Peace Treaty in Colombia

Colombians hold the letters for “peace” in Bolivar square in the capital Bogota on Sept. 26. Photo by Felipe Caicedo/Reuter

Colombia has been affected by political, economic, public safety, among other types of problems. In the past decades and with the fight against drug traffic and violence in the country, a mix of these issues brought another problem that would become a burden to millions of Colombians for almost six decades.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC by its Spanish acronym), is a revolutionary group whose main objective (at least at the moment of its creation) was to fight against the intervention of multinational companies and foreign governments (particularly the US). They used to seek the redistribution of wealth of the rich to the poor. They even used to called themselves FARC-EP; the EP meant “Ejercito del Pueblo” or people’s army. Unfortunately, their actions demonstrate the opposite.

The harmed caused to the most vulnerable groups of the Colombian population can not be described.

This revolutionary group took horrible actions like bombs, murder, kidnapping, attacks against politicians (based on their political positions), etc.

In 2016 the president Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC leader Rodrigo Londono also known as “Timochenko”, firmed a peace accord that meant a ceasefire agreement. The FARC would give up their ammunition in exchange for forgiveness and opportunities to incorporate into the Colombian society. Before the accord was signed, the question was made to Colombians through a plebiscite where Colombians said no to the accord. Even so, the president carried on with the plan and was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos makes the victory sign after voting in a referendum this month in Bogota, Colombia.

Who are the FARC?

On April 09 of 1948, leader of the Colombian Liberal Party, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was murdered. This unfortunate event would trigger a period of events known as “la violencia” (the violence) in Colombia; a 10-year civil war between the Liberal and Conservative parties in the country. This along with the massive riots also triggered by Gaitan’s murder known as “El Bogotazo”, led to the rising of the two biggest guerilla groups in Colombia, being one of them the FARC.

Jorge Eliecer Gaitan(1936)
From: Colarte
Images protest/Bogotazo. Latin American Post 

The FARC based their ideology in the Marxism-Leninism, communist current of political thought and Bolivarism. They were a revolutionary group against the government, but their actions took different turns and instead of supporting the “pueblo” they ended up creating possibly irreparable damage.

To elaborate further in this topic and how Colombians were affected by it, I interviewed former Personal Banking Manager at Banco de Occidente in Colombia, Javier Calvo. Working in the bank allowed Mr. Calvo create relationships with families and individuals that were directly affected by the armed conflict in Colombia where the FARC were the antagonists.

On 2016, important year for the peace accord in Colombia, Javier was working in the bank where is functions ranged from supporting all the office staff to controlling overdue loan ratio. In this context, Javier had to visit clients of the bank, some of whom lived in rural areas of Palmira, Colombia.

Farmers in Colombia who had their homes and crops in rural areas, were the most affected population by the FARC. They stole their land, extortion them, displaced from their homes, forcing them seek opportunities in the cities. Same that were rarely granted.

When asked to describe the peace accord in one word Javier said “necessary.” The reason why he thinks of it as necessary is because he, as many Colombians, were hoping that the accord would put an end to more of five decades of violence in the country. He thought that it was necessary to compensate the victims as much as it could be possible. Without letting aside the integration of those outside the law; because at the end, they still are Colombian citizens.

Javier personally knew cases of people who were directly affected by the operations of the FARC. The first case, was from Mrs. Orfa, whose son was murdered carrying out his journalistic labor covering the kidnap of twelve deputies in Cali, Valle del Cauca, by the FARC. Sadly, the journalist died trying to inform his country about the serious events that were taking place and he paid a high price for it, his own life. Injustices like this, are not uncommon when it comes to this armed group, not only did they kill people who put in jeopardy their plans, but they also kidnapped and used the victim’s families desperation to gain monetary advantage of the situation. Javier knew two different cases that had the same unfortunate outcome: one of their loved ones was kidnapped, then the guerrilla would ask for an amount of money in exchange of their loved ones’ life. In both cases, the families paid the amount but unfortunately, never got to see their loved ones again.

Kidnappings by FARC
Image: El Espectador, Mauricio Alvarado

Was the accord expected?

The conversations for peace with the FARC have a vast number of antecedents that begun in the 90s. However, it was not until 2016 that the accord was made. Taking this into consideration I asked Javier if before the actual event he thought of the accord as something possible. He said he did.

With the economic opening in Colombia that took place in 1991, the need for peace arose since it was demanded that Colombia became a safer place.

Colombia opening their economy meant the country would receive investments form world powers. But among the conditions was that the country needed to be safer, which would not be possible without putting an end to the internal war with groups outside the law. Is for the last, that Javier knew the accord was something that eventually had to happen.

The Plebiscite

Colombia’s transparency when it comes to popular participation has been constantly questioned. Javier agrees with the fact that results have had suspicious outcomes in past opportunities. He described the announcement of the agreement as “something that we (Colombians) were waiting for.” When the President announced there was going to be a plebiscite to learn what Colombians wanted, Javier’s initial thought were that the votes would be altered. Despite of this, he sees voting as a “right and duty. ” So, in October 02 of 2016 Javier and thirteen millions of Colombians more went on the streets to vote “Yes” or “No” to the peace accord with the FARC.

Image of the ballot used in the plebiscite

For Javier, there was some skepticism about the chances of the “no” winning. Due to the political context at the time and its polarization, it seemed to him and other “no” voters that the chances of getting that result were almost none. It was a surprise for them when the results revealed that 50.2% of the voters said “no” to the accord.

Why would Colombians not want peace?

Is interesting how many like Javier, saw the accord as necessary and knew it was coming but, voted for “no.” When asked about this he explained it in the following way:

  1. Yes, Colombians wanted and needed that accord.
  2. The decision to vote “no” comes from the terms of the accord.

What was about the terms of the agreement that lead 6’431.372 of Colombians to vote “no”? The answer is simple, the terms and conditions in which the agreement was raised were “not the ones that people wanted.” First, the terms gave the FARC what Javier described as “too much power,” they would be granted seats to participate in politics without needing to undergo a voting process like any other senator would do. Another reason is that the terms were too focused on the FARC and did not address the victims as it should have. Here is when the citizens said “let’s vote consciously” and voted “no.”

Map with results: green means dominated by “yes”, red is “no”

After The Plebiscite

The “no” won. Despite of what the government wanted. So, would that mean that Colombia won? The answer is no. The then President Juan Manuel Santos, continued the agreement conversations and months later, it was done.

President Santos and “Timochenko” the day the agreement was signed

It was inevitable to ask what feeling and thoughts arose after this. Javier shared there was a feeling of indignation. He found this arbitrary. As president, from power he changed the people’s decision without listening to them. “He took power away from the people,” Javier said. This act left Colombia wondering why would the president make Colombians vote if he was not going to consider the people’s decision. Javier also pointed out that this only showed how even when the people want to do something, if it differs from the government’s interest, there is not much that can be done.

A Peace Treaty?

After all the events that led to the peace treaty, I was curious about Javier’s perspective on the treaty itself. I asked him if he thought of the treaty as really a PEACE treaty; the answer was no. He claimed that “now we are further from peace than before.” With the sign of the agreement, some of the members of the FARC that were not agree with the treaty, created new dissidents groups that represent a challenge for Colombian military forces.

Time prior to the treaty, the government did not failed to protect Colombian military forces, the management in this area was adequate. But this changed after the signing of the treaty, and currently the guerrilla groups can even dominated military forces in some operations. This because once the treaty existed, peace was given for granted without taking into consideration those members that decided to continue guerrilla activities.

Conversation with a guerrilla

I was surprised when Javier shared a personal experience about a conversation he had with a guerrilla. He mentioned it was something he wanted to do and had the opportunity to, almost twenty years ago. Javier took a cab without knowing that the person driving was a former guerrilla. Javier made him the question that many Colombians wish to know the answer to: why if the FARC supposedly had a political origin that sought to support the people, it ended up becoming what it became? The answer he received was that the origins of the guerrilla had drug trafficking origin. Not only this but people became a part of the guerrilla for multiple reasons. One of them was very unfortunate and probably the most common one: the guerrilla recruited people against their will (mostly young people) to be a part of their ranks. But in the same way, other people voluntarily joined just because “they wanted to hold a gun” to feel some kind of power.

Headline: “more than 18.000 children have been recruited by the FARC”

Did the government failed to protect the people?

Yes, it did. At the end, the damage was never repaired. But, is it even possible to repair the damage? I presented this question to Javier who responded: “repairing everything, if not impossible, is going to be very difficult.” According to him, the least the government should have done for the victims, in addition to make the FARC ask for forgiveness to their victims, was to provide psychological and economic support to those who lost their homes, crops, personal belongings, loved ones…

To this day, many Colombian families suffer the consequences of a war they had no part on but were the principal victims of. An agreement was made, a treaty was signed, former members of the FARC run for political positions and have a normal life. But those who worked hard to have a land to work on and provided Colombian cities with fresh high quality products, are now without many of the things they once had, some with an incomplete family, and with all of this, without a part of themselves that was left behind with the conflict.

– Maria Camila Calvo Prado