For the first time in a decade, rebels and the government of Colombia came together for formal peace talks yesterday, with the goal of ending the longest-running war in the Western Hemisphere — nearly 50 years old and counting, reports the New York Times. The negotiations must not only convince members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, one of the world's most tenacious armed groups, to lay down their weapons but also to dismantle a major criminal enterprise that derives much of its income from drugs and is a prime source of cocaine to the United States.
Despite three previous rounds of failed negotiations since the 1980s, many observers say there are reasons to hope that this time things could be different, including recent military successes by the government that have the guerrillas on the defensive. For many in the organization, known as the FARC, the drug profits may be simply too rich to leave behind. “The trick is to get the guy who is in charge of a front that's getting tens of millions of dollars a year, has a lot of local power and is doing business” with other traffickers “to actually give it up,” said Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a research group. In the Cauca region, fighting is intense because the region is important for producing and transporting the drugs the guerrillas rely on for income. In the mountains, coca, the plant used to make cocaine, is grown openly.