The Colombian government’s peace delegation gathered in Havana, Cuba Monday for the start of the 25th round of peace talks with the FARC rebel group, the country’s largest.
The negotiations will conclude on May 22, three days before Colombia’s presidential elections, in which President Juan Manuel Santos will be vying for a second term, largely on the perceived success of the peace talks.
According to the government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, the aim for the latest round of talks is to reach a definitive agreement on the topic of drug cultivation and trafficking, the third of six agenda items for the talks.
During the last several rounds of negotiations, proposals have been considered that would mitigate efforts to combat drug cultivation, and instead provide farmers with a viable alternative to their illicit crops. The FARC, in particular, has advocated for the decriminalization of drug production, whereas the government has emphasized the need for the rebels to cease any trafficking activity.
According to the FARC’s chief negotiator, alias “Ivan Marquez,” the last round of talks saw significant progress. The parties, he said, have almost reached an agreement.
Should formal terms be reached, the next round of talks will move on to the subject of victims of Colombia’s longstanding armed conflict, expected to be one of the more complicated and emotionally charged points on the agenda.
The government has been in talks with the FARC since November 2012.
Since the FARC’s founding in 1964, there have been several attempts to negotiate a peaceful end to the rebel group’s 50-year conflict with the government. The current talks are considered the closest the parties have come to reaching a substantive peace in a half-century of violence.