Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, a.k.a. “Timochenko,” signed peace in a historic ceremony Monday, ending a bloody, 52-year-long war after five years of negotiations.
While peace with the FARC does not mean the end of armed conflict in Colombia, but it does remove the largest and most iconic illegal actor from the conflict that has marked the country for decades.
The ceremony began with a minute of silence for the victims after which women from Bojaya, a town victimized by the FARC, sang a folkloric chant in which they praised the FARC’s pending disarmament and called on “the violent ones” to also choose peace.
“Hey Mr. President, what are you going to do about the other groups?” sang the women, referring to guerrilla and paramilitary successor groups that continue to wreak havoc in rural Colombia.
Immediately after, Londoño and Santos formally signed the peace agreement, effectively ending the armed conflict with the country’s largest, most-feared and longest-living rebel group.
The long, but not endless war
The FARC had been fighting the government since 1964 in what until today was the Americas’ longest running war.
The Santos administration has been negotiating peace since March 2011 and formalized the talks in August 2012. Last month, the negotiating teams announced the successful end of, at times, agitated talks.
The peace deal implies that the Marxist FARC will demobilize and disarm, and eventually become a legal political movement.
The signing of the peace deal also means that a transitional justice system will take effect to try those guilty of the victimization of more than 8 million Colombians, the majority of whom were displaced.
These war crimes implicate hundreds if not thousands of guerrillas, at least 24,400 state officials and more than 12,500 private actors, including major companies like Coca-Cola.
This transitional justice system, which includes a Truth Commission, has caused major unrest in the private sector and the conservative opposition where many will face trial to respond to war-related crimes.
The peace deal also entails far-stretching rural and political reforms that seek to remove the causes of political violence in Colombia, a phenomenon older than the republic itself.
A novelty in the deal is that demobilized FARC guerrillas will help the government remove landmines and combat drug trafficking, which for decades was the former guerrillas’ primary source of income.
The war with no real beginning and no real end
Colombia’s armed groups
Main paramilitary successors
Historians can’t agree on when current armed began as political violence was widespread well before the FARC’s formation.
The conflict’s final end seems to be equally elusive because of the amount of armed actors that have come and gone during the conflict.
However, at the same time the ELN has stepped up attacks and the AGC is among the country’s primary human rights violators.
The ELN has been engaged in preliminary talks since before June 2014 and preliminary talks and according to the top peace official of the Antioquia province, where the AGC originates from, the neo-paramilitaries have also begun talks to demobilize.
But until the talks with these groups make significant advantage, the government will embark on a military and judicial offensive to prevent them from filling in the power vacuum left by the FARC in areas long abandoned by the state.
Colombia divided over made concessions
Meanwhile, Colombians are deeply divided about the concessions made to the FARC in the negotiations.
While according to the country’s notoriously unreliable polls the peace deal will easily pass a referendum on Sunday, the conservative opposition, led by hard-line former President Alvaro Uribe, can still count on a vocal minority and its concerns are echoed across society.
More importantly, the former president has exposed parts of the deal that are a hard pill to swallow for the majority of Colombians, as war criminals have been allowed the possibility to evade prison if they fully and voluntarily collaborate with justice.
Additionally, the thought of seeing FARC commanders who have committed atrocities in congress appalls many Colombians.
Nevertheless, the demobilization of the paramilitary organization AUC by Uribe between 2003 and 2006, and the pending demobilization of the FARC would mean that over the past 15 years more than 60,000 members of illegal armed groups have laid down their weapons, leaving only a few thousand in arms.
Consequently, annual victimization rates have dropped drastically, especially after the FARC ceased fire in June last year.
Victims per year
With Monday’s peace agreement, Colombia did not take the final step, but the country did make another major leap towards peace.