Colombian Civil War

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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.

Current Situation

Since members of the FARC announced their remilitarization, fighting has resumed between the Colombian government and rebel groups. Efforts to integrate former members of insurgent groups into civil society continue, although they remain rather unsuccessful and are largely underfunded. The ELN, who never signed an official peace agreement, continues operations in Colombia.
Classification: Localized Insurgency





Where: Colombia (mainly rural)

Population: 47.6 million

Deaths: 260,000

Refugees/Displaced peoples: 6 to 7 million

Current Situation: Deteriorating security conditions in remote areas as internal armed conflicts remain frequent

Key actors

tried to control small rural remote areas and in the long term overtake the central government of Colombia.

have tried to defeat the FARC rebels for decades.

has supported the Colombian Government, logistically and militarily, to defeat rebel groups, within the war on drugs.

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.


has sent two verification missions to follow the recent peace agreements.

like paramilitary forces and other rebel organizations have emerged to fight either the FARC or the Colombian Government during the Civil war.

were guarantor countries for the peace talks.

Timeline of the crisis

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.

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’.  

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’

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

Andrés Pastrana wins the presidential election and promises to reach a peace deal with FARC.

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.

The talks never really advanced because FARC used the demilitarized zone as safe haven to gain strength.

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.

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.

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.

A new process of peace talks with FARC begins under the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos.

Colombian 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.

Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, is awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize for his effort to finish the 50 years of war with FARC.

FARC completes the disarmament process. The United Nations Mission in Colombia certified the storage of more than 7,000 arms.

FARC 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).

Rank and file members of FARC start their education and resocialization programs to return to civilian life.

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).

FARC announces Rodrigo Londoño, also known as ‘Timochenko’, as presidential candidate of the party for the 2018 elections.

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.

Colombian citizens go to the polls and elect Ivan Duque in the first election since the peace pact signed two years ago.

The newly appointed president swore to unite the country by changing the peace deal with the FARC rebel group, accusing the previous deal as being too lenient on former rebel fighters.

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.

The UN finds that cocaine production per acre in Colombia is at an all-time high.

Mass demonstrations occur that criticise Duque’s government, claiming that it has not delivered on the promises proposed.
FARC rebel leader Walter Patricio Arizala killed by Colombian military during raid operation. The Colombian government previously deployed more than 3,000 troops to hunt down the rebel leader.
Colombia undercovers credible plans to assassinate Duque, accusing and arresting multiple Venezuelans.
ELN rebels have been accused of being behind a car bomb explosion outside of a police academy that killed 21 people. Critics have blamed Duque for his decision to halt talks with ELN rebels when he took power.
ELN rebels have justified a car bomb attacked that killed 21 people as a legitimate act of war amid Duque’s failure to negotiate with the group. ELN rebels have urged the president to commit to a new round of peace talks.
Venezuela officially cuts ties with Colombia following multiple border clashes injuring 285 Colombians and killing 5. Aid transport has been halted at Venezuela’s border after Maduro’s decision to prevent aid into the country.
A new UN report showed that illegal coca plantations in Colombia reduced in 2018, showing a positive trend. Despite this, however, Colombia still retains the highest cultivation levels throughout the world.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announces plans to reopen the country’s border with Colombia. Venezuela has suffered immensely both economically and politically following the country’s crisis. Several Venezuelans cross the border illegally to import food and other supplies. The move could also be seen by some as a tactic to repair relations between the two countries, following Colombia’s backing of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro urges Colombia’s military to defy orders and to unite as one sole military force. Colombian President Ivan Duque has criticised Maduro as providing a safe haven for Colombian rebel groups. Maduro’s comments typify the failing relationships between neighbouring countries

Protestors marched in Bogota and other cities in Colombia against the increasing number of activists in the country. Protesters argued that the country has struggled to take drastic measures following the 2016 peace deal between the FARC rebel group and have targeted their criticism at President Ivan Duque.

According to a new report published by Human Rights Watch, more than 40,000 have been killed by an upsurge in crime carried out by armed groups operating in rural areas. Armed groups have filled in the gap vacated by the FARC rebel group after the signing of the 2016 peace deal, which has seen an increase in illegality and instability within the ongoing drug war.
Humanitarian groups have expressed concern over a new wave of Venezuelan migrants entering Colombia following recent US sanctions on the country. It is believed that Colombia currently is ill-equipped to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela as neighbouring countries shut their borders to migrants.
Ex-rebels leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group announced on a Youtube video their return to arms. They criticised the Colombian government’s betrayal for the 2016 peace agreement between the FARC as motive. Ivan Duque has neglected peace talks with the FARC and other rebel groups since taking power.
Various Candian NGOs have urged the Canadian government to do more to protect peace and respect for human rights in Colombia. Prior to the International Day of Peace, the call for action was targeted at the deteriorating condition of the FARC peace deal – with FARC recently publishing a video supposedly stating their intentions to reweaponise.

How can you 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.

Below are some trustworthy organizations we recommend: