Amidst the violent turmoil in the Middle East and the world’s backsliding in its long-term progress toward peace, a piece of good news deserves notice. Last week a breakthrough finally occurred in peace talks between the government of Colombia and the FARC rebels. The talks, held in Cuba, had dragged on for several years but have now produced an agreement to definitively end hostilities in six months, in March 2016. A truth commission will sort out war crimes, and penalties will follow a compromise between impunity and severe punishment.
The agreement marks the end of the last war in the Western hemisphere and thus continues a trend over recent decades that have seen the zone of active fighting in the world shrink to an area now stretching from central Africa to Pakistan, with a tendril up into Ukraine and occasional little skirmishes in southeast Asia. (Actually fighting in Pakistan is much reduced this year, and a shaky peace deal was agreed last month in South Sudan, though Syria’s war rages on.)
Peace in the Western hemisphere does not mean an absence of violence. Thousands continue to die in drug-related violence in Mexico, homicides against indigenous people in Guatemala, and gang violence in El Salvador. But the historical contrast is stark.
Just a few decades ago, civil wars (with international involvement) ravaged Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Argentina’s government waged a “dirty war” against leftists, Chile lived through a brutal coup and dictatorship, and Brazil had a military government. The United States invaded Grenada and Panama.
Although economic growth in Latin America has slowed recently, some 70 million people there rose out of poverty in the past decade. Literacy and education rates are very high, birth rates are low, and the region has become solidly middle-income. Actually, Latin America has become so successful that it’s easy to ignore amidst the troubles of other regions – making the evening news only when a big corruption scandal (Brazil) or especially violent incident (Mexico) flares up.
With the reopening of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States this year, the Western hemisphere now enjoys normal and peaceful interstate relations from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. It’s not paradise to be sure – inequality, corruption, violence, and racism have definitely not disappeared – but the progress is dramatic.
The war in Colombia lasted fifty years, took more than 200,000 lives, and displaced millions from their homes. Peace will be sweet.