Colombia’s FARC Rebels Suspend Presidential Election Campaigning

The political manifestation of Colombia’s former militant group, the FARC, has suspended its electoral campaign for Colombia’s 2018 presidential election. Leaders of the party have attributed the decision to the many incidents of verbal aggression their candidates have experienced on the campaign trail and the recent violent deaths of multiple FARC political activists. The FARC’s campaign for both the presidency and for congressional seats will cease until the safety of the candidates can be guaranteed.

A leader of the militant group-cum-political party, Pablo Catatumbo, stated that “[the FARC] call on all parties and political movements without exception, to make a statement rejecting this type of aggression.” The party also reaffirmed their continued support for Colombia’s recent experiment with inclusive democracy: “To the whole nation, we reiterate our commitment to the consolidation of peace with social justice, full democracy, and sovereignty.”

Sympathy has been hard to find: “What can they expect?” said Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras, “that after 40 years of kidnappings and killings they get received with hugs?”

This comment cuts to the heart of the issue. While the political violence of any kind should not be condoned, the reality is that the FARC rebels terrorized Colombia for decades. The conflict took the lives of hundreds of thousands, riddled the country with landmines, and caused generations of Colombians to live with the constant fear of kidnappings, disappearances, and random acts of brutal violence. While the political establishment may understand that allowing the FARC a degree of impunity is the only way forward, it is a lot to ask from those whose families were torn apart, generation after generation.

The FARC’s participation in the presidential election is the next step of a reconciliation process that began in 2016 when the FARC leaders and the government signed a peace deal. Since then, the United Nations has monitored the disarmament of the FARC: thousands of rifles and millions of rounds have been turned in, and the rebels have traded their fatigues for suits. Political involvement was a cornerstone of this agreement, and the suspension of the FARC’s participation in the current election raises doubts as to the longevity of the deal.

The FARC’s current political manifestation was campaigning on a platform loyal to its Marxist roots – social justice, the rights of poor, and agrarianism are on the agenda. The FARC aspire to form a political alliance with other Colombian communist parties, which may still happen – regardless of their decision to abstain from campaigning, the peace deal provides that the FARC will have 10 automatic seats in Congress for the next ten years.

As an objective third-party, it is clear that allowing the FARC to engage politically is the only viable way forward; the alternative would be a rejection of the peace process. That being said, the citizens of Colombia are not objective third parties: they are core participants, who lived and suffered through decades of terror. Although we can watch and hope for forgiveness, casting judgment on those who now threaten the longevity of the peace deal by attacking the FARC would be a gross oversimplification of a deeply emotional and entrenched issue. Before genuine progress can occur, the country needs to heal.

Isaac Chesters