On June 26, 2017, FARC completed the disarmament process, in compliance with the timeline agreed with the Colombian Government. The United Nation Mission in Colombia certified the storage of 7,132 arms, the entirety of FARC’S registered individual weapons, only excluding those that “under the Road Map” will be used for security in the 26 Transitional Zones until August 1st. In addition, the UN Mission and FARC are still working together to extract and destroy other weapons and munitions stashed in remote places in the jungle. So far, 77 arms caches, out of 900 estimated, have been found, where the UN has extracted munitions and explosives and destroyed unstable armaments. In a ceremony held in Mesetas, south of Colombia, the President Juan Manuel Santos, the FARC’s leader Rodrigo Londoño and Jean Arnaut, chief of the UN monitoring peace mission in the country, celebrated the disarmament of the oldest guerrilla group in the American continent.
Rodrigo Londoño, best known by his alias, Timochenko, showed the future political goals of FARC when he stated that “Today doesn’t end the existence of FARC; it ends our armed struggle,” and pointed that he hopes that “Colombian democracy open gently its arms to embrace all the forces and movements excluded historically of political guarantees.” To a cheering crowd of former combatants and some political figures, Timochenko continued on to say “Farewell to arms, farewell to war, welcome to peace.”
President Juan Manuel Santos, who was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 2016, stated that “today is a special day, the day when weapons are exchanged for words,” and added that “we (Colombia) have achieved so much despite the conflict, and now we can do even more, much more, to keep reducing poverty and inequality, and creating prosperity to everyone.”
The completion of the disarmament process means that the conflict between FARC and the Colombian government ends after more than 53 years of violence in the country. In the cruellest period, the conflict left more than 260,000 dead, 60,000 missing, and 7.1 million people were internally displaced, which is more than any other country in the world. After the abandonment of arms, FARC begins its path to becoming a political party. The peace agreement guarantees at least five seats in Senate and five in the Chamber of Representatives, but the group hopes to get enough votes to gain more places in Congress.
Ex-guerrilla members are due to remain in the transitional zones until the end of July when they will start their return to the civilian life. This process is also difficult for rank-and-rifle rebel fighters. For instance, Jairo, 36, spent 20 years in FARC before handing over his assault rifle last week, and says that he fears violent backlash against former guerrilla members. Nonetheless, he still has hopes and dreams, and he said to a journalist in the zone that “[he] want[s] to be a lawyer to help the new party, first, though, [he] ha[s] to finish high school.”
With that said, this is a turning point in the history of Colombia, and it might be the most important event in decades. The most powerful guerrilla group has laid down all its weapons, and now the country has the opportunity to build a long-lasting peace for new generations. However, the government has to show the same commitment and fulfil all the compromises in the peace deal. The first challenge is to guarantee the safety of ex-guerrilla members, now unarmed, to avoid the systematic extermination of the members of the new political party; something that sadly already happened in the nineties with the genocide of the member of the political party Unión Patriótica. The second challenge is to guarantee the fulfilment of the peace deal in the long term, no matter what happens in the presidential elections in 2018. In last weeks, Humberto De La Calle, chairman of the government team during the peace talks, stated that, if the government fails to comply with the agreement, “it would be a historical retrogression and an act of absence of ethics.”
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