Five years after Colombia’s deal with FARC rebels, stable peace remains elusive

Takayuki Fuchigami/The Yomiuri Shimbun
Doris Suarez speaks during an interview in Bogota on Nov. 23.

BOGOTA — A deal to end a half century of armed conflict in Colombia between the government and the country’s largest rebel group has yet to lead to a stable peace more than five years after the agreement was approved by the nation’s Congress on Nov. 30, 2016.

The peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group sought to “end the armed conflict and build a stable and lasting peace.” It stipulates measures to support impoverished farmers who supported the FARC, as well as programs to reintegrate the leftist guerrillas into society.

The peace deal was once rejected by voters in a referendum. The main criticism was that the amnesty and commutation of sentences for former guerrillas was “too much of a concession.”

After the Colombian government and FARC rebels signed a revised peace agreement on Nov. 24, 2016, the Senate and House of Representatives approved the deal, which made the FARC a political party with the same acronym. In January 2021, the FARC changed its political party name to Comunes.

While many former FARC rebels have been reintegrated into civilian life, more than 300 of them have been victims of revenge killings. Peace remains a distant prospect for the South American nation.

Reintegration into society

Former guerrilla Doris Suarez, 59, spent about 30 years in the FARC. Today, she is craft beer brewer in Bogota.

“The only thing I wanted,” she said, “was to create an equal society.”

Hailing from the northwestern province of Antioquia, Suarez hated the absurdities of poverty and educational disparity.

She joined the FARC at age 25, “to create an ideal country,” she said.

Suarez was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to 40 years in prison for murder and terrorist acts. During the interview, however, she did not give details of the cases she was involved in.

She moved from one prison to another until she was released in May 2017, half a year after the peace deal.

After receiving social reintegration assistance under the agreement, she and nine other former rebels started the craft beer brewery. They named their product La Trocha, which means “the path in the bushes,” with the idea that “the path to peace” will also disappear if firm steps are not constantly taken.

Though her dissatisfaction with the government has not been erased, she said, “At the moment, I’m happy to live a steady life.”

Deep-seated grudges

Unlike Suarez, there are many former guerrillas who have not been able to reintegrate into society.

The number of former guerrillas who were disarmed following the peace agreement has risen to about 13,000, including those who were once imprisoned.

According to Indepaz, a nongovernmental organization that monitors the peace process, 301 former guerrillas have been killed in the past five years.

Camilo Gonzalez Posso, the 74-year-old president of the NGO, said “deep-rooted resentment” is the main reason former guerrillas have been killed after the peace deal.

Takayuki Fuchigami/The Yomiuri Shimbun
Camilo Gonzalez Posso

The FARC was formed in 1964 with the aim of establishing a socialist government. The rebels kidnapped for ransom and trafficked drugs to procure funds, with their antigovernment activities involving murder and terrorism.

At its peak, the FARC controlled one-third of the country.

In the end, more than 220,000 people are thought to have been killed in the civil war.

After the peace agreement was reached, a series of incidents have occurred in which bereaved family members sought revenge on the FARC, attacking the former guerrillas or hiring assassins.

Some former senior FARC members declared they would resume the armed conflict, claiming that the terms of the deal to uphold the safety of former guerrillas have not been followed. According to Gonzalez, nearly 1,000 people have taken up arms again.

When a ceremony to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the peace agreement was held in Bogota on Nov. 24, Rodrigo Londono, the former leader of the FARC rebels who is now the president of Comunes, said, “I believe in this democratic country, which will find a solution through dialogue and cooperation, not through force.”

At the same ceremony, former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his efforts to achieve the peace agreement, said, “The train of peace that so many had wanted to derail or stop is continuing its course.”

The peace deal with the FARC has not, however, led to stability in the country. The government continues to be engaged in fighting against dissident former FARC members and another leftist rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), not to mention armed drug traffickers and other organized crime groups. These groups are now dominant in the areas the FARC rebels once controlled.

The administration of Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez has been trying to find the strongholds of guerrilla groups and destroying them using airstrikes and other means. Amid the illicit world of the ongoing cultivation of drugs and recruitment of minors by guerrilla groups, there have been cases of child soldiers being killed in these government attacks.