Skip to main content

Ricardo Lagos, former President of Chile, draws on personal experience when he reflects on Colombia's path to peace and the tensions between conflict resolution and upholding human rights.

"The challenge for future peace and prosperity is all about building bridges and working together."

As a former President of Chile, and as someone who fought for democracy during the dark days of dictatorship under General Pinochet, I hope I can share some perspectives on the perennial tensions between the imperative of peacemaking and the need to uphold human rights from my own region of the world which can inform our wider deliberations.

Recent moves towards the end of the long conflict in Colombia between the state and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels are, I hope, a case in point. (On 23 June, the government and the FARC signed a long-awaited ceasefire agreement.)

This conflict had its roots, in part, in the Cold War period, but over the decades the FARC managed to accumulate an extraordinarily numerous band of fighters.

A similar situation developed in many other Latin American countries, especially during the 1970s and 80s - the decade of military dictatorships – when these governments received the backing of the United States for fear that the other, left-wing side would triumph.

In the end, political dialogue managed to prevail and bring about peace and democratic government in the final decade of the 20th century. The exception was Colombia where the FARC and ELN (National Liberation Army) rebels continued their action into the 21st century.

Colombians marching for the freedom of those kidnapped (Credit: Marco Suárez)

It always troubled me that we in Latin America were not able to cooperate sufficiently with the Colombian people and help to resolve this conflict. Now the signing of the ceasefire agreement and the FARC's commitment to laying down its arms means the beginning of the end of such a long conflict.

Credit is due to President Santos and his courage in daring to initiate the political dialogue that led to this historic moment. The roles played by Cuba and Norway as “guarantors”, and by Chile and Venezuela as “companions” entrusted with talking to each party, also all helped to achieve the agreement.

Cuba's role is very interesting and points to wider developments and signs of reconciliation. The country was the crucible for many armed revolutionaries across the region in the 1970s and 80s, but has now been the host of the current peace negotiations. And of course there is the greater rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, the two Cold War adversaries who, under the leadership of Presidents Obama and Raul Castro, have realised that the future is better served by building bridges.

President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro

There is a new diplomacy here that is beginning to emerge in the region, where political symbols diversify but things move forward with renewed vigour towards greater integration.

The wider context here, however, is globalisation. The challenge for future peace and prosperity is all about building bridges and working together, so that globalisation has clear rules that are commonly accepted and through which everyone can benefit from the new technologies that are bringing the world closer, making distances smaller.

From peace agreements and conflict mediation to broader challenges like climate change and gender discrimination, I hope that as Elders we can continue to articulate this global perspective which asserts our common humanity. 

This article is based on a piece first published in Clarín, the Buenos Aires daily newspaper.

Share this article

Keep up to date with The Elders’ COVID-19 digest:

Sign up to receive regular updates about The Elders’ activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will never share your email address with third parties.

Keep up to date with The Elders latest News and Insight:

Sign up to receive monthly newsletters from The Elders. We will occasionally send you other special updates and news, but we'll never share your email address with third parties.


I would like to find: