Last week, in an effort to improve its public image, the Colombian political party formerly known as FARC rebranded itself as the Comunes or the Common People’s Party. This name change signals an attempt to distance itself from both the ex-guerrilla group’s polarizing past and the dissident groups currently at large in the country.
After a three-day party conference in Medellín, the party leader, Rodrigo Londoño (also known as Timochenko) announced the name change, explaining, it was “complicated (for us) to keep the FARC name; not because we regret it, or it makes us ashamed of anything, but because it was as the FARC that we took part in armed conflict, in war.” He added later on Twitter, “it is time to create a great coalition of forces with all the democrats in the country. To build a Front that finishes consolidating Peace, giving satisfaction to all the victims, the uprooted, and thus being able to advance towards the construction of a just and democratic Colombia.”
The political party was formed out of the 2016 peace agreement between the FARC guerrilla group and the Colombian government. After 50 years of violent conflict, the two groups reached an agreement in which the FARC guerrilla group would demobilize and transition to a political party with guaranteed congressional representation up to 2022. This new party chose to keep the same acronym FARC but did change the name from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to Common Alternative Revolutionary Force. At the time, this decision generated a fair amount of criticism given the group’s links to corruption and violent conflict. Londoño told CNN en Espanol that he thought that choosing to keep the FARC acronym had been a mistake as the name would always be associated with a history of violence. These associations may have stood in the way of the party being electorally viable and having a real future in Colombia’s politics.
Formed in 1964, the original FARC guerrilla group was a Marxist-Leninist organization that aimed to overthrow the government, redistribute wealth and fight inequality. However, over the years, they were accused of drug trafficking, bombings, murder, extortion and kidnappings. According to 2016 government tallies, the five-decade-long conflict between the FARC and government forces resulted in 220,000 deaths and almost 7 million internally-displaced people. While there were several previous attempts at peace, an agreement was only reached in November 2016.
This decision to rebrand now, political analysts say, allows the party to distance themselves from the actions of violent groups still active in the country. Since their disarmament, the rebels have been divided, some heading to mainstream leftist movement with others returning to arms. According to Euronews, while the majority of the 13,000 combatants of the guerrilla group accepted the treaty, they estimate that around 2,500 remain active, without a unified mandate, acting in isolated zones on the resources of drug-trafficking and illegal mining. Among those dissidents are Iván Márquez and Jesus Santrich, who decided to take up arms again in the name of FARC after having formed part of the 2016 negotiating team. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the activities of these illegal armed groups triggered roughly 139,000 new displacements in 2019.
However, some remain skeptical. Colombian political analyst, Sergio Guzman, dismissed the party’s name change as little more than a “face-lift,” insisting that the party is still out of touch with what voters actually want. “They have still not compensated war victims, they still haven’t admitted that they recruited children,” Guzman says, “they have been stubborn for the past four years, and a simple name change does not suggest that the public will find their public policies appealing.”
The 2022 election will be the last in which the former rebels have guaranteed seats in congress. If the party doesn’t expand its electoral base and gain voters, it risks losing political representation and becoming obsolete. The failure of the political party may lead to more members returning to arms and risks losing all the tentative gains of the last four years.