March 1st 2017 marked the beginning of a new era for Colombia. The leftist rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) began their disarmament after 50 years of violent conflict, claiming more than 250,000 lives and displacing 8 million people. This is the first of three steps in their demobilization process to become a legitimized political party in exchange for their weapons, negotiated in a controversial peace agreement last year. FARC has promised to work with the United Nations mission in Colombia in the creation of a weapons inventory, the destruction of weapons, and revealing the location of stashed explosives.
President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for an initial peace agreement drafted and signed in September last year. However, in a stunning turn of events a national referendum rejected the peace deal by just 55,000 votes. Dissatisfaction with the peace deal was due to many reasons, most notably a clause granting amnesty to FARC members who surrendered. Additionally, the peace deal did not address a smaller Marxist rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN). ELN and the Colombian government are still engaged in an asymmetrical conflict, but entered apprehensive peace talks in February this year.
Despite these obstacles, the peace deal between FARC and the government was revised and edited after extensive consultation, and signed by both groups in November 2016. “This [new] peace agreement with the FARC takes and reflects the proposals, the ideas, of everyone who participated in this great national dialogue,” Santos said in a televised address. “It answers and clarifies the concern that many had towards the text, the meaning of the agreement, or its implementation.”
According to the peace deal, March 1st has been earmarked as the deadline for 30% of FARCs weapons to be counted and destroyed. Around 7,000 rebels are gathered in 26 demobilization transition zones across the country where they are being registered and offered help to reintegrate into civil society. However, only 320 rebels were set to disarm by the end of Wednesday, falling short of the target.
FARC has claimed these setbacks were due to the failure of the Colombian government to provide adequate transition camps due to logistical difficulties. Some FARC members arrived to the camps to find they were unfinished, and had to build their own shelter. FARC even requested more time be granted by the UN to improve the transition camps, leading to tension between the groups.
FARC leader and one of the key negotiators for peace, Ivan Marquez, said in a press conference to Telesur, “Despite obvious delays in the logistical adaptation of the zones, we will carry out the registration of weapons in all the camps,” indicating their commitment to peace.
May 30th is the date set for the disarmament process to be completed and all guerilla warriors to leave transition zones and reenter civilian life. Both FARC and the government insist disarmament will be completed by this deadline. FARC leader Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londono even tweeting that the rebels were currently handing over their guns “with enthusiasm” and senior commander Carlos Antonio Lozada adding it is a “transcendental moment in the life of any fighter.”
in International Development and Economic Policy