Due to the Rome program, for over 40 years undergrads have indulged their interest in Europe. Within the University of Dallas Bubble, academic attention has only recently been directed toward our neighbors to the south.
It is natural for students who spend a semester abroad in the Eternal City to maintain an interest in European affairs, but perhaps it is time to expand this attention to the other areas that have, for centuries, played a huge role in the economic, political and social life of American citizens.
Last Wednesday, hundreds of Colombians poured into the public squares of Bogota to celebrate the announcement of a peace agreement which will bring an end to a bloody 52-year civil war between the established government and the leftist FARC coalition. This agreement comes only two months after a ceasefire called in early June that was widely celebrated as a great victory in the decades-long peace negotiations.
FARC, both organizationally and ideologically, is a child of the Cold War. Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda formed the group during a wide-scale persecution of communist sympathisers in 1964, it was quickly adopted by the official communist party fighting for control of the country.
Many attempts at peace have been made since the late 1960s, but this is the first effort in which diplomats on both sides are looking optimistically to the future. According to the BBC, the civil war has been violent and bloody, claiming the lives of nearly 220,000 people, including native Colombians and citizens of other nations, and displacing more than 7 million. To compare this horror with another contemporary issue, the current crisis in Syria has caused the death or displacement of more than 11 million individuals.
Naturally, there are many political implications of the peace accord for Colombia, but also for Cuba and the U.S. In Colombia, the new peace accord has been supported by most, but there are a few dissident voices. Two former leaders of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe and Andre’s Pastrana Arango, expressed doubt that FARC leaders would ever face charges for drug trafficking. Victims of the FARC are also skeptical that members of FARC will be brought to justice. However, the overall tone in Colombia has been celebratory.
Cuba is uniquely positioned to facilitate these negotiations because it has consistently upheld good relationships with other Latin American countries and is respected by insurgent groups due to their common ideological backgrounds. As a result, Cuba stands to benefit from the completed peace accord. In addition to a positive increase in public relations, Cuba has set up a paradigm shift in Latin America.
With the leaders Cuba helped gain power recently ousted across Latin America, such as Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, it is time for Cuba to make a new friend.
Colombia has traditionally been one of the U.S.’s closest partners in South America. The U.S. has supported the talks by sending a special envoy with the U.N. and UK offering advice, promising to assist in clearing landmines and bringing law enforcement to the rural areas affected by the conflict. Nonetheless, the U.S.’s support has largely been much quieter and less visible than that of Cuba. While the U.S.’s encouragement for the talks has been strong, Cuba has played a more active role. Whether this will be enough to cause a fundamental shift in Latin America, the world shall see in the months ahead as the more practical details of the shift from post-conflict to genuine peace are decided.
On a related note, last year, the history department welcomed its first full-time Latin American scholar — Dr. Mark Petersen — and this has in many ways helped demonstrate the relevance of these issues to UD students. Additionally, the Spanish department sponsored a medically-focused study abroad program in South America for the first time this summer — reemphasizing the importance of this area not only in the world, but inside the Bubble.
This academic shift toward the Southern Hemisphere presents the student body with a much-needed opportunity to expand their knowledge of world affairs beyond the northwest corner of the Eurasian continent.