The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government have taken their first steps toward implementing their controversial 2016 peace deal this week, by beginning the disarmament process. The 6,900 members of FARC have spent the past few weeks trekking from their isolated military bases to mutually agreed upon demobilization zones, where they will live until June. The Colombian government has agreed to provide training during those months to help successfully reintegrate FARC soldiers into Colombian society.
The peace accords are still a problematic subject in Colombia, due to what many Colombians see as unreasonable leniency toward the rebel forces, who face no jail time in exchange for full confessions of their crimes and are still eligible to run for public office. Nohora Tovar, a senator who was kidnapped by FARC in 2000, said in 2016, “The day [the rebels] are behind bars I will go and give them my hand and forgive them.”
It was this lack of punitive measures that led to the eventual defeat of the first peace deal in an incredibly tight referendum in October 2016. Only 38% Colombians turned out to vote and, of those, 50.2% voted against the peace treaty. A revised agreement was produced and passed in November, with a number of minor alterations, including the removal of any requirement for the deal to go through a referendum process prior to ratification. It did not, however, address the primary complaint of detractors of the original deal by imposing penalties on those convicted of war crimes.
“The issues that most worried us about the agreement are still there,” said Samuel Hoyos, a representative of the opposition movement. “It’s an arbitrary imposition, stripping [the deal] of legitimacy”.
This failure to pass the peace deal through a referendum has denied many Colombians their belief in the process, even as the ceasefire continues and the rebels begin their disarmament process. Political Analyst at the Universidad de Bogotá, Sandra Borda Guzmán, tweeted at the time that it was “peace by the back door”, following that up by commenting, “No one can leave feeling triumphant from this disaster.”
Hopefully, this show of faith by the FARC soldiers will begin to rebuild trust in Colombians – and confirm that a peace deal was the best course of action. They have settled in the demobilization zones, despite the fact that the Colombian government has not yet finished, or in some cases begun, building the camps they promised to provide. A BBC correspondent visited one such camp and reported an atmosphere of “calm and expectation”, underlined by the general concern that the state may still not hold its side of the agreement. FARC leaders have begun creating their own workshops and training to keep their troops entertained and educated, while they await the official government instructors. Thus far, the FARC has proven its commitment to peace, and it only falls to the Colombian bureaucracy to catch up and provide the promised assistance.