Colombia peace talks: is an end in sight of the longstanding FARC conflict?

A rally in Madrid against the FARC guerrilla and the drawn out violence in Colombia. Source: Camilo Rueda López, Flickr CC .

Since the mid-1960s, Colombia has been suffering from an ongoing conflict which has made a large impact on the civil community in the country. Different political ideologies separate Colombia and the way of implicating these ideologies has been through violence for many years. However, by the end of 2012, peace talks instigated between the government and the FARC, Colombia’s largest guerrilla group. Now it has been more than three years since the negotiations began. What has happened? Has any progress been made at all, and primarily, is there a light in sight for the Colombian people?

Ranging from radical right- and left wing guerrilla armies to several minor criminal bands, the government has long been struggling to fight and assimilate the different groups in the highly segregated Colombian society. The conflict has mainly concerned the great disagreements between the government and the largest guerrilla army, which is the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. FARC is a left-wing guerrilla, established in 1964, with the clear political ambition to overthrow the government and later on establish a Marxist regime through a coup d’état.

Although, the objective was not quite that easily met, time went by and conditions changed. FARC was forced to change its tactics in order to survive as an influential power in the stagnant conflict. In the beginning of the 2010s the government, with help from US military aid, sent more military resources to the battle against the FARC and initiated a new, more powerful offensive with the goal to eliminate the guerrilla. Paramilitary forces from the right-wing group United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, the AUC (Autodefendas Unidas de Colombia), created in 1997, also forced massive attacks towards FARC. The situation got tougher for the left-wing group and became increasingly dependent on their involvement in the drug trade to finance its movement. FARC has decreased dramatically in numbers of fighters in the recent decade due to numerous attacks from the government and AUC, as well as desertions. Although having lost influence, FARC still remains a significant force as it controls rural areas and carries out frequent hit-and-run attacks.

FARC is the largest guerrilla group in Colombia, and even though weakened during the last decades, is very powerful in rural areas of the country. Source: Flickr CC

The conflict between the government and the FARC guerrilla is said to have caused the deaths of around 220 000 people, most of them civilians. In an attempt to put an end to the conflict, the two sides commenced peace talks in November 2012 in the Cuban capital of Havana. Armed with teams consisting of high-profile individuals, both the government and FARC wanted to demonstrate seriousness and a dedication for the peace talks. The team representing the Colombian government is led by former Vice-President Humberto de la Calle and also contains ex-generals from army and police forces. A member of the secretariat, the FARC guerrilla’s front figure, Iván Márquez leads the FARC delegation along with several leaders of regional command groups. The host country, Cuba, is assisted by Norway as guarantors.

The framework of the peace talks is made up by six points, of which three have been agreed on. The three topics that they have reached an agreement on are the so-called “Rural reform”, “Political participation” and “Illicit drugs”. These agreements involve, among other things, land distribution, the right of political participation for groups such as FARC, and a joint drug policy in the fight against illicit drugs and trade. The three remaining points, which are being negotiated as we speak, are called “Victims”, “End of conflict”, and “Implementation”. It is not until all of these points have been agreed on and a final peace deal has been signed that the reforms will be acted upon.

Progress has been made and hopes are high from both sides as well as the Colombian society as a whole. However, the fragility of the peace talks is a returning fact. The government refused to agree on a ceasefire during the peace talks, claiming that the FARC had used this opportunity before to re-group and re-arm. Therefore it is agreed that no combating or deaths of neither the guerrilla nor the government soldiers during negotiations will affect the peace talks. Still, the situation is tense.

When FARC kidnapped an army general in November 2014, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos directly called the talks off in Havana. It was not until the important FARC negotiator, Pastor Alape, travelled to Colombia and personally handed the kidnapped general over that the consultation could recommence.

President Juan Manuel Santos. Source: Flickr

The challenges are many and the road ahead is long. Nevertheless recent negotiations have proven to be more realistic than preceding ones. A solution and a positive outcome can definitely be foreseen. Still, in spite of progress and more realistic talks between the sides, the pace of negotiations needs to be boosted. With more than half a year spent to agree on one point, it is of great significance for the negotiators to speed up agreements in order to stick to the primary plan.

The complexity of the situation is noticeable in many ways. Even if a final peace deal could be completed between Colombian authorities and FARC, the government still has to seek consensus with the second largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN) – a 3000 men strong left-wing guerrilla group with slightly different ideological ideas than FARC. However, there is a light in sight, even though it might not be reached in the short run. A new Colombia could emerge from this development, and reshape the political scenery on the South American continent.


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