Four years after Colombia’s left-wing FARC insurgents agreed to lay down arms and bring the country closer to ending its 50-year-long civil war, hundreds of demobilised rebels Sunday (November 1) took to the streets in capital Bogota, demanding an end to the violence against them.
The ex-combatants have been calling for a faithful implementation of the landmark 2016 peace deal, considered pivotal in bringing down overall levels of violence in Colombia, South America’s fourth-largest economy.
Since the deal’s signing, 236 former FARC fighters have been killed, and experts worry that the spate of killings could derail the peace process, impacting the region’s stability.
The FARC insurgency
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was the largest guerrilla group operating in the Colombian conflict –– Latin America’s longest-running civil strife that claimed over 2.2 lakh lives and left nearly 60 lakh internally displaced.
The group started in 1964 as the armed wing of the Colombian Communist Party, and jostled with right-wing paramilitaries, crime cartels and the Colombian government to maintain its influence throughout the Cold War-era conflict.
The FARC was considered a major threat to stability in Colombia, accused of carrying out bombings, assassinations, abductions and sex crimes. The group was also linked with Colombia’s multi-billion dollar illegal drug trade, and is believed to have drawn in millions of dollars from contraband trafficking. The group received external support from leftist governments in Cuba and Venezuela.
At its peak in the early 2000s, the FARC was known to have an army of 20,000 combatants, controlling around a third of Colombia. Among the group’s most notorious acts of terror at the time was the abduction of Senator and presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in 2002, whom the militants held along with 14 other hostages for six-and-a-half years, until their rescue by a military operation.
In the next decade, however, the FARC’s strength dwindled after the government launched a series of offensives, and the group agreed to begin peace negotiations in Cuba in 2012.
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The 2016 peace agreement
After four years of negotiations, the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos signed a peace agreement with FARC in 2016, following which the group ceased armed hostilities, and 13,000 of its members demobilised by handing over weapons to the UN.
Ex-militants were given protection by bringing in an amnesty law, and the group was assured political representation for two terms in Colombia’s parliament, where it currently sits in the Opposition.
The Santos government sought popular approval for the deal, putting it up for a national referendum in October 2016, only to lose by a narrow margin of 0.4 per cent. The shock defeat has since been compared with the surprising upsets in the UK Brexit referendum and the US presidential election that year.
After losing the referendum, the Santos government signed a revised deal with FARC, and got it approved by the Colombian Parliament in November the same year.
Santos was awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring the civil war to an end. 📣 Click to follow Express Explained on Telegram
Why the peace deal could be in trouble
In 2018, right-wing politician Iván Duque won that year’s presidential election after running on an agenda of revising aspects of the 2016 agreement, which he argued was too lenient on the FARC rebels.
Critics have since accused the Duque government of undermining the peace process by refusing to deliver promises made under the deal, such as providing agricultural land to small scale farmers in rural areas. Duque’s attempts at changing provisions related to amnesty have also been blamed for some of the demobilised militants taking up arms again.
He has also been criticised for the country’s worsening security situation, with 971 social leaders killed since the signing of the peace deal, as per a CNN report.
A further escalation in violence, experts say, could destabilise Colombia’s countryside and make the deal’s implementation increasingly difficult. On its part, the Duque government has maintained that it remains committed to the peace process.
Analysts have suggested that the country’s future course could be heavily influenced by the outcome of the US presidential election. A Trump reelection, they say, would embolden Colombia’s conservatives to adopt more hardline measures that would chip away at the peace deal’s charted path. A Biden victory, on the other hand, is expected to bolster its implementation.
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