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What the Colombian Peace Process Means for a Generation of Spanish Learners Posted by on Aug 31, 2016 in Uncategorized

Since late last year, the Colombian Proceso de Paz has been marching forward, bringing Colombia ever closer to a peace that’s been hoped for for generations. This week, it’s again making international headlines, as the Colombian government and the FARC have just formally ratified a “definitive ceasefire” and the beginning of the end of the world’s longest ongoing armed conflict.

Monday morning Colombian news magazine Semana published a story with the title Colombia despierta sin guerra con las FARC. And that’s a headline for the history books. According to the article:

Las armas de las FARC, que sembraron miedo durante 52 años, quedaron en silencio a partir de la medianoche. A las 00:00 de este lunes 29 de agosto, el conflicto armado con esta guerrilla, la más antigua del continente, llegó a su fin. Comenzó así el esperado cese al fuego bilateral y definitivo, decretado desde el pasado jueves por el presidente Juan Manuel Santos, y reconfirmado este domingo cuando el máximo jefe de las FARC dio la misma orden a sus casi 8.000 hombres armados.

While attempts at brokering a peace accord have taken place in the past in Colombia, the current cese al fuego bilateral y definitivo places Colombia and all of Latin America in historically uncharted and promising new territory.

El conflicto armado interno de Colombia is in 2016 the longest-running active armed conflict in the world, dating back officially to 1964 but with roots reaching back to the period of La Violencia starting in 1948. What began largely as a national conflicto agrario and South American manifestation of La Guerra Fría has since spent more than half a century ripping apart Colombia and spilling out across Latin America.

This video from Colombian news magazine Semana gives a handy three-minute summary (in Spanish) of the conflict and its origins:

Thus after more than half a century of inseguridadnarcoterrorismo, and impunidad, this week’s official cese al fuego bilateral between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, better known as las FARC, marks the beginning of the end of this complicated conflict, and hopefully the beginning of a bright new morning all across Latin America.

The acuerdo is more than just a simple ceasefire–in its final form has 6 points for building “una paz sostenible y duradera” in Colombia. They are:

  1. Reforma rural integral — investment in rural areas and closing the urban-rural opportunity gap, as well as addressing the agrarian land ownership disputes that are in many ways the original cause of the conflict.
  2. Participación política — allowing the FARC and other former militant groups to form political parties and participate in government, the most controversial aspect of the agreement.
  3. Cese al fuego y de hostilidades bilateral y definitivo y la dejación de las armas — the cessation of all armed conflict and working towards reintegrating former guerrilleros into civil society.
  4. Solución al problema de las drogas ilícitas — changes regarding the criminal status of certain drugs, and provisions for coca farmers to earn livable incomes with different, legal crops.
  5. Victimas — investigation and prosecution of human rights violations that occurred during the conflict.
  6. Mecanismos de implementación y verificación — the formation of an implementing body, composed of representatives of the Colombian government and the FARC, to oversee the transition to peace.

On October 2, Colombians will take to the polls to vote on a plebiscito, a nation-wide referendum approving (or rejecting) these terms of the groundbreaking peace deal that many hope will serve as a model for sustainable conflict resolution in Latin America. But, as has been pointed out in a web comic of the same name, Las Palomas no Son Blancas. The acuerdo de paz won’t be a cure-all, but rather it opens the door to really solving the social problems that gave rise to and have fueled the conflicto armado. 

colombia peace process

Photo by Ministerio TIC Colombia via Flickr under CC BY 2.0.


The region where many American, Canadian, and other Spanish language learners across the world choose to study abroad or take their immersion backpacking trips has also been for most of living memory the world’s most violent region. This has many causes, including la pobreza, la desigualdad, la corrupción, y el narcotráfico, all social problems rife in most Latin American nations.

Unfortunately, that means that every year countless aspiring Spanish speakers around the world write off immersion trips to countries like Colombia and its neighbors as too risky. Travel insurance comes at a premium in countries deemed active conflict zones, and most Western governments include travel warnings advising their citizens to travel with caution or not at all in Colombia and many of its neighbors.

But while in some of Colombia’s neighbors, like Venezuela and Brazil, it looks like inseguridad and inestabilidad may remain the norm for a few more years, those getting their houses in order and fostering environments of paz and democracía somehow seem to escape the international news headlines.

This year, peaceful democratic elections in Argentina and Peru have safely moved both countries further away from pasts dominated by golpes de estado and dictaduras militares. Chile and Uruguay continue to function as safe, stable democracies, and Bolivia and Ecuador are making extreme strides against la pobrezea and la desigualdad that have caused so much of the violence and unrest in their countries. And regionally, Latin America is leading its own informal proceso de paz in la Guerra Contra las Drogas.

It’s impossible to talk about South American history without discussing la violenciala guerra, and conflictos armados, but now it’s becoming more and more necessary to talk about la paz and el futuro, and as the years go by, we’ll only need to learn the past tense to talk about la guerra.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos expects that, upon finalizing the transition from la guerra to la pazColombia will receive 30% more foreign tourists annually. Will you be one of them?

It’s never been easier to learn Spanish traveling abroadland a job in a Spanish-speaking country, or immerse yourself for free. Brush up on your Colombian slang, think hard about your options for studying Spanish abroad, and let the proceso de paz assure you that the future is bright in Latin America, and that there’s never been a better time to hit the road and learn Spanish.


Vocabulario sobre la guerra y la paz:
el cese al fuego bilateral: bilateral ceasefire
el conflicto armado: armed conflict
los conflictos agrarios: agrarian land conflicts
la desigualdad: inequality
la dictadura militar: military dictatorship
las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (las FARC): the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the largest of the left-wing militias in the Colombian internal conflict
el golpe (de estado): coup d’état
la guerra: war
la Guerra Fría: the Cold War
la Guerra Contra las Drogas: the War on Drugs
el guerrillero: guerrilla fighter
la impunidad: impunity, freedom from punishment
la inestabilidad: instability
la inseguridad: danger
la justicia: justice
la paz: peace
el plebiscito: plebiscite, referendum
la paloma: dove, a symbol of peace
la pobreza: poverty
la violencia: violence

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About the Author: Jakob Gibbons

I write about language and travel on my blog . I often share my experiences with learning languages on the road, and teaching and learning new speech sounds is my specialty.