Colombia: FARC and government sign historic ceasefire

Rebels from the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

One of the world's longest running conflicts appears to be nearing an end after more than 50 years of fighting. Colombian government officials and rebels from the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) gathered in Havana, Cuba, on June 23 to announce a historic ceasefire nearly four years in the making.

FARC has waged war against the Colombian state and right-wing paramilitaries for more than five decades, struggling for land reform and other social justice measures against a violent and corrupt oligarchy.

The breakthrough deal reportedly includes terms on an armistice, the handing over of weapons and the security of insurgents who give up their arms. Colombian government spokesperson Marcela Duran said the deal included a commitment to “fight against organised crime units responsible for homicides and massacres, or those which attack human rights defenders, social or political movements.”

The conflict in Colombia began in 1964 and has claimed more than 220,000 lives. More than 5 million people are estimated to have been displaced.

On June 23, Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman spoke to Daniel Garcia-Pena, Colombia's former High Commissioner for Peace and founder of Planet Peace, a group dedicated to building grassroots participation in the Colombian peace process. Goodman also spoke to Colombian author and academic Mario Murillo. The interview is abridged from Democracy Now!.


Daniel Garcia-Pena, let's begin with you in Bogotá. The significance of what's happening today in Havana, Cuba?

Daniel Garcia-Pena: Well, this is a huge step, historic, really. As you mentioned, the FARC is the oldest and the largest guerrilla movement in Colombia. There's been a lot of scepticism as to their willingness to actually lay down their arms.

But the announcement that we are expecting today, the terms, the specific terms of how that will take place, will end one of the biggest controversies and will really begin a process of implementation of the agreement that is of major importance.

Mario Murillo, your response to what we're seeing today?

Mario Murillo: Well, I mean, you'd have to be really cynical not to recognise the importance or significance. It is an incredible moment in Colombian history, given the long-standing nature of this conflict.

And it is indeed the beginning of the end of the military conflict between the government and the FARC rebels. It is not necessarily the end of the war, and that's one thing that we have to be very cautious about. It is going to be a long process of implementation and of also securing the many different points of the agenda.

They were discussing a whole set of issues that are clearly not going to be resolved overnight. People have to remain really vigilant to make sure that they are indeed followed up on.

Well, as Colombia's former high commissioner for peace, Daniel Garcia-Pena, can you lay out what the components of this agreement are?

Garcia-Pena: Well, there's actually four parts. The first has to do with the definitive and bilateral ceasefire that establishes, basically, an end to all actions both on the side of the government and on the side of the FARC. Not only direct confrontation, but all activities that have been linked to the war — attacks on the civilian population and so forth.

The second has to do with guarantees for those that will soon be ex-combatants — to guarantee that we do not repeat what happened in the 1980s and '90s with the Union Patriotica [UP], a political movement that was established [by forces associated with the FARC] in previous peace talks, that were systematically eliminated, were assassinated.

That led the FARC to be very sceptical as to their future. But the government has agreed to very specific measures to guarantee the safety of the guerrilla leaders in the future.

Thirdly is the issue of laying down their arms, which will imply the concentration of the troops. It is still not certain exactly in how many places in Colombia.

The process of laying down their arms, apparently, will be gradual. There will be a timetable set for this to happen.

And lastly, there are measures that have been announced regarding the paramilitary groups that continue to exist throughout the country — and the government's commitment to end whatever links may exist with these groups and to combat their successors.

So, there are very significant aspects to the agreement. This is not the final agreement, nevertheless. There are still a few points to be negotiated.

But there's no doubt that the laying down of arms and the ceasefire is a major step. We all see that the issues to be resolved should be able to be resolved sooner than later.

And the significance of Havana, of Cuba negotiating this agreement between the two sides in Colombia?

Garcia-Pena: It has been really very important, for many reasons. The Cubans have, from the very beginning, offered a very significant support for the process.

The FARC, as with many guerrillas in Colombia and throughout Latin America, view the Cuban revolution and the Cuban government with great respect. And the pressure that the Cuban government has put on the FARC and the guerrillas has been quite significant.

But they have been very discreet in allowing the Colombians, both the government and the guerrillas, to really take the lead and to drive this process.

The fact that Cuba is entering into a new moment in its relations with the United States, and with the world in general, has also been quite significant. And I think that this is one of the aspects that weighed heavily upon the Colombian guerrillas to understand that to continue the armed struggle simply had no future whatsoever.

So, the role of the Cubans has been quite significant. The presence of President Raul Castro in [the June 23] event will symbolise the very crucial role that the Cubans have played throughout this whole process.

Mario Murillo, the role of the United States in Colombia over these decades?

Mario Murillo: Well, it's going to be key to see what role they're going to play in this process now as it's unfolding. But if we look at the history of the US role, we can go back before the start of the FARC, but certainly since the FARC started.

And, in fact, you can look at part of the argument that the FARC laid out in 1964, 52 years ago, when they were mobilising and carrying out their initial attempts at land reform and justice and political participation — the same issues being negotiated in Havana. They pointed out that if there was a political solution back in the '60s, based on their demands that were representative of the demands of the people in the countryside, the peasantry, there wouldn't be a FARC.

Now, some people could say that many things have happened over those 52 years. But what happened was that the United States, under the Johnson administration, insisted on a military solution to the uprising that was taking place in the countryside in Colombia at that time — out of fear of another Cuba in South America. And obviously that was the approach in the 1960s.

In the 1980s, the peace process at that time was trying to politically insert the FARC through the UP into the landscape of electoral politics and political participation. The response was a military response, massacring 3000 to 4000 militants of the UP. And that was with the support of the Reagan administration and the CIA.

And then in the 1990s, the attempt when they were just about to negotiate and begin a process of peace back then, the [US] response was Plan Colombia, involving militarisation and strengthening the armed forces.

And now people are looking at it and saying: “Well then, if it wasn't for the US support, we wouldn't have gotten to this point.” But the bottom line is, 15 years have passed since those previous negotiations. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, millions displaced.

And so, we have to say, what has been the result of those last 15 years of war, that might have been resolved had the US looked at other options?

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