BOGOTA – Following a peace accord with the Colombian government, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Latin America’s largest and best-armed guerrilla group, has taken a step towards laying down arms and entering politics that could well go down as a historic milestone.
The decision – taken at the 10th Guerrilla National Conference that concluded Friday – implies a farewell to arms by a group that boasted an army of 20,000 fighters at its peak in 2002.
During this period, the FARC was a formidable force and took advantage of peace talks with former President Andres Pastrana (1998-2002) to strengthen itself, starting from the 42,000 sq. km demilitarized zone the government had created between the Meta and Caqueta provinces, with the city of San Vicente del Caguan as the main center of talks.
Military sources say the armed forces’ fight against the FARC that began in 2002, particularly during the twin term of President Alvaro Uribe (2002-10), brought the outfit down to 7,000 combatants.
Currently, FARC armed fighters are distributed in seven blocs made up of 54 fronts and 12 mobile columns, one of which – the Teofilo Forero – is an elite force blamed for some of the most brutal attacks in southern Colombia against civilians, police and army personnel.
It was in the same region of San Vicente del Caguan, part of the immense savannah of Llanos de Yari, that the FARC concluded their last conference as an armed group, approving the peace accord negotiated at Cuban capital Havana “in its entirety.”
The pact is to be formally signed Monday in Cartagena.
The declaration issued at the end of the conference states that the organization has decided to make all necessary preparations for “the transit of our political-military structure towards a new political party,” whose founding congress will be held at the “latest by May 2017 if the agreements are implemented as agreed.”
Professor Rafael Silva of Cali’s Icesi University told EFE that the peace accord “is not the best in terms of standards that some, for instance the opposition, may want, but is, realistically speaking, the best fit given the country’s current conditions, most importantly for ending an over five decade-long armed struggle.”
After the peace deal is signed, the implementation of the five-point agreement will begin with the “end of conflict” that will mark the FARC’s transition to civilian life.
The transition from armed struggle to politics will be a long process. Sept. 27, the day following the inking of the deal, marks the beginning of a 180-day countdown to laying down arms and the arrival of guerrilla members in the agreed-upon meeting zones.
The United Nations will lead the verification mission to monitor compliance of the peace deal, and will take charge of collecting and storing surrendered weapons and munitions, set to be melted and used in the construction of three peace memorials in Colombia, Cuba and the UN headquarters at New York, respectively.
Disarmament is the starting point of the process, with Bogota emphatically stating that there will be no armed politics nor “an armed peace.”
The FARC will therefore have to form a new political party, whose name has not yet been disclosed.
“The agreement between the Colombian state and the FARC is hardly the first step on what is a very long road to building peace, so that a country that has lived so many decades of conflict can move toward a more tranquil life, with greater welfare for the majority of its people,” remarked Silva.