From its founding, Colombia inherited two features that catalysed violence: deep land access inequality and profound political fragmentation. The civil war between the Colombian government and the FARC has been ongoing since 1964, when the rebel group was founded. Rural farmers and land workers with a Marxist vision banded together to fight for radical land redistribution. The conflict peaked in the nineties and early 2000s after several failed peace agreements. However, a new peace deal has been reached between the sides. Though the 2016 peace agreement has gone into effect, the FARC has since rearmed and reignited the conflict, accusing the Colombian government of noncompliance. It is the oldest ongoing armed conflict in the hemisphere.
Where: Colombia (mainly rural)
Population: 49.7 million (2018)
Deaths: 262,000 (2019)
Internally Displaced People: 7.7 million (2018)
Disappearances: >150,000 (2017)
Extrajudicial Killings: 4,475 confirmed (2015), as many as 10,000 (2018)
Homicide Rate: 25.34 (2018)
Founded in 1964, this guerrilla paramilitary group was one of two main organizations opposing the Colombian government in their internal conflict. It operated under Marxist-Leninist liberation ideology and was initially formed mostly of campesino guerrillas, though it has frequently engaged in drug trafficking to fund its operations. In 2017, it was militarily dissolved and reformed as a political party, though smaller factions have since remilitarized.
For decades, it has been embroiled in conflict with internal rebel groups. With the help of the United States, it has poured billions of dollars into security forces through Plan Colombia. The conflict has also severely harmed their relationship with Venezuela, who they have accused of harboring and strengthening guerrillas.
It has supported the Colombian Government, logistically and militarily, to defeat rebel groups as a part of the War on Drugs. 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.
Monitored the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement. It has frequently spoken out against the rebels and the violence’s effect on rural indigenous communities.
Also founded in 1964, it is the other main Marxist guerrilla group fighting against the Colombian government. Unlike the FARC, it never signed an official peace agreement and continues to fight to this day. It has been classified as a terrorist organization by Colombia, the US, Peru, Canada, and the European Union.
Timeline of the crisis
Popular socialist presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán is murdered in Bogotá, triggering a riots and uprisings known as the Bogotazo. Juan Roa Sierra, Gaitán’s alleged murderer is later killed by a violent mob.
The assassination of Gaitán is the start of a period known as La Violencia. The Conservative Party arms bandits and assassins, known as Chulavitas and Los Pájaros, clash with the first Liberal Party guerrillas, known as Cachiporros and Bandoleros.
Inspired by the Cuban Revolution, a group of farmers establish an agricultural commune in the province of Marquetalia in central Tolima region. Other agricultural communes begin to emerge in other regions of the country.
Concerned about the rise of communism, the conservative president, Guillermo León Valencia, decides to use the military to intervene in these agricultural communes. Survivors of the military attack decide to form groups of mobile guerrillas and to arm against the state. One of the survivors is Pedro Marín, later known as Manuel Marulanda, who would become the main leader of the FARC.
The FARC, mainly formed by poor rural farmers, do not have the strength yet to challenge the state. The group only causes small skirmishes in remote 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.
President Belisario Betancourt reaches a ceasefire with FARC. The group agrees with the government to form a political party, known as the Patriotic Union (UP by its name in Spanish).
Successive governments maintain peace negotiations with different rebel groups. During this period, groups like M-19, the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (PRT), the Autodefensa Obrera (ADO) are fully demobilized and returned to civilian life. In 1991, Colombia write a new constitution to incorporate these groups and modernize political life.
The growth of the UP raises 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, murder more than 3,000 people linked to the UP, including two presidential candidates (Jaime Pardo Leal and Bernardo Jaramillo) 7 Congressmen, 11 Mayors and 70 City council members. In response, the FARC returns to the armed fight in the country and sues the Colombian state in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The FARC uses drug trafficking and kidnapping to fund their efforts. Cocaine smuggling makes the guerrilla group one of the richest in the world. The FARC grows considerably and the fight against the state gets more violent, reaching the cities.
Andrés Pastrana wins the presidential election and promises to reach a peace deal with the FARC.
The Colombian government and the FARC hold peace talks in the municipality of El Caguán. As a prerequisite to hold the talks, the FARC demands a demilitarized zone the size of Switzerland in the Departments of Meta and Caqueta.
US Congress officially passes Public Law 106-246, granting $1.3 billion to the Colombian government in the first aid installment of Plan Colombia, a bilateral security agreement aimed at eliminating Colombian insurgent groups like the FARC.
The FARC kidnaps presidential candidate Íngrid Betancourt, who had strongly criticized the demilitarized zone.
The FARC hijacks an airplane and kidnaps Senator Jorge Géchem. After this event, President Pastrana orders the military to regain control of the demilitarized zone, breaking down the peace process.
Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos announces that Íngrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate kidnapped in 2002, has been rescued my military intelligence after years of negotiation with the FARC. With her, they rescue 14 other captives.
Álvaro Uribe wins the presidency, promising to defeat the FARC. During his eight years in office, the FARC suffers the most important military defeats with the neutralization of some important leaders. However, during this period the number of civilian casualties peaks, making Colombia the country with the most internally displaced population in the world. The government is accused of extrajudicial killings and is exposed by the opposition as having ties to various paramilitary forces
A new process of peace talks with the FARC begins under the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos.
The Colombian population rejects the peace agreement in a plebiscite, with 50.2% of the vote going to the “no” option. Among the political leaders that promote the rejection is the former president Álvaro Uribe.
Negotiators from the government and the FARC hold meetings with the promoters of the “no” vote in order to adjust the agreement. The original agreement is modified and approved by Congress.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his effort to end 50 years of war with the FARC.
The FARC completes the disarmament process. The United Nations Mission in Colombia certifies the storage of more than 7,000 arms.
The FARC unveils its new political party. The group decided to keep its initials in the new party name, the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común in Spanish).
Rank and file members of the 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).
The FARC announces Rodrigo Londoño, known as “Timochenko,” as the presidential candidate of their party for the 2018 elections.
Former FARC commander Seauxis Hernandez is arrested on American drug-trafficking charges in what is potentially a huge blow to the fragile peace process. The FARC struggles to gain political relevance — they gain 0.4% of the vote during Colombia’s parliamentary elections.
Colombian citizens go to the polls and elect Iván Duque in the first election since the peace pact signed two years ago.
The newly appointed president swears to unite the country by changing the peace deal with the FARC rebel group, accusing the previous deal of being too lenient on former rebel fighters.
A New York 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 violent dissident groups.
Mass demonstrations occur against President Duque, who is already extremely unpopular. Though protests were incited by inaction over social policies, much of it is also motivated by frustration over inaction on legislation that would solidify a democratic justice system to handle reintegration and punishment of former FARC rebels.
FARC rebel leader Walter Patricio Arízala is killed by the Colombian military during a raid operation. The Colombian government previously deployed more than 3,000 troops to hunt down the rebel leader.
Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo announces that the Colombian government has found evidence of plans to assassinate President Duque, offering little detail other than the fact that three Venezuelans have been arrested.
22 people are killed after a suicide bomber drives a truck containing 80 kilograms of explosives into the General Santander National Police Academy in Bogotá. The ELN claims responsibility and attributes it to government violation of previous ceasefire agreements.
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 from coming into the country.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announces plans to reopen the country’s border with Colombia. Due to the ongoing economic crisis, many Venezuelans illegally cross into Colombia to access food and medical supplies. The move could also be seen by some as an attempt to repair relations between the two countries following Colombia’s accusations of fugitive harboring against Maduro.
Protestors march against the increasing number of activists being killed 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 Iván Duque.
According to a new report published by Human Rights Watch, more than 40,000 people have been killed by an upsurge in crime carried out by armed groups operating in rural areas. These groups have filled in the gap vacated by the FARC rebel group after the signing of the 2016 peace deal, facilitating an increase in illegality and instability within the ongoing drug war.
In a YouTube video, ex-FARC rebels announces that they are remilitarizing in response to the government’s inability to maintain their part of the 2016 peace agreement, especially since the beginning of the Duque administration.
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:
- To help women displaced by violence: http://ligademujeres.org/
- To promote the research and information about the conflict: https://www.arcoiris.com.co/suscripcion-al-boletin-de-noticias/
- To help victims in general: https://www.oxfam.org/es/paises/colombia