The peace that applauded the world, divided a country and disarmed the most powerful guerrilla in America turns five years old. And although the violence and drug trafficking continued without the FARC, today Colombia is a country in turmoil but with fewer victims.
Teatro Colón in Bogotá, November 24, 2016. Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londoño, the first a liberal president who won the Nobel Peace Prize and the other a peasant with Marxist ideas at the head of a rebel army of 13,000 men and women, sign a text of 310 pages in a sober atmosphere and of cut smiles.
The agreement that was negotiated in Cuba contains political and agrarian reforms – land ownership triggered the conflict – formulas against drug trafficking and the promise of justice for hundreds of thousands of victims.
But just over half of Colombians opposed a plebiscite prior to signing, forcing the pact to be adjusted and plunging the country into polarization.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) finally handed over their rifles to the UN, ending half a century of failed and bloody power struggle.
And although they are now an inconsequential political force, peace made way for a society more active in protest.
The agreement did not extinguish the violence but it has saved many lives. Juan Carlos Garzón, a researcher at the Ideas for Peace Foundation, illustrates this: Before 2012, when the dialogues began, the annual homicide rate was 12,000 a year.
“During the negotiation process, from 2013 to 2016, it dropped to 9,000” homicides, he told AFP.
Hernando Gómez Buendía, director of the Razón Pública portal, reveals a more accurate data: every year some 3,000 people died due to the conflict and in 2017 there were 78.
But once again homicides are on the rise, Garzón points out: “The bad news is that between January and September 2021 we are again at a level of 10,500 homicides,” he adds.
Although the bulk of the FARC demobilized, active dissidents remained and the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) returned to the offensive after a failed peace attempt.
Drug trafficking also has its own armies. All the illegal forces number about 10,000 combatants, according to the Institute for Development and Peace Studies.
The “power and regulation vacuum was filled by other actors,” Garzón explains, adding another factor: the State’s inability to “offer protection guarantees” to the population.
In these five years, 293 ex-combatants have been assassinated by their former companions or enemies of the war, while others have returned to arms. And at the center of all violence: drug trafficking.
The agreement, which promoted the voluntary substitution of illegal crops, did not affect the business: Colombia continues to produce and export cocaine in record numbers.
The victims are at the center of the deal. They are more than nine million between dead, wounded, disappeared and displaced.
The FARC accepted the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which also opened the door to paramilitaries and state agents implicated in serious human rights violations. In exchange for them confessing their crimes, making amends to the victims and not repeating themselves, they will be able to escape jail.
“The peace process has fulfilled the perpetrators, while the victims caused by the FARC have not been fulfilled,” denies Police General Luis Mendieta, a hostage for almost 12 years.
The officer feels excluded from the “peace institution” which, in addition to the JEP, includes a truth commission and a unit to search for the disappeared.
The judges are preparing their first sentences against the former rebel command for more than 21,000 kidnappings, while the military will have to answer for the murder of 6,400 civilians presented as guerrillas killed in combat between 2002 and 2008.
“We are complying, because we are appearing before the JEP (…) but it was a war of more than 50 years and to resolve it in one or two or three it will not be possible,” says former guerrilla and senator Sandra Ramírez.
The Communes party of ex-guerrillas was punished at the polls and the right wing that most opposed the pact reached the presidency with Iván Duque, who tried in vain to modify the agreement.
“We found ourselves with a fragile process (…) because coca had grown exponentially” and the peace signatories “returned to criminal life,” the president told AFP.
The exFARC, who accuse Duque of torpedoing the agreement and promoting peace only before “the microphones”, have a minimal representation in Congress due to the negotiation.
And in the middle is advancing a protest movement led by young people who barely knew about the internal war.
In the last two years, millions have taken to the streets, despite police repression.
“The change was so great that silencing the rifles allowed Colombian society to see the thunderous noise of corruption, the enormous inequality that we have,” Senator Ramírez concedes.
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Five years of the peace that extinguished the FARC and split Colombia in two