Photo: Alejandro Cortés
ON AUGUST 24, 2016, Colombian officials came to an agreement with FARC, a rebel group that has been active in Colombia for the last 52 years. Decades of violence and nearly four years of negotiations in Havana, Cuba have led to a peace agreement that goes on for hundreds of pages. This is a historic agreement. Here’s what you need to know about it.
1.FARC is a rebel group, mostly located in rural Colombia.
FARC stands for Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, which translates to: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The group has been attempting a Marxist revolution since its inception in 1964. A large portion of recruits are minors, and the group uses military tactics, terrorism, kidnapping and ransom, and other violent, forceful tactics to fund its cause and manipulate its members and the surrounding communities. FARC has been shrinking in recent years, and in June, signed a ceasefire agreement with the President of Colombia.
CNN reports that the war with FARC has cost about 220,000 lives, and displaced around 5 million people, many of whom have found it difficult to integrate into their new communities, especially if it meant moving from a rural place to an urban one. These people are often marginalized in cities, left to live in poverty and violence, often due to drug trafficking.
2. FARC has been around since the early 1960s, but Colombia has not been at peace since April 9, 1948.
From 1948-1958, Colombia went through a period of time called “La Violencia” during which more than 200,000 people died. La Violencia started after a political assassination in 1948 that led to a relatively slow civil war between the wealthy and poor, mostly in rural areas. The ensuing climate of poverty, crime, and chaos was the perfect environment for FARC to form in 1964.
3. Other illegal rebel groups still exist, and aren’t part of this peace treaty.
Although FARC is not the only active rebel group in Colombia, it is currently the largest and strongest, so a peace treaty with FARC should significantly increase safety and security in Colombia. However, you may have heard of the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Black Eagles, and formerly, the M-19.
4. The people of Colombia haven’t actually signed off on the peace treaty yet.
Although the peace agreement was announced on August 24th, its contents are not widely known. The details of the agreement are currently circulating, and the Colombian population will vote on the peace agreement on Oct. 2nd.
5. Not everyone is happy with the proposed treaty.
Although most Colombians want peace, not everyone agrees with the details of the treaty as it is, and there is a chance Colombians could vote against it in October.
In fact, the Colombian conservative party, which is led by two former Colombian presidents, is fighting to reject the peace treaty specifically because they are against amnesty for war criminals, especially if those same members of FARC are also hoping for seats in the Colombian congress.
6. After years of violence, amnesty is a hot topic.
Although a treaty has been proposed, it hasn’t been signed yet. FARC members have committed many violent crimes, and initially insisted on an amnesty law before they would sign the peace treaty. Currently the treaty includes a non-negotiable amnesty law which will be sent to congress as soon as the treaty is signed, and it will suspend any arrest warrants for FARC members until the law is passed.
Many Colombians don’t agree with amnesty – they want FARC to pay for their crimes. This is a major concern, and could cause Colombians to vote against the treaty.
7. FARC wants a role in the government.
Another topic that has caused a lot of concern in Colombia is that FARC members want to join the Colombian congress. The current agreement guarantees FARC representatives 10 seats in congress, automatically, until 2026, in addition to the 16 FARC already gets for a special constituency.
8. FARC will also receive a significant amount of support and funding from Colombia.
Colombia will help pay to reintegrate FARC members into society after disarming them with the help of the UN, in addition to offering FARC members access to mass media communication and amnesty for their crimes.
9. The current peace treaty encourages rural development.
The rural environment in Colombia has been an issue for decades, and it’s one of the reasons that FARC and other paramilitary groups exist. The agreement aims to shrink the gap between rural and urban, especially regarding social services, opportunities for agriculture and land ownership, and more.
10. It’s critical that the details of the agreement are shared across Colombia.
Although peace talks have been going on for nearly four years, the final details were only recently released to the public. The decision to sign or not is up to the Colombian people, and it’s critical that they receive and understand these details. The government is hoping to work with TV networks and other news outlets, but bias and reporters’ opinions may cause more confusion. Not only do Colombian’s have to vote on the agreement, but FARC leadership will hold hits 10th Conference, where they’ll make a final decision about FARC’s position on the agreement.
11. If both parties agree, they will reunite to sign the documents.
Although Friday, Sept. 23 has been announced as the date when both parties will sign the agreement, the Colombian vote doesn’t take place until Oct. 2, so it may be postponed or it could be overturned, depending on the outcome of the vote.
12. If the treaty is signed, the United Nations will step in to disarm FARC.
As per the terms of the treaty, FARC will go through a six-month demobilization and disarming period with the help of the UN within five days of signing the treaty.
13. This is not the first time Colombia has had peace talks with FARC.
FARC and the Colombian government first held peace talks in 1984. They agreed to a ceasefire and created a political party called the Patriotic Union. The party was attacked by other existing paramilitary groups that were funded by the wealthy, and FARC fought back with violence.
In 1990, FARC, with other rebel groups the ELN, M-19, and the EPL attempted peace talks, but an attack on FARC headquarters caused them to back out.
By 1998, FARC had grown more powerful and the drug cartels in Medellin and Cali, so the Colombian president asked for help from the United States. After the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. was more than happy to help defeat terrorists. Although peace talks failed, the additional help allowed the military to take back a lot of FARC territory, especially in cities.
The current peace talks began in secret in 2010, and FARC has been meeting with Colombian officials since late 2012.