11 June 2013
COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: FARC and Colombian government agree on first peace accord
In the news this week, the negotiations between the leftist
guerilla group FARC, and the U.S.-allied right-wing Colombian government have
seen some progress. After more
than six months of discussions, the opposing factions have come to a decision
regarding land reform, the first of six points they planned to address in
This first agenda item is one of the most contentious, and
the root cause of much of the violence here in Colombia. The factions have not publicized the
agreement in detail but most believe it will include land restitution through
the creation of a land bank where displaced farmers will receive the rights to
their land previously seized by paramilitaries, drug traffickers, multinational
corporations, and guerilla groups.
“This is the first time in over thirty years of negotiations
that significant progress has been made on the issue of land,” notes Camilo
Gonzales Posso, the director for Centre for Peace in an interview with Al
Jazeera, and “for the first time there is recognition of farmer’s rights and a
plan to redistribute the land.”
But Colombians are wary of putting too much faith in the
decisions made in Havana, since government-level actions rarely take effect in
the ground-level struggle.
While a recent article from the BBC bore the title, “FARC agrees to
Colombian Land Reform,” it would seem that the government’s role is just as
important if not even more essential in order for acting upon these
reforms. For example, the
community of Las Pavas, in the south of Bolivar, has received much national
attention over its long process for land restitution. But unfortunately the community still remains landless and
threatened by a company that runs huge palm plantations, even though the
National Institute for Rural Development (INCODER) has declared the land
property of the state and available for redistribution. The community also lacks proper protection
because the palm company controls the regional police.
Moreover, the land reform agreement is a crucial step but
will only have effect if the parties involved can agree on the remaining five
points: political participation, disarmament, illicit drugs, rights of the
victims, and a peace deal implementation.
A History of Peace
Throughout Colombia’s history, several negotiation processes
between insurgent guerrilla groups and the government have taken place—some
successful and others with devastating results.
In September of 2012, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel
Santos announced that the Colombian government would begin talks with the
oldest and largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) hosted by the Norwegian and Cuban governments,
with Chile and Venezuela observing the process. Other remaining guerrilla
groups, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Popular Liberation Army
(EPL) have also announced their desire to participate in the ongoing talks.
If the former two groups were to join the negotiations and
these talks were to lead to some sort of agreement, Colombia could possibly see
the end to its sixty-year-old civil war that has led to the death of hundreds
of thousands of people. Ideally,
everyone should be happy and hopeful that the Colombian government and its
armed opposition have agreed to end hostilities and resolve issues through
dialogue. Unfortunately past
events have embedded heavy dose of skepticism into Colombians. All sides have seen the others break
agreements. Years of violence have left deep wounds that are far from
healing. The majority of
Colombians would like to see an end to the violence of the armed conflict but
if the violence of social and economic issues that led to the armed conflict
remain, then there is a good chance that other armed groups would simply rise
again. People living in desperate
conditions will take desperate measures to fight back.
In the 1980s a series of negotiations between the Colombian
government and the FARC led to the formation of a political party called the
Patriotic Union (UP). The signed
agreements gave amnesty to any rebel fighter to enter civilian/political life.
The UP provided a new political space for FARC soldiers who chose to leave the
ranks to join political life and for Colombians who wanted something different
from the traditional (Conservative/ Liberal) ruling parties. During the general elections of 1986
the UP successfully elected people at all levels of the government—including
the congress, mayors, municipal councils, and other community leadership
positions. Presidential candidate
Jaime Pardo received a large number of votes. The success of the UP scared the political elite of the
country. This fear led to the
horrific mass murder of more then 3000 members of the UP including two
presidential candidates and thirteen congress members. (Verdad Abierta)
In 1990 the M19, a guerrilla group known for its bold
actions such as holding the embassy of the Dominican Republic and sixteen high
level diplomats hostage, and taking the Justice Palace (home to the Supreme
Court) hostage, negotiated a deal with the government. Their actions led the M19’s top leaders
to join the national political scene and some were even elected to
congress. Unfortunately, lower ranking
foot soldiers that re-entered civilian life were often assassinated. This result again proved that giving up
one’s gun and joining society meant almost certain death.
In 1999 then-President Andres Pastrana’s government and the
FARC began talks. For three years,
the government invited civil society to share opinions and dreams for
peace. The United Nations and many
countries participated in mediating.
Unfortunately the Colombian government used the time to strengthen its
army with the help from the USA.
The FARC used this time to regroup its forces and increase its finances
through the cocaine business.
Military actions from both sides led to the end of the talks. In 2002 after the FARC kidnapped a
member of congress, Pastrana declared that negotiations were over.
Later in 2002, Colombians elected former governor of
Antioquia, Alvaro Uribe Velez elected president. Uribe, with a burning desire for revenge, promised as part
of his platform the complete elimination of the FARC before he finished his
term. When Uribe was a young man,
the FARC kidnapped and killed his father. With military aid and training from
the USA Uribe was able to strike serious blows to the FARC, taking control of
large areas of the country that had been under FARC control for decades. The Colombian military accomplished this
conquest with a high cost of human lives and serious human rights
Uribe’s Minister of Defense Manuel Santos claimed some of
the biggest victories the Colombian military has ever had against the
FARC. Six of the FARC’s highest
ranking officers were killed in battle and several others were captured. He was also Minister when the military
conducted the famous Operation Jaque, which rescued fifteen FARC hostages,
including ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three USA military
contractors. During this time the
military has admitted to over 3000 cases of possible extrajudicial killings—civilians
killed by the military and presented as guerrilla fighters killed in combat.