Monday, September 26, 2016

May the FARC Be with You

Although there is a required popular referendum (congressionally-approved and set for October 2nd) for Colombian voters to ratify a momentous treaty between the Colombian government and the rebel FARC group, most truly believe that the violence is over. This would end the longest conflict in the Western Hemisphere, a civil war that began back in 1964 that has claimed an estimated 220-250,000 lives (80% of whom were civilians) and displaced 5 million people. Rebel Farc members have already voted in support of the treaty. Yet there are still many in Colombia who consider the Farc murderers, kidnappers, rapists and drug dealers, unworthy of forgiveness. The ceasefire that began on August 29th is now codified in a full treaty signed in Cartagena on September 26th between President Juan Manuel Santos and the head of the FARC, Timoleon Jimenez. 
Even as a UN-supervised Farc surrender of arms is part of the settlement, and there will be criminal inquiries with fairly limited “sanctions” against the most serious proven perpetrators – restricted freedom and service in the communities where the crimes were committed – there are deep concerns that the cease-fire is a gift to the Farc and that they will not give up their narcotics trade or truly surrender all their weapons. Will the Colombian people ratify the treaty, notwithstanding the bitterness? Most feel that Colombia is simply exhausted by the seemingly never-ending conflict and will overwhelmingly support this agreement. But who are the Farc, and what have then done? The Encyclopedia Britannica explains (although it will have to be corrected into the past tense soon):
FARC, abbreviation of Spanish Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (‘Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’), Marxist guerrilla organization in Colombia. Formed in 1964 as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party (Partido Comunista de Colombia; PCC), the FARC is the largest of Colombia’s rebel groups, estimated to possess some 10,000 armed soldiers and thousands of supporters, largely drawn from Colombia’s rural areas. The FARC supports a redistribution of wealth from the wealthy to the poor and opposes the influence that multinational corporations and foreign governments (particularly the United States) have had on Colombia.
“The FARC has carried out bombings, assassinations, hijackings, and other armed attacks against various political and economic targets in the country; it has also kidnapped foreigners for ransom, executing many of its captives. The FARC’s links to drug trafficking have brought hundreds of millions of dollars annually into the organization from taxes it imposes. The FARC has received some external support for its activities from other paramilitary organizations and sympathetic governments, such as the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. In 1985 the FARC and other left-wing groups, including the PCC, established a political party, Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica; UP), in a cease-fire agreement with the government. The UP participated in elections beginning in 1986 and won a large portion of the votes. In subsequent years, however, thousands of UP members, including three of the party’s presidential candidates, were killed by right-wing paramilitary groups. Many UP leaders were forced into exile. Political violence decimated the party, and it had virtually disappeared by 2002.”
The government did not make many political concessions to the Farc – a group that championed old-world socialism/Marxism – now recognized as just one more political party. They have been accorded a limited right to sit in Colombia’s congress, a token and extremely minor, unelected body of representatives, but there have been no changes in Colombia’s political system. The disarmament process will take time, and no one really expect 100% of those guns to be surrendered.
Marixst rebellion seems almost an anachronism in the 21st century as “communist” China has gone rather dramatically capitalist, as Cuba is burying a long-standing hatchet with its American nemesis and as Venezuela’s experiment with socialism has produced a failed state. Will those who made their rebellious fortunes in the coca trade turn to less-valuable cash crops like coffee and cocoa beans? How will this treaty change the local drug trade? What is the future of rural Colombia?
“In a symbolic gesture, the pens that [were] used to sign the historic peace deal, years in the making, have been made from recycled bullets once used in the conflict. An inscription on the side of the pens reads: ‘Bullets wrote our past. Education, our future.’”, September 26th. There are still pockets of Colombian rebels who are not part of the Farc settlement, although they are vastly less significant. “The second most powerful group following the FARC, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has announced interest in the peace deal but refused to end its practice of kidnapping.” Still, this is one of the most significant accords of its kind in recent memory.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I wonder if this peace accord, mirrored on parallel settlements in Northern Ireland and South Africa, will provide any lessons to the combatants in Syria or Iraq… or will we need that many decades to achieve a solution as did Colombia?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Washington Post, October 2nd: "The 'No' vote, which was reported by Colombian TV, deals a stunning blow to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and reveals the depths of voter animosity toward FARC guerrillas. Prior to the referendum, many Colombians expressed concerns that the accord goes too easy on FARC leaders accused of terrorism, kidnapping and other war crimes." Peter Dekom