The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on Monday ended more than 50 years of conflict with the Colombian government. It’s the first functional step in a peace deal under which the FARC will surrender its arms and enter the democratic process. Colombians are expected to approve the peace deal in an October referendum. In doing so, they’ll end a conflict that has stolen 250,000 lives.
The Colombian government deserves great credit for this hard won peace. FARC only accepted peace because it faced annihilation. Not that long ago, FARC retained ambitions of overthrowing the Colombian government.
Recent history speaks volumes. Between 1999 and early 2002, benefiting from former Colombian President Andres Pastrana’s appeasement, FARC gained territory, avoided military pressure and strengthened its resources base. But it was not until Alvaro Uribe assumed office in August 2002 that circumstances began to change. Recognizing the FARC’s confidence, Uribe empowered Colombian security forces to aggressively confront the group.
While the military made steady progress, until 2012, FARC terrorist attacks remained regular and brutal. Under Uribe and his 2010 successor, Juan Santos, FARC’s power was systematically degraded. FARC safe havens were disrupted, its senior leaders and facilitators were killed or captured, its hostages were rescued, and FARC’s revenue operations (including significant narcotics operations) were destroyed.
Still, while Colombian security officers bear the success of beckoning peace, the United States also deserves special moral recognition. After all, without America, peace in Colombia would not have been possible.
The first point to note here is that U.S. support for Colombia’s better future has been longstanding. Reaching back to the 1980s, the U.S. government has heavily supported Colombian security services. Much of this work involved DEA, FBI and Defense Department assistance in identifying and dismantling drug networks. A significant part of this effort, for example, involved the rotation of U.S. Army Special Forces A-Teams (Green Berets) into Colombia. These forces have helped train, advise and support their Colombian opposites in countering FARC operations. Their impact is encapsulated by an innovative 2008 operation by the Colombian Army that rescued a number of hostages.
But U.S. support for Colombia also involved consolidating Colombian politicians, judges, prosecutors, and security officials as they opposed the FARC. That consolidation weakened the FARC’s ability to use assassination, corruption, and kidnapping to escape justice. And ultimately, with time, the U.S. fostered a Colombian state infrastructure that was capable of enforcing its will against terrorists.
Alongside these more overt efforts, the U.S. also operated a shadow campaign to support Colombian security. Take the role that the CIA and other U.S. Intelligence services — such as the National Security Agency — have played in supporting Colombian peace. All Americans can be proud of this record. While the CIA’s Latin American legacy is too often characterized by the lie that the CIA overthrows democratic regimes, Colombia proves the opposite. In assisting Colombian forces with intelligence on FARC leaders, the CIA helped Colombia step ahead of its enemy. That assistance helped Colombia bring FARC to its knees and then to compliance at the negotiating table.
That said, Colombia’s relationship with the United States hasn’t been beneficial solely for reasons of security. Between 2006 and 2015, Colombia’s economy grew steadily and per capita income increased by 33 percent.. That statistic reflects how capitalist-minded policies have improved Colombian lives.
And the juxtaposition between Colombia’s relative economic stability and that of socialist minded Latin American nations is obvious. In Brazil, corruption and economic mismanagement has induced political crisis. And just next door in Venezuela, socialist economics are fueling a humanitarian catastrophe. Thousands of desperate Venezuelans now entering Colombia in pursuit of basic goods and jobs. What Colombia thus proves is that an alliance with America offers far more than an alliance with Cuba or Venezuela. Or indeed, Brazil.
Nevertheless, the real story of this week must be that of a peaceful horizon in Colombia. Thanks to moral courage and strong leadership, Colombians finally have a chance at lasting peace. For that, they deserve our recognition and our respect. Yet Americans we should also be proud. For all the derision we receive around the world, Colombia’s better future is the world’s latest testament to American exceptionalism.
Tom Rogan is a foreign policy columnist for National Review, a domestic policy columnist for Opportunity Lives, and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. He was a panelist on The McLaughlin Group from 2014-2016. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.