This Thursday marks the end of a 52 year long war in Colombia. The president of Colombia and the leader of the FARC rebel group held a ceremony in Havana, Cuba to sign a cease-fire. It lifts the last significant barrier to a comprehensive peace deal that will be signed in the coming months.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is a guerrilla group that began as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party in 1964. Since then, it has led a Marxist-Leninist insurgency that has wreaked havoc on the country. Its members raised funds through kidnapping for ransom, and the chaos it caused helped turn Colombia into a haven for organized crime and the production and smuggling of illicit drugs.
In recent years, however, the situation in Colombia has improved. The effects of organized crime have been minimized, and the FARC has been largely driven into remote jungle camps. For the past three and a half years, negotiations have taken place in Cuba between the Colombian government and the FARC. These negotiations have culminated in unilateral ceasefire declared by the FARC last year which was made officially bilateral yesterday. Soon, the two parties will finalize their peace deal.
As a result, Colombia’s future is looking bright. The FARC will permanently lay down its weapons, ending the decades-long conflict and bringing stability to the region. The kidnappings that plagued the area will be sealed in the pages of history. The Colombian government will be able to better focus its efforts on the organized crime that benefitted from the chaos of insurgency.
Yet challenges remain. One condition of the peace deal is that most of the rebels will be granted amnesty or light sentences. Another condition is that the rebels, once disarmed, will be protected from their enemies by Colombian security forces. To many in Colombia, especially those who oppose the current government, these conditions do not sit well. They feel that the deal is not harsh enough.
Another challenge is that the FARC will now attempt to become a legitimate political party. For a group that has been militant organization for so long, the transition may be difficult. Many members of the FARC left their families for the jungle camps long ago and have made enemies since then. Thus reintegration will pose a challenge.
But the alternative to the deal would have been continued war. While war may seem far away to many in modern Colombia, it is war nonetheless. Thus this deal, despite its flaws, represents positive progress towards a safer and more stable Colombia. While Colombia still faces significant challenges, especially concerning organized crime, it can now divert more of its resources to pursue even greater progress.