Image Credits: REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga
The news is full of coverage of war, debt, terrorism, murders, and corruption. Nuclear weapons and extremism plague the ability to reach resolutions in the United Nations. Partisan divide in the United States is so tense we don’t know how to even speak to our fellow Americans anymore. Germany is upset with the climate change policies of United States. Mexico doesn’t want a wall. The United Kingdom is in an awkward break up with the European Union. France struggles to integrate their growing Muslim population into western culture. The countries in the Middle East still can’t agree on anything. What is peace? Do current generations even know what winning a conflict feels like? Is it possible that people can put aside their differences in the name of peace?
Colombia just proved pessimism wrong. A truly revolutionary peace deal successfully ended the fifty-year domestic conflict that left over 200,000 people dead. This is everything you need to know about the civil conflict that ended in peace.
Colombia faced great debt in the end of the nineteenth century. In response, it sold off its land to private owners in the early twentieth century. In 1964, inequality in Colombia was so great, it inspired small farmers and other land workers to follow in the way of the 1950s Cuban Revolution and form a coalition under the Marxist-Lennist ideology to achieve land rights. An agricultural commune was established in the Colombian Province of Tolima. It became known as the Marquetalia Republic. This initially unarmed coalition and its ideology was seen as a threat to the State. The State sent an army to the region to disband the Marquetalia Republic, and the commune was overrun. This violent clash led the group to become an armed guerrilla force, they formed under the name The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The acronym is FARC. The group was organized into militant blocs, a small, 12-person leadership network controlling FARC operations. The most recent top leader being Rodrigo Londono Echeverri, known by his alias Timochenko.
Violence in Colombia
FARC maintained the communist ideology of its predecessor. The United States and the European Union officially branded FARC as a terrorist organization. The US spent $10 billion in aid to support Colombia’s fight against insurgents. The group used kidnapping, violence, drug trade, and extortion to finance themselves. They were considered to richest rebel movement in the world. FARC used extreme acts of violence, even going as far as hijacking of a domestic flight just to kidnap a Senator. This 2002 hijacking caused then Colombian President Andrés Pastrana to call off the peace talks that were underway with FARC. Land mines, gunfights, and other means of terrorism would lead to 250,000 deaths, and the displacement of seven million Colombians.
The decline of FARC and the the journey to peace.
In 2002, FARC had 20,000 active fighters. By 2016, however, their numbers dropped to 7,000. In 2008, FARC’s top rebel leader, Paul Reyes, was killed by Colombian forces in Ecuador. He was the first member of the rebel leadership to be killed. Later that month, FARC’s founder, Manuel Marulanda, died of natural causes. Alfonso Cano, Marulanda’s successor, was killed in a bombing raid in 2011. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos took advantage of FARC’s decline and began to renegotiate peace talks with the rebel group’s leader, Timochenko.
Peace talks: Terms and public reception
President Santos was elected in 2010 and began the controversial peace talks with FARC in 2012. The talks were based in Havana, Cuba. Mediators included the governments of Chile, Cuba, Norway, and Venezuela, respectively. In mid-2016, President Santos and FARC leader Timochenko agreed to a cease-fire. In September 2016, a peace deal was reached and signed by the two leaders. The negotiations centered around five principles: (i) future political participation of FARC members, (ii) rebels’ reintegration into civilian life, (iii) illegal crop eradication, (iv) transitional justice and reparations, and (v) rebel disarmament and implementation of the peace deal.
The initial provision that was approved, however, was defeated narrowly by a national referendum in October 2016. Particularly controversial was the establishment of a separate court system that would try FARC members accused of war crimes, because the sentences could not include prison time. The Colombian people have lost thousands of innocent lives in this conflict. They felt the provision was too lenient. Instead of starting over from scratch, President Santos revised the initial deal and in December 2016, it passed Congress. The revision was not put to a national referendum, a move that left Colombians angry and divided.
Colombia: One Year Later, September 2017
President Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the peace deal. He donated the award money to the victims of the conflict. President Santos is expected to reach a similar peace deal with the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s last active rebel group – around 1,500 members. The European Union removed FARC from their terrorist list. The US is expected to do the same. In June, the UN officially called the end of the FARC disarmament process. 7,132 weapons have been turned in, registered, and stored away. In August, the former members of the rebel group have organized a political party, keeping the FARC acronym, but now called the “Common Alternative Revolutionary Force.” Other FARC members found a home in society by joining the country’s conservation movements. At least 1,000 former FARC members are being trained in tracking and reporting illegal logging, general forest guardianship, and various jobs in the environmental department.
Pope Francis visited Colombia in early September, the country’s population is roughly 70 percent Catholic. Many feared that his visit would be too controversial for fragile Colombia, whose citizens still struggle to unify after the peace deal spared rebels from prison. However, fearful expectations fell short. Millions of Colombians, FARC and not, filled the city streets to hear him speak. They stood side by side, peacefully, as Pope Francis spoke to Colombians about how we are all called to forgiveness, and this is perhaps the greatest test any of them will face. He urged Colombians to practice what they read in Scripture every week. Witnesses say that those words could not have come at a more perfect time, and they did not fall on deaf ears. Colombia is truly beginning to heal.
Peace in Colombia was not reached by a perfect storm of events. It required years of trying, and the will to lay down arms. It required mercy and surrender of pride. Its resilient people showed the world what it feels like to finally win again.