After nearly four years of negotiations in Cuba, the Colombian government has finally reached a deal lauded by President Juan Manuel Santos as “the beginning of the end to the suffering, pain, and tragedy of war.”
The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FARC) is a guerilla movement that has been fighting for a Cuban-style revolution since 1964. They are known to finance their activities with kidnappings, drug money, and extortion. FARC militants have assassinated politicians, ambushed army patrols, hijacked airplanes, and planted land mines.
In addition to thousands of deaths, these behaviors have scared away investors, forced Colombia to use up valuable resources, and strangled remote areas with fear and poverty.
While the guerilla group’s exact number are not known, CERAC reported that FARC had a “violent presence” in 70% of the country’s municipalities in 2002. In 2010, Colombia’s military estimated the group’s forces at about 13,800 members. The Human Rights Watch reports that 20-30% of FARC recruits are minors who were forced to join by other members.
This extended insurgency has ultimately led Colombia to lag behind its neighbors in terms of development. With this threat removed, however, the Andean nation may finally have a chance to catch up with more prosperous countries like Mexico.
What happens next?
According to a press release sent by the Presidency, the agreement “ratifies the FARC’s commitment to close the chapter of the internal conflict, converting itself into a valid actor within the democratic system.” In additio to political participation, the document focuses on agrarian reform, fighting illegal drugs, reparations of victims, and punishment for crimes committed during the insurgency.
While it does not submit to the FARC’s socialist demands, the treaty does imbue the FARC with official party status including 5 seats in the congress and senate between the years 2018 and 2022.
Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas is hopeful for the prosperity that will no doubt result from this agreement. He expects a “peace dividend” that will bring economic growth up a full percentage point and predicts the grasslands east of the Andes will be opened up for high-tech agriculture.
Colombia has long been a major source of illegal drugs, with the FARC working hand in hand with drug dealers. If approved, this peace accord could eliminate a major source of manpower for the narcos while giving Colombia more resources to fight back. President Santos has been repeatedly accused of taking money from the narcos, however, and former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe is leading a campaign to have the peace agreement rejected.
The treaty must be approved in a popular vote, which is scheduled to take place on October 2nd. “It will be the most important election of our lives,” says FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda. Current polls show that nearly 70% of Colombia’s citizens desire peace with the FARC.
As soon as the agreement is officially signed, FARC members will have 180 days to deliver all weapons to the UN.
Editor’s note: In my days as an intelligence officer I spent a lot of time in Colombia. It is a beautiful place with wonderful people. The scourge of FARC and their ability to lend muscle to the powerful narcotraffickers has kept a great portion of Colombia unstable and unsuitable for foreign investment for decades now.
While it is suspected the government has been strongly influenced by the narcos, the absence of the FARC should easily provide the 1% increase in GDP growth if not more.
Perhaps the next phase will be to lessen the power of the narcos, if the political will can be found. Unfortunately the narco’s tactic of “plata o plomo” meanig “silver or lead” is very effective in recruiting supporters. The bottom line, they will pay you money (silver) to agree to be their friend, but shoot you (lead) and your family if you refuse.
Its not over but this is a great start, congratulations to the Colombians.