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Colombia Government, Guerrillas To Reach Peace Agreement


The longest-running armed conflict in the Americas could soon be over. Colombia's president and Marxist guerillas known as the FARC have pledged to sign a peace treaty within six months. They've come to this place with the help of Pope Francis. The rebels have already announced a halt to military training. Reporter John Otis has been traveling through the Colombian countryside. He joins me now to talk about these developments and what they mean in the long term.

Hi, John. Thanks for being with us.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Thanks, Rachel.

MARTIN: Pope Francis has been pushing the Colombian government and rebels to make peace. He raised the issue repeatedly on his recent trip to Cuba and the U.S. Remind us why this pope feels so invested in this particular conflict?

OTIS: Rachel, the pope knows a lot about armed conflict because he's from Argentina, and Argentina in the 1970s and early 1980s went through a terrible, dirty war. Now, the Colombian war has gone on a lot longer than Argentina's. Here in Colombia, the FARC guerillas sprang up in the 1960s as kind of a traditional rebel force, fighting for land reform and social justice.

But then Colombia turned into a drug-trafficking country. The country became the world's No.1 producer of cocaine. And the guerillas got involved in drug trafficking, so they had a lot of drug profits coming in. And they were able to use that money to buy weapons. And they just were able to keep the war going, even though it's lost a lot of its etiology.

MARTIN: So once the government and the guerillas sign this peace treaty, what happens then? What are the odds that this thing actually sticks?

OTIS: The idea is that they're going to try to sign the final paperwork by March 2016. Under the accord, most of the guerillas will likely be amnestied. Those involved in war crimes will have to face trial. You know, in addition to all this, the FARC is supposed to then disarm within 60 days. And their idea is to form a political party and run for office in local elections. And a lot of this is going to play out in areas where the FARC used to be strong in remote villages. Local mayors are going to have to help to put this peace process into place, and these guys, they're not always good Samaritans.

Colombia has mayoral elections later this month. But when I recently traveled to northern Colombia, it was clear that local politics is just an extremely dirty sport. It's rife with vote buying and other forms of corruption. And the end result of all this is you could have a lot of unqualified people winning, and that could make it a lot more difficult as Colombia tries to transition from war to peace.

MARTIN: And, John, you filed a report for NPR from Pueblo Bello. Let's listen to that story. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.