By Alexander Grey
Late in the evening of August 24, the world was shocked by the Colombian government’s announcement that they had finally signed a peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC after the Spanish translation), ending a 50-year conflict in the country. Yet the question stands as to what happens now moving forward, and looking at past examples of peace with paramilitaries, while international media outlets may depict this as a turning point for the nation, the reality may be far rockier.
Peace talks are not new between Colombia and the FARC. While the FARC has levied for a small number of seats in both houses of the Congress through to 2018 before creating a formal political party, in 1986 they did much the same thing. The Patriotic Union party was founded by FARC with several other rebel groups, and the party won several elections in the first year. However, soon after these victories, the Colombian paramilitaries and death squads began a murder campaign targeting hundreds of PU members. Party officials were killed or went “missing” until eventually the party became inactive, formally disbanded by the government in 2002 due to low membership.
This is not the only brow-raising issue with the peace. Colombia has tried in recent years to reintegrate the aforementioned paramilitaries into society to no avail. In 2006, they were reintegrated into cities in an effort by then President Uribe to move the country out of an era of powerful and dangerous armed groups. Since then, these groups have simply morphed into what the government has called “bactrims,” or city gangs.
While these groups are only shadows of the Medellin and Cali cartels (the original cocaine cartels), they are still heavily involved in cocaine production and shipment and remain available as hitmen for hire. In practice, the reintegration seems to have done absolutely nothing towards ending violence, but rather brought dangerous operations previously located in the jungles to the inner cities.
It would seem that the FARC peace will end one of two ways, neither of which bode well. Considering the history of FARC-allied political parties, a new party in 2018 will only suffer another shaky start and will remain under constant threat. Moreover, a group that has been armed and fighting since the ‘60s cannot be expected to suddenly give up violence and lead peaceful lives among the populace, which bodes the eventual return of brutality. While the disarming of FARC ideally decreases the chances of groups splintering and becoming yet more bactrims, the threat is still ever present.
While the world celebrates this historic move, it is worth keeping in mind that Colombia has been embroiled in conflict for upwards of 50 years, and such a continuum of conflict does not simply end overnight. Every attempt to stem the violence has ended with more people getting hurt, whether it was the PU party summarily executed or the paramilitaries turning into better-armed street gangs. While the treaty nearly mirrors those of the past, to expect any other outcome would be foolish. Colombia still has to put the treaty to a public referendum, and even if it passes, the tension within the country may remain for years, the threat of another war ready to start at the slightest provocation. This treaty is less an end and more a well-deserved lull.