides viewers with a chronicled look at the criminal exploits of Pablo Escobar, the infamous Colombian drug-lord.

“Everything Narcos has taught you, please forget it,” he said.

Karl went on to explain that the show’s framing of Colombia’s drug economy trivializes the grave and often deadly reality of a nation divided by social hierarchies, violent politics, and illegal exploits. FARC and other factions of the war were funded in part by the drug economy, which diverted parties away from their goals of justice and equality and toward citizen exploitation.

From its founding in 1810, Colombia has struggled to form a unified nation because of its divisive geography. Steep mountains and un-navigable rivers separated the nation into three distinct regions, one of which included the agricultural frontier cultivated by the campesinos, or farmworkers, who planted the seeds of the FARC movement.


“Everything Narcos has taught you, please forget it.”

—Robert A. Karl, professor of Latin American history at Princeton University


Over the latter half of the 20th century, FARC developed from an agricultural rights movement into the leading left-wing guerilla faction of Colombia’s conflict. On the surface, the group promoted agrarianism and anti-imperialism, and embodied communist socio-political ideologies. However, FARC resorted to terrorism, kidnapping, and the distribution of illegal drugs in order to gain power in a divided nation.

“We seem to think violence was and is an unavoidable part of Colombian history,” Karl said. “But that’s not true. The original people of the FARC movement sought a place in the nation through civic, democratic organization at the local level.”

In the 1980s, FARC’s political direction began to shift as the cocaine industry blossomed in Colombia’s frontier lands. The militaristic faction of FARC expanded as drug processing industries became taxable. Years passed, thousands of people were brutally murdered, and citizens across the nation began to ask themselves: What are we really fighting for?

After Karl completed his segment, Helena Alviar García, dean of the law school at Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia and visiting professor at Harvard Law School, began her portion of the program. As someone born and raised in the heart of the Colombian conflict, García experienced the terror and backlash of war firsthand.

“I never thought that in my lifetime I would see peace,” García said. “I thought it would never come.”

In contrast to Karl’s historical focus, García emphasized the political logistics and legal ramifications of Colombia’s peace process. To illustrate the nation’s political division, García juxtaposed two images. The first was a photo of Diego Rivera’s fresco mural, “Agrarian Leader Zapata,” which depicts Emiliano Zapata, a champion of agrarian reform, leading a band of rebels armed with makeshift weapons, including farming tools. García utilized Rivera’s fresco to exemplify FARC’s message of equity, concerned with farmer’s rights and food distribution.

In contrast, García communicated the Colombian government’s perspective with a stock photo of a cornfield. The image represented the government’s focus on economic growth through agriculture, which did not include the people behind the growth, who farmed the land and produced the crops.

Accustomed to the deep political divide between FARC and the government, many Colombians were shocked when peace talks began in 2012. These talks and negotiations eventually came to fruition as a referendum vote for peace in October 2016.

Though widely expected to pass, the peace deal was defeated by 50.2 percent of Colombians. Low voter turnout and a passionate opposition to the deal resulted in defeat.

In November 2016, Colombia’s congress ultimately approved a peace accord with FARC. Within the last week, droves of FARC rebels have been marching to demobilization camps, signaling the beginning of the end of Colombia’s war.

“I don’t like to use the word post-conflict,” Garcia said. “I prefer the term peace-construction, because I hope that we never stop building peace in Colombia.”

Featured Image by Kyle Bowman / Heights Staff