Colombian Civil War

“I love my country, and it hurts not to be able to see my country, as I did for so many years. I hope that I will one day be able to live in a peaceful Colombia.”
– Fernando Botero




               Colombia, mainly in rural areas


               47.6 million


               Approx. 260,000

      Refugees/Displaced People:

               Between 5.7 million and 7.3 million



              Colombian Government

              Other smaller armed actors.



From the Colony, Colombia inherited two features that catalysed violence: deep land access inequality and profound political fragmentation. The civil war between the Colombian Government and FARC has been ongoing since 1964, when the rebel group was founded. Small farmers and land workers, with a liberal vision, banded together to fight against the high levels of land inequality. The conflict peaked in the nineties and early 2000s after failed peace agreements. However, a new peace deal has been reached between the sides. The conflict is expected to end in the next few years, bringing some relief to the people in rural areas most affected by the violence.


                 Key Actors:

  • The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, after the initials in Spanish) tried to control small rural remote areas and in the long term overtake the central government of Colombia.
  • Colombian military forces have tried to defeat the FARC rebels for decades.
  • The United States has supported the Colombian Government, logistically and militarily, to defeat rebel groups, within the war on drugs.
  • Other armed groups, like paramilitary forces and other rebel organizations have emerged to fight either the FARC or the Colombian Government during the Civil war.
  • The United Nations has sent two verification missions to follow the recent peace agreements.
  • The United States – more than 90% of the cocaine consumed in the US comes from Colombia. Since 2000, Washington has spent several billions of dollars to help train and equip Colombian forces, while also providing intelligence to help tackle drug traffickers.
  • Venezuela, Chile, Cuba and Norway were guarantor countries for the peace talks.



  • 9 April 1948 – The popular Liberal presidential candidate, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, is murdered in Bogotá triggering a riots and uprisings in the capital. Juan Roa Sierra, Gaitan’s alleged murederer was later killed by a violent mob.
  • 1948 to 1960 – The assassination of Gaitan was the start of a period known as ‘The Violence’. Conservatives armed bandits and assassins, known as ‘Chulavitas’ and ‘Los Pajaros’, clashed with the first Liberal guerrillas, known as ‘Cachiporros’.  
  • 1960 to 1964 – A group of farmers established an agricultural commune, inspired by the Cuban Revolution, in the province of Marquetalia, in central Tolima region. Other ‘agricultural communes’ were also emerging in other regions of the country’
  • 27 May 1964 – The conservative President, Guillermo León Valencia, decides to use the Military to intervene in these ‘agricultural communes’, concerned about the rise of Communism. Survivors of the military attack , which included heavy bombing, decided to form groups of mobile guerrillas and to arm against the state. One of the survivors was Pedro Marin, later known as Manuel Marulanda, who would become the leader of FARC.
  • 1964 to 1984 – FARC, mainly formed by poor weak armed farmers, do not have the strength to challenge the state. The group only causes small skirmishes in remote rural areas of the country. Other, more powerful, rebel groups, like M-19, are highly supported in the regions and take all the attention of the state.
  • 28 March 1984 – The President, Belisario Betancourt, reaches a cease fire with FARC. The group agreed with the government to form a political party, known as the ‘Patriotic Union’ (UP by its name in Spanish).
  • 1986 to 1991 – Successive governments maintained peace negotiations with different rebel groups. During this period, groups like the M-19, EPL, PRT and the Paramilitary forces ADO were fully demobilized and returned to civilian life. In 1991, Colombia wrote a new Constitution to embrace this groups and modernize the political life of the country.
  • 1986 to 1993 – The growth of UP, FARC’s political party, raised the alarms in the most conservative and violent sector of the country. During this period, assassins, paramilitary forces and some agents of the Colombian state, murdered more than 3,000 people linked to the UP party, including, two presidential candidates, Jaime Pardo Leal y Bernardo Jaramillo, 7 Congressmen, 11 Mayors and 70 City council members. In response, FARC returned to the armed fight in the mountains of the country and sued the Colombian state to the Inter American Commission of Human Rights.
  • 1992 to 1998 – FARC uses drug trafficking and kidnapping to fund their fight. The cocaine smuggling makes the guerrilla group one of the richest in the world. FARC grows considerably and the fight against the state gets more violent and reaches the cities.
  • 7 August 1998 – Andrés Pastrana wins the presidential election and promises to reach a peace deal with FARC.
  • 7 November 1998 – Colombian Government and FARC hold peace talks in the municipality of ‘El Caguan’. As a prerequisite to hold the talks, FARC demanded a demilitarized zone –an area the size of Switzerland, in the Departments of Meta and Caqueta.
  • 1998 to 2002 – The talks never really advanced because FARC used the demilitarized zone as safe haven to gain strength.
  • 14 February 2002 – FARC kidnaps the presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who had strongly criticized the demilitarized zone. Betancourt would be rescued by the Military six years later in 2008.
  • 20 February 2002 – FARC hijacks an airplane and kidnap Senator Jorge Gechem. After this event, president Pastrana order the Military forces to regain the control of the demilitarized zone, breaking down the peace process.
  • 2002 to 2010 – Alvaro Uribe wins the presidency promising to defeat militarily FARC. During his eight years in the office, FARC suffered the most important military defeats and the neutralization of some important leaders. However, during this period the number of civilian victims peaked, making Colombia the country with the most internally displaced population in the world, the state was accused of extrajudicial killings, and the political opposition disclosed the ties between paramilitary forces and some members of the government.
  • 19 November 2012 – A new process of peace talks with FARC begins under the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos.
  • 26 September 2016FARC and Colombian Government announce that a peace agreement has been reached during the talks.
  • 2 October 2016Colombian population rejects the peace agreement in a plebiscite. The NO option achieved 50.2% of the votes. Among the political leaders that promoted the rejection was the former president Alvaro Uribe.
  • October-December 2016The negotiators from the Government and FARC held meetings with the promoters of the NO in the plebiscite in order to adjust the agreement. The original agreement is modified and approved by the Congress.
  • 10 December 2016 – Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, is awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize for his effort to finish the 50 years of war with FARC.
  • February 2017FARC members march toward the concentration areas where the rank and file should wait for their return to the civilian life.
  • 26 June 2017FARC completes the disarmament process. The United Nations Mission in Colombia certified the storage of more than 7,000 arms.
  • 31 August 2017FARC unveils its new political party. The group decided to keep its initials in the new party name ‘Common Alternative Revolutionary Force’ (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común in Spanish).
  • August- October 2017 – Rank and file members of FARC start their education and resocialization programs to return to civilian life.
  • October 2017 – Congress discusses the transitional justice scheme for individuals and groups involved in the conflict, known as Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz JEP in Spanish).
  • 1 November 2017 – FARC announces Rodrigo Londoño, also known as ‘Timochenko’, as presidential candidate of the party for the 2018 elections.
  • 10 April 2018 – Former FARC commander, Seauxis Hernandez, arrested on US drug-trafficking charges, in what is potentially a huge blow to the fragile peace process. FARC which is now a political party is struggling to gain political relevance — they gained 0.4% of the vote during Colombia’s parliamentary elections.
  • 17 June 2018 – Colombian citizens go to the polls and elect Ivan Duque in the first election since the peace pact signed two years ago.
  • 18 September 2018 – A NY Times report finds that despite the 2016 peace treaty, many former FARC fighters are unable to adapt to civilian life and are being threatened by paramilitaries. In response many are choosing to join dissident groups that are bringing violence to Colombia.
  • 20 September 2018 – The UN finds that cocaine production per acre in Colombia is at an all-time high


                                        How You Can Help:

You have to be especially careful when donating to NGOs or other organizations in Colombia. Most of them are highly politicized and may promote only one biased vision of the conflict.

Here some recommendations of trustworthy organizations:

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