BOGOTA – A conflict that lasted over five decades. An estimated 220,000 people killed and over five million displaced.
These staggering figures will be consigned to history as the Colombian government buries the hatchet with its long-time nemesis, the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group, better known by its Spanish acronym, FARC.
In a symbolic gesture, the pens that will be used to sign the historic peace deal, years in the making, are made from recycled bullets once used in the conflict. An inscription on the side of the pens reads: “Bullets wrote our past. Education, our future.”
The two sides, joined by leaders from the US, Mexico, El Salvador, Uruguay, the UN and Cuba are due to come together in the coastal colonial city of Cartagena to sign the accord.
The rebels voted unanimously to approve a deal that was finalized in August to end the 52-year-old conflict, Latin America’s longest-running.
It still needs to be ratified by voters, who will consider the agreement in a single-issue referendum on October 2. It is expected to pass.
The treaty, which President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, better known as Timochenko, will sign, requires rebels to give up their weapons and participate in a transitional justice process toward reintegration.
If and when it is approved by the electorate, the FARC will cease to be a rebel group but will instead enter into politics as a left-wing party.
The treaty grants the FARC ten political seats, but it remains to be seen if the rebel group, founded on Marxist ideologies of class struggle, can effectively transition into a political platform.
While the deal symbolizes a chance for future generations to come of age in peace, the deal also signals a new chapter for the region. The longest running war in the Americas will finally be over, bringing an end to armed political conflict in Latin America.
However, not all groups are bound by the peace deal. The second most powerful group following the FARC, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has announced interest in the peace deal but refused to end its practice of kidnapping.
Latin America has slowly been freeing itself from the shadows of the Cold War as countries such as Colombia, Guatemala, Bolivia and Chile –– with the help of the US –– fought off rebel guerillas.
“Across the region, the Cold War is over,” said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Now, “guerrilla war is no longer seen as a reasonable way to contest power.”
The FARC started in 1964 and, like their mentors in Cuba, was committed to redistributing the wealth, even if it meant by force.
But half a century later, now funded by a sophisticated cocaine trafficking network and armed with child soldiers, the rallying cries to protect an agrarian society begin to sound antiquated and obsolete.
According to Arnson, public approval for the FARC has never polled more than five per cent.
Salud Hernandez, who has been a correspondent in Colombia for the daily newspaper El Mundo since 1999, has reasons to have ill faith in the FARC. Hernandez has covered this war extensively and was kidnapped herself this year by the ELN in May.
“Even speaking with the guerrilla fighters, they can’t hide that what they have done for the last 52 years is massacre, kidnappings and extortion,” she said in an interview with CNN en Español’s Fernando Ramos while covering the final FARC conference last week.
“This is a group that didn’t have the popular support practically and that has summoned the country to countless tragedies.”
A leading crusader against the peace deal is former President Alvaro Uribe Velez, whose father was killed by the FARC. He accused Santos of having “accepted all of the FARC’s agenda.”
“To this terrorist group, they also give impunity, and political legitimacy to all its actors, including those responsible for massacres [and] the most severe offences, and crimes against humanity,” he said in a video posted to Twitter in August.
Meanwhile, FARC leaders press that there is no peace without amnesty.
Ivan Marquez, the group’s chief negotiator, told CNN en Español, “Without this law, well, it is very difficult for the guerrillas to begin their movement into the peace zones or to the transitional points for normalization.”
As world leaders cheer the historic signing of a peace deal that ends the longest running war in the Americas, the rest of the peace process is now in the hands of Colombians.