The Colombian government and the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) took what appears to be the last major step toward ending one of the longest-running wars in the world on Wednesday, when a joint communique announced an agreement on a bilateral and final ceasefire.
The agreement covers ending hostilities, decommissioning weapons, security guarantees, and prosecution of criminal conduct, according to the communique, posted on the FARC website.
The two sides plan to sign the agreement on Thursday at a ceremony in Havana, attended by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, aka Timoleón Jiménez, and observed by several Latin American presidents, UN chief Ban Ki-moon, and a special US envoy.
The FARC’s war against the Colombian state began in the early 1960s as a struggle over land and political rights, with the FARC eventually becoming heavily involved in cocaine trafficking and other criminal activities. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Colombian government, with US support, ramped up its efforts to combat FARC rebels.
They entered into negotiations in 2012, and talks — including a March 2016 meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry — have been ongoing since, with the FARC calling a unilateral ceasefire last year.
The conflict has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced nearly 7 million, making Colombia home to the most displaced people in the world.
Santos has said talks with FARC rebels would conclude in July. “I believe that by July 20 we will have closed the negotiation in Havana and from there enter a new chapter for the country,” Santos reportedly told coalition lawmakers in Bogota on Monday, according to Colombia Reports.
In addition to the ceasefire, which will not go into effect until after a final deal is signed, the two sides said they had reached accords on demobilizing the FARC’s 7,000 remaining soldiers and on security guarantees for leftist activists after the conflict, according to The Guardian.
But the deal’s implementation faces political, legal, and logistical hurdles. Santos has said he will put the deal to a referendum to measure public support. Conservatives in Colombia, however, have widely repudiated the deal.
Former President Alvaro Uribe (under whom Santos served as defence minister) has led a campaign to collect signatures to protest the deal and called efforts to judicially shield the agreement a “coup d’état against Colombian democracy.”
In the field, the Colombian government and FARC leaders face other challenges that could undermine the effectiveness of the deal.
An agreement to release child soldiers has led to further debate over just how many minors are in the FARC’s ranks.
On July 10, a crop-replacement program aimed at destroying illicit cultivation and replacing it with legal crops will begin. Crop-replacement is a major departure from previous, US-supported efforts to eradicate crops with air-sprayed chemicals, which raised concerns over health effects, but questions remain about how effective crop substitution will be at deterring destitute farmers from growing lucrative but illicit crops.
A central component of the peace talks has been justice for victims of the half-century conflict. But observers and officials have warned that the deal as currently constructed could grant impunity to both government soldiers and rebel fighters who have committed heinous war crimes.
‘Dance with the devil’
Perhaps the most significant issue in a post-peace Colombia will be security. The FARC’s pledge to withdraw from criminal activities, like drug cultivation, raises the risk of turf wars between other criminal groups.
The possibility of a power vacuum in the criminal underworld has already led to clashes between Colombia’s largest criminal groups, among them Los Urabeños, a multinational gang with ties to Mexico’s vaunted Sinaloa cartel. These clashes have reportedly displaced thousands of Colombians in recent months, and displacement looks likely to continue.
And while the FARC’s agreement to a peace deal is historic, it may not be the end of the rebel group’s members’ involvement in illegal activities.
“They are the biggest drug-trafficking network in Colombia now, and even if they reach an agreement, most of the FARC members are going to continue with their drug-trafficking activities,” Mike Vigil, the former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, told Business Insider earlier this year.
Other Colombian groups have made the move from insurgents to political actors, but the FARC’s embrace of illegal enterprises and its violent tactics may hinder its move into legitimate public life.
Polls show 77% of Colombians do not want the FARC to take part in politics.
“I want nothing to do with them, they have done so much damage,” said a woman in southwest Colombia, whose husband lost his arm in a FARC bombing.
“They have lost their complete political ideology,” Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret who advised the fight against drug traffickers and other criminal groups in Colombia, told Business Insider.
“When the Medellin cartel … fell, the Cali cartel fell, the FARC filled that void, and they kind of started to dance with the devil,” Mann added. “And the trade off was when you go down that path, you lose your ideological prowess.”
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