By tackling one of the country’s thorniest issues first, the FARC want to show they still have a political agenda after years of being labeled little more than narcoterrorists because of their involvement in the drug trade. The government, meanwhile, wants to show it is serious about finding lasting solutions to the conflict, analysts say.
“Peace in Colombia cannot be achieved without resolving the issue of land,” says Absalón Machado, an expert on land issues and lead author of an extensive United Nations Development Program study on the state of rural Colombia. The report found that 52 percent of rural property is in the hands of just 1.15 percent of the population.
"By putting this issue first, it is recognition that this is a tough problem that the society has to resolve if it wants to advance toward peace,” Mr. Machado says.
The FARC started off in the early 1960s as a band of angry peasants, and one of their main demands was better distribution of land.
“The FARC was born … as a peasant response to the aggression of large landowners that flooded the Colombian countryside with blood, usurping land from peasants,” said the lead rebel negotiator known as Ivan Marquez, when the peace talks were formally launched in Oslo last month. Many members of the FARC’s rank and file are recruited – often forcefully – among peasant communities where the rebels are the de facto authority.
But peasant leaders say the FARC represent only their own interests. “I don’t think they have the moral authority to talk about rural development,” says Pulido, who serves as a community leader in Maria la Baja.