“You would be ending the last internal armed conflict in the region,” says Adam Isacson, a leading expert on security in Colombia at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). “That changes the entire climate of how the region is perceived.”
Latin America has rallied around Colombia as it sets out to reach peace with the FARC, a Marxist rebel group that emerged in 1964. The FARC, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, has waged war for nearly five decades against the state. Later, their fight also targeted fierce paramilitaries that rose to counter the FARC but who are equally responsible for putting civilians in the middle of crossfire. The FARC have been accused of everything from bombings in Bogotá and other cities to high-level kidnappings, including US citizens.
Amid the violence on all sides, tens of thousands have been killed, and some 4 million people have been displaced.
The FARC’s operational strength was dramatically weakened under former hard-line President Ávaro Uribe. Mr. Santos, who served as Mr. Uribe's defense minister and assumed office in 2010, put the idea of ending the conflict at the center of his agenda. This is not the first time peace has been tried in Colombia: Talks have broken down three times before, most recently a decade ago.