The United States should back the peace negotiations that are under way in Colombia between the government and the main rebel force there.

Both sides have been meeting in Havana to end the decades-long war between the administration in Bogota and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

The main obstacle to peace in Colombia is the small group of corrupt beneficiaries that has been unwilling to release its grip on wealth and control. And despite Colombia's rich ethnic diversity, this bunch looks no different than the white Spaniards who reigned over the Andean region hundreds of years ago.

The government has a regressive income tax structure and continues to reduce taxes on multinational corporations, which is how Washington likes it. The Obama administration pushed through the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement last spring, which will only increase the enormous influence of U.S. companies in that country.

The United States is already Colombia's largest trading partner, and this gives Washington a lot of clout. And Colombia is the recipient of the third largest amount of defense assistance from the United States, after Israel and Egypt. Mostly aimed at drug eradication, a decade's worth of U.S. cash has been, at best, a complete waste. Colombia is still the top exporter of cocaine in the world and a military solution to the conflict continues to be unlikely.

Colombia is also one of the most violent countries in the hemisphere, which even today represses labor leaders, journalists and others who speak out.

That's why many members of the rebel group have their doubts that honest people in the Colombian government can sign a meaningful peace agreement for a country that it has demonstrated it cannot control. Even if it has the willingness, the government may not have the ability to protect demobilized rebel combatants from the hired death squads that sent them back into their jungle hideouts in the 1980s.

Nor can the Colombian government be counted on to address the inequalities that the rebels have been fighting.

The United Nations recently found that 120,000 Colombians perish of undernourishment each year. Enormous amounts of Colombia's land is consumed by cattle ranching, much of it stolen during periods of violence. The resettlement of more than 1 million internally displaced people from shantytowns back to their titled farmlands would be an enormous political ordeal. Will Colombian oligarchs muzzle their weapons as these necessary reparations take place?

Despite the challenges, there is always hope. Colombia has a robust civil society sector that the guerrillas are pining to join.

The United States must use its leverage on the Colombian government to broker a lasting peace. If the government can protect the former rebels and ensure freedom of speech and association, civil society will do the rest: finally delivering a more just Colombia.

Louis Edgar Esparza is assistant professor of sociology and Latin American studies at California State University at Los Angeles. He can be reached at

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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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