Colombia and the FARC: A Half-century of War Has Left Deadly a Legacy of Landlines
August 26, 2016
The Economist & The Miami Herald & Associated Press
Colombia's half-century civil war may finally be resolved. A peace accord was announced on August 24, after four years of talks in Havana. Over 52 years,the war killed 220,000 people and left large swaths of the country salted with landlines. Colombia is second only to Afghanistan in the number of landmine victims. The peace deal with the FARC rebels offers a chance to end the landmine scourge. The US and Norway have pledged to help Colombia become landmine-free by 2021.
Colombia and the FARC: Ending a Half-century of War
After 220,000 deaths, voters should endorse the new Colombian peace accord
(August 26, 2016) -- A decade or so has passed since a ferocious war between the state and the FARC, an army of leftist narco-guerrillas, dominated life in Colombia. An offensive launched by government forces in 2002 pushed the FARC into remote mountain and jungle areas. A unilateral ceasefire declared by the FARC last year virtually ended hostilities. Nowadays the war's terror no longer troubles city-dwelling Colombians.
Nevertheless, the final peace accord announced on August 24th, after four years of talks in Havana, is historic. It ends a war that began 52 years ago and has killed perhaps 220,000 people and displaced 7m more. Under the agreement, the FARC is to turn itself into a normal political party. After its fighters finally remove their uniforms, vestigial insurgencies will continue in South America.
A drug-running rump of the Shining Path fights feebly on in Peru and the ELN remains more than a nuisance in Colombia. But the FARC's recognition of Colombia's constitutional order represents the death of a strain of Stalinist violence that has plagued Latin America for decades. When Colombia's citizens vote on the settlement on October 2nd it deserves their endorsement.
The deal arrived at by Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, and the FARC's leader, Rodrigo Londoño-Echeverry, known as "Timochenko", provides for the disarmament of the FARC's remaining 6,800 troops and 8,500 militia and their concentration in 23 "normalisation zones". That process is to be overseen by the UN. The guerrillas will eradicate coca fields and clear landmines, which have killed 11,000 people since 1990. The government is to spend billions of dollars on development in areas that the FARC once controlled.
It is not a perfect agreement. The most contentious part is the provisions for bringing to justice those who committed horrific crimes against non-combatant Colombians. The FARC, the Colombian army and right-wing paramilitary groups all murdered civilians.
The FARC's crimes extended to extortion, kidnapping and pressing children into military service. Perpetrators of such crimes belong in prison. Under the peace accord, though, they will serve no jail time if they confess. Instead, guerrillas and soldiers will appear before a special tribunal; if convicted their liberty will be "restricted" and they will perform community service for up to eight years.
A Somewhat Just Peace
Many Colombians understandably find such leniency hard to stomach. Their outrage has been seized upon by Alvaro Uribe, Mr. Santos's predecessor. The unremitting offensive against the FARC during his time in office made peace possible (and led to some of the atrocities committed by pro-government forces).
Now a senator, Mr. Uribe denounces the peace agreement as a surrender to "Castro-chavismo" (which it is not) and is leading a campaign against it. Opinion polls suggest that the vote in the plebiscite will be close.
Mr Uribe's fight is wrongheaded. Though flawed, the "transitional justice" that the peace accord will bring about will be more rigorous than that achieved in other countries, such as South Africa and El Salvador, which have ended bitter conflicts. The peacemakers asked the pope and the UN secretary-general to help pick the committee that will appoint judges to the tribunal. That will bolster its credibility.
A vote to reject the agreement would be a tragedy. The FARC cannot return to its former deadly potency, but even as late as 2013 some 2,000 armed clashes took place. Rural regions that bore the brunt of the war are desperate for peace. Colombians have a chance to end one of the world's longest-running conflicts. They should seize it.
Can Colombia Be Landmine-free in 5 Years?
Jim Wyss / The Miami Herald
BOGOTA, Colombia (May 10, 2016) -- Even as this nation is inching toward a deal to end the hemisphere's longest-running and bloodiest civil conflict, there's a grim certainty that war-related injuries won't stop overnight.
The half-century struggle against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas has left this Andean country riddled with landmines. After Afghanistan, Colombia is thought to have the second-highest number of antipersonnel casualties in the world. Since 1990, some 11,500 people have either been killed or maimed by the devices -- 26 people this year alone.
While hopes are high that a peace deal will be signed with the FARC this year, it's also clear that its benefits could be undermined by the lurking menace, President Juan Manuel Santos said Tuesday.
"A complete peace is not possible in a country with landmines," he told a gathering of ordinance and explosive experts. "A territory with anti-personnel mines is a territory that's sterile -- it's one without a future."
A meeting of international mine experts in BogotA will be held through Friday, after the United States, Norway and Colombia in February pledged to make this country land-mine free by 2021. Washington has earmarked $33 million for the "The Global Demining Initiative for Colombia," through 2017, and Norway will be contributing $20 million to the project. The European Union and 22 other nations have also agreed to support the initiative.
The forum of technical experts that will gather has the task of coming up with a unified strategy to meet that goal. Six years ago, Holmes Fabian Ordoñez was walking to a priest's house in San Vicente del CaguAn when a landmine tore off his right leg.
"This was a community I had lived in all my life," said Ordoñez, 26, who was at Tuesday's meeting representing landmine victims. "As a result of the accident, I had to leave that area, leave what had always been my home. This meeting is incredibly important," he said, "because we don't want anyone else to suffer through this."
In a video message, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he'd seen the damage caused by landmines around the world, from Asia to Africa. In Colombia, "I talked to members of the armed forces who were wounded by mines long forgotten by those who had actually deployed them," he said. "In less than a second, all of these lives were changed forever."
Fixing the problem, however, will be daunting. The FARC and other groups have long used landmines to protect coca crops from eradicators and cover their tracks from army ambushes. As a result, of the 1,096 municipalities in the country, almost 700 are thought to have landmine contamination, Santos said.
For the last three years government and FARC negotiators have been meeting in Havana to try to hammer out a peace deal. And while the talks are going on without a ceasefire, violence has dropped dramatically.
Peace at Last?
In addition, since March of last year, the government and the FARC have worked together to identify and clear two minefields. And those efforts are likely to increase once a peace pact is signed.
Santos said there are 700 troops working on de-mining now and that, by next year, there were will be 10,000 people dedicated to the task. Even so, the government estimates it could take $350 million over the course of a decade to leave Colombia landmine-free.
Sergio Jaramillo, Colombia's high commissioner for the peace process, said much is riding on de-mining. Unless territories can be cleared of mines, people won't be able to return to their villages, and the government's crop-substitution programs and rural development goals won't be met, he said.
But Santos said the negotiations may be the country's best chance to find peace both above and below ground.
"In a country with mines peace isn't possible, I'm absolutely convinced of that," he said. "But without peace, a Colombia without mines is also impossible."
Colombia War History
How Colombia conflict developed over decades
(August 24, 2016) -- With Colombia's government and the country's biggest rebel movement announcing an agreement on a historic peace deal, The Associated Press explains how the conflict began and developed over the decades.
HOW IT STARTED
The 1948 assassination of populist firebrand Jorge Eliecer Gaitan led to a political bloodletting known as "The Violence." Tens of thousands died, and peasant groups joined with communists to arm themselves. A 1964 military attack on their main encampment led to the creation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
WHAT THE REBELS WANTED
Though nominally Marxist, the FARC's ideology has never been well defined. It has sought to make the conservative oligarchy share power and prioritized land reform in a country where more than 5 million people have been forcibly displaced, mostly by far-right militias in the service of ranchers, businessmen and drug traffickers.
The FARC lost popularity as it turned to kidnapping, extortion and taxes on cocaine production and illegal gold mining to fund its insurgency.
HOW THE US GOT INVOLVED
In 2000, the United States began sending billions of dollars to counter drug-trafficking and the insurgency under Plan Colombia, which helped security forces weaken the FARC and kill several top commanders.
The State Department classifies the group as a terrorist organization and its leaders face US indictments for what the George W. Bush administration called the world's largest drug-trafficking organization.
THE MASSIVE HUMAN TOLL
More than 220,000 lives have been lost, most of them civilians. In the past two decades, most of the killings were inflicted by the militias, which made peace with the government in 2003.
The FARC abducted ranchers, politicians and soldiers and often held them for years in jungle prison camps. Its captives included former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three US military contractors, all of whom were rescued in 2008.
AFTER DECADES OF FALSE STARTS, A PLAN FOR PEACE
Mid-1980s peace talks collapsed after death squads killed at least 3,000 allies of the FARC's political wing. Another effort fell apart in 2002 after the rebels hijacked an airliner to kidnap a senator. The latest talks had gone on since 2012 in Havana and culminated Wednesday evening with a deal after the last issues were resolved.
Agreement previously had been reached on land reform, combating drug trafficking, the guerrillas' political participation and punishing war crimes on both sides. In late June, negotiators announced a cease-fire agreement and a blueprint for how an estimated 7,000 FARC fighters will demobilize and lay down their weapons once the peace accord is implemented.
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