Colombian Government and FARC Sign Historic Peace AgreementSeptember 28, 2016 in Colombia
Colombia’s centre-right government and the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group signed a peace agreement on 26 September to end a half-quarter war that has killed a quarter of a million people an which once took the country to the brink of collapse.
After four years of peace talks in Cuba, President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel leader Timochekno, the nom de guerre for Rodrigo Londono, warmly shook hands on Colombian soil for the first time and signed the accord. Guests at the ceremony, which took place in the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena included United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Cuban President Raul Castro and United States Secretary of State John Kerry. Showing its support for the peace deal, the European Union (EU) on Monday removed the FARC from its list of terrorist groups. Kerry also disclosed that Washington would review whether to take the FARC off its terrorism list, and has pledged US $390 million for Colombia next year to support the peace process. While on Sunday, 2 October, Colombians will vote on whether to ratify the agreement, opinion polls shows that it should pass with ease.
The end of Latin America’s longest-running war will effectively turn the FARC reel group into a political party fighting at the ballot box instead of the battlefield, which they have occupied since 1964. In the worst days of the war, attacks targeted the capital Bogota, which rebels threatened to over run, and battles between the guerrillas, paramilitaries, drug gangs and the army raged in the countryside, parts of which remain sown with landmines. Thousands of civilians were killed in Massacres, particularly in the rural areas of the country, as the warring sides sought to prevent people from collaborating with or supporting enemy forces. The FARC also became a big player in the cocaine trade and at its strongest, it had 20,000 fighters. Now, its some 7,000 fighters must hand over their weapons to the United Nations within 180 days.
Despite widespread relief at the end of the bloodshed and kidnappings of the past fifty-two years, the agreement has caused divisions within the country. Former President Alvaro Uribe and others have voiced anger at the accord, stating that it allows rebels to enter parliament without serving any prison time. In Cartagena on Monday, large billboards urged a “yes” vote in the referendum, while Uribe led hundreds of supporters with umbrellas in the colours of the Colombian flag urging voters to back “no.” Some Colombians are also nervous over how the rebels will integrate back into society. Most however are optimistic that peace will bring more benefits than problems.
In recent years, Colombia has performed better economically than its neighbours and peace should reduce the government’s security spending an din n turn open new areas of the country for mining and oil companies. Challenges however will remain as criminal gangs may attempt to fill the void in rebel-held areas, while landmines hinder development and rural poverty remains a challenge. Analysts believe that President Santos will likely use his political capital to push for tax reforms and other measures in order to compensate for a drop in oil income caused by a fall in energy prices.