FARC Rebel Group Becomes Political Party, Common Alternative Revolutionary Force

On Saturday, September 2nd, the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común) was legalized as the political successor of the former guerrilla group, FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The announcement was made during the party’s founding congress that ran from August 28th to 31st at the Bogota Convention Centre. As part of peace negotiations, the party is guaranteed 5 seats in both the Congress and Senate for the two proceeding legislatures (2018-2022), before having to compete for electoral support. The establishment of the left-wing political party is a significant milestone within the Colombian peace process, seeing the country’s largest rebel group demobilize and disarm.

There have been mixed reactions to the establishment of the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force. Both domestically and internationally, the transition away from armed conflict has been praised, with the establishment of FARC as a political and non-violent entity seen as a key stage in the peace process. Yet, concerns exist regarding the validity of the political party. The group’s leader Luciano Marin stated “We don’t want to break the ties to our past.” This sentiment has unsettled many who have recent memory of the atrocities committed by FARC rebels. As such, the group has been criticized for maintaining the acronym ‘FARC,’ which for many is associated with terrorism. Central criticism also relates to the legal framework for peace that creates an issue of impunity for ex-rebels-turned-politicians, who may be able to participate in politics and evade penalty for crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights echoed these concerns.

The transition that FARC has undertaken, from the largest and most potent guerilla group to establishing legitimate political means to pursue the group’s agenda, is a positive effort towards deescalating Colombia’s civil conflict in a non-violent manner. In December 2016, the state’s Victims Unit reported that there were nearly 8 million victims of Colombia’s civil conflict, comprising of 268,000 casualties and over 7 million forced displacements, since 1985. The UN Secretary General’s Report on Children and Armed Conflict named FARC as a prolific user of child soldiers, with estimates between 5,000-7,500 minors being recruited for combative roles. Given that the guerilla group was a main actor within Colombia’s internal civil conflict, FARC’s restructuring as a legitimate political party positively contributes to stability, de-escalation and peace for Colombia.

Peace talks have been ongoing between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Timoleon Jimenez, head of FARC, since 2012. According to law, the initial peace agreement had to be endorsed through a plebiscite, which returned a ‘no’ result by a slim margin on 2nd October 2016. Following renegotiation, congressional approval of the peace deal allowed for the signing of the Agreement for the Definitive Termination of Conflict, signed in Bogota November 24th, 2016. These negotiations also outlined an end to the violent conflict through disarmament of FARC, subject to UN verification, as well as members, return to non-combatant roles within a legal framework for peace.

The establishment of the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force and evolution of FARC from a violent rebel group to a legitimate political actor is a progressive development for Colombian peace. However, the efficacy of this transformation is vulnerable for two core reasons. Firstly, popular validity regarding FARC’s transition must be established. The transitional justice tribunal and truth commission, commencing in November, must adequately hold to account the perpetrators of violence in order for the population to accept FARC as a legitimate political authority rather than a terroriser. Second, steps need to be taken to mitigate the violence that is ensuing subsequent to the power vacuum that emerged after FARC’s disarmament. Forced displacement and recruitment of children, as well as civilian causalities have been reported by the UNHCR in areas previously under FARC control. It is imperative for the Colombian government to address these issues for lasting stability.