BY: CLAUDIA A. GONZALEZ
Early in February, the newest political coalition in Colombia, Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común (FARC), decided to suspend its campaign for the presidential election due to the death of one of their activists amid growing threats to other activists. As the election date approaches, this decision reopens the historic debate regarding Colombia’s ability to rise to the challenges to meet the goals of the peace accord and transcend its history.
The conflict with FARC has cost Colombia a lasting peace for nearly 50 years. During that time, at least 200,000 people died in the conflict, and around 7 million people have been displaced, in what it is believed to be the largest number of internally displaced people in recent history.
FARC was born as a self-defense and guerrilla warfare movement rooted in Marxist and Leninist ideology. The group formed to fight a bipartisan agreement that the Liberal and Conservative parties created, under which no left-leaning party could compete in elections. By the 1980’s, FARC dabbled in narco-trafficking and expanded their cruelty throughout the 1990s committing crimes that included extortion, kidnapping, illegal mining, all of which brought endless suffering upon the Colombian people.
Due to the high humanitarian, political and social costs, Colombia’s government has attempted on numerous, unsuccessful occasions, to resolve the conflict. Thus, the latest accord signed in 2016 marked a historic attempt to provide incentives for both parties to advocate for peace. In summary, the peace accord called for FARC’s disarmament in exchange for the group’s ascension into political service, granting it permission to run for office.
As the treaty’s implementation began, under UN observation, FARC has complied with its obligations under the agreement handing in its weaponry and moving into the designated disarmament zones. But the real complications arose as FARC began campaigning for office. Despite the attempts to end the long lasting conflict, there is still a strong sentiment of anger towards FARC amongst Colombians as well as a resounding feeling that FARC was pardoned too easily for the crimes they committed over the past five decades.
When Colombians were asked in the referendum election for their approval of the peace accord, 50,23% voters rejected the peace accord proposal. It was only after amends were put in place that the peace accord was accepted through the Congress. In part, the fact that FARC is currently campaigning with the same party name and acronym as when they were an armed group does not help ease their response.
Since the signing of the accord, at least 40 FARC members have been killed, but what is more concerning is that no individual or group has been charged for these deaths. FARC has continuously denounced these deaths, but decided to temporarily suspend its campaign as a result of the attack against Rodrigo Londoño while campaigning.
Rodrigo Londoño is FARC’s former commander in chief; after dismantling the guerrilla structure, he has become a politician, currently running for President in the upcoming election. Following the recent incidents, FARC decided to temporarily suspend its campaign for presidency and Congress until further warranties of safety were put in place, raising all sorts of doubts about the effective implementation of the peace deal.
The peace accord also included an institutional framework with provisions for the creation of courts to settle war crimes as well as developing public policy to create incentives to drive coca farmers and traders to transition to alternate occupations. In addition, the Colombian government was expected to increase the police presence in areas that were formerly controlled by rebels. Unfortunately, little progress has been achieved regarding coca production while courts have not begun their work yet, and, to this day, most of the formerly FARC held areas have little or no presence of police forces.
Thus, the mixture of aggression towards FARC candidates and the lack of progress in the peace accord is creating a climate of fear and mistrust as to the ability of the government to implement the agreement.
In the coming week, Colombia will see its first electoral process of the year, the congressional elections. The elections will mark the beginning of a new legislative era that will have include FARC in the debate over legislative initiatives.
Considering the right-leaning Democratic Center, Uribe’s party will be the one with the largest majority, as it shows a 15.6% vote intention at the moment, this new Congress will face greater challenges in how to structure efficient policies to overcome the war period, and thus embark the country on a path towards reconstruction, reconciliation and development.
This challenge should not be underestimated in anyway. In a region where conflict is far from over, as Venezuela continues to deteriorate and its citizens are fleeing the country in masses, Colombia’s stability is quintessential. A failure to fully implement the peace accords could throw the northern part of the continent into a spiral of civil conflict that would be unprecedented to the region.
On the other hand, FARC’s attitude and resolve regarding this challenges, will also dictate how the country develops. In the past, FARC was the cause of many deaths of politicians, and even though they have disposed their arms, they must learn that to overcome the memories of the havoc wreaked by FARC, they will need to invest time and effort, just as much or even more than the government, into reconciliation to ensure the Colombian people that they are committed to achieving a holistic and long-lasting peace in the country. Ultimately, the narrative FARC leaders choose and the choices the government makes will shape the future of the country.
Claudia A. Gonzalez is a Political Analyst with a background in economics. She is currently an Associate at Atheneum and holds a Master’s degree in Political Science. She has attended Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Universidad Catolica Andres Bello and the London School of Economics and Political Science.
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