Re-Sheathing the Sword: The Uncertain Future of Colombia’s Civil-Military Relations

Re-Sheathing the Sword: The Uncertain Future of Colombia’s Civil-Military Relations

Colombia’s long armed conflict against leftist guerrilla groups may be entering its final stages as peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) proceed. The possibility of peace comes after a decade-long military buildup and a series of offensives left both the FARC and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) weakened, but not defeated.

Colombia, a distant third in population among Latin American countries, now has the region’s second-largest armed forces and its largest army. This buildup turned the tide in the conflict. But it has also altered the Colombian military’s relationship with its civilian leaders.

The president who presided over most of Colombia’s military expansion, Alvaro Uribe, championed military priorities, rejected peace talks with guerrillas and opposed efforts to punish military human rights abuses. To the surprise of many, not least Uribe, his successor and former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, has pursued peace negotiations with the guerrillas -- something that the armed forces in the past have disliked, if not opposed outright. Perhaps in exchange, though, Santos has gone much further than Uribe did in shielding the military from human rights prosecutions.

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