In these times of wars being fought in nearly every continent, it is sometimes good to hear about peace. It makes us remember that even the bad things always come to an end. Now, the Colombian government and the Columbian rebels called FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), are giving us an example of peace. On the 26th of September, they signed a peace agreement to end 52 years of war. For four years now, both sides have discussed the terms of their treaty. But no matter how tough the discussions were, on the 25th of August they finally came to agreement in La Havana in Cuba. Its president Raul Castro played an important role in providing a neutral setting and pushing for peace. After coming to an agreement, the FARC had to submit it to their people. A special conference was held, for the FARC leaders to discuss if they accept the conditions and if they would ratify them. They finally agreed and the treaty could be signed. But what is going to happen now?
Colombia being a democracy and because this concerns the whole country, the treaty will also be submitted to a referendum. On the 2nd of October, the Colombians have to answer if yes or no, they ‘support the final agreement to end the conflict and building a stable and lasting peace’. For the treaty to be accepted by the population, ‘Yes’ must get a minimum of 13% and be over the ‘No’. Obviously the government and most parties are in favour of it, only the democratic centre doesn’t. Those who want to vote no are in no way against peace with the FARC, they just usually do not agree with the conditions.
Those conditions are pretty clear if you go through them step by step. The final accord being signed, the FARC now have 5 days to start concentrating their ‘troops’. If the referendum votes ‘No’ the whole process will be stopped. If they get a ‘Yes’, the rebel forces will be sent into 31 predefined zones. There, under the vigilant eye of the UN, during 6 months they will be disarmed and prepared to a civilian life. So far so good. The only concern is when it comes to amnestying the former guerilleros. For obvious reasons, those don’t want to come out of hiding if they will be arrested the second after. That’s why, until the referendum has been voted positively and the government has voted an amnesty motion, the arrest warrants for the rebels are suspended. The only exceptions are for FARC who have committed serious human rights violations. The problem is that many Colombians, mostly those who lost people to them, think that the soon to be ex-rebels should not be let off the hook that easily. They ask for different conditions that make the amnesty less accessible. To understand why, one has to take a closer look at the FARC.
The FARC have been created in 1964 by Manuel Marulanda Vélez and Jacob Arenas from the communist party. Their main goal was to respond to the killings of communists by the military government that time. They soon drifted away into a real guerrilla with the Colombian government, which cost a lot of people their lives. Roughly 220,000 people died, even though 80% of them were killed by the government or paramilitary groups. Most western countries have labelled the FARC as a terrorist organisation because of their attacks, kidnappings or drug trade through which they financed their activities. Besides, a lot of their members are minors that were forced to join them, or grown-ups that have been recruited in that way. Needless to say that the FARC are far from being a jolly bunch. Their repeated massacres on local Indians cannot but underline that. All this makes it clearer why some Colombians are not thrilled by the idea of leaving those people unpunished. But most of the guerilleros are normal people and victims to their leaders. Some of them have lived in the jungle for the better part of their life. Their life wasn’t always easy. The discipline is tough amongst them. You usually get punished by general interest work or executions. But most difficult and complicated remains the private life. You had to ask your commander for the permission to have sexual relations and if the women got pregnant without having a family member outside who could take care of the baby, they were forced to abort. Even if someone took the baby, it was often separated from its parents for many years, if not the entire life. Now, that changes. Some parents have already had the possibility to see their children again for the first time in years. Both look forward to be reunited for good but some already say that if the peace doesn’t work out, they will take the arms again and leave their kids again to return to the jungle.
Their determination shows that there can’t be no half measures. Sure they did a lot of horrible things. But so did the Colombian government. It is more than understandable why many Colombians are not excited about the conditions of the treaty. But there is no other solution, without that amnesty, the FARC would never sign the treaty and the war would continue. Therefore both sides have to make compromises and look further than their personal grudges. Let’s just hope the Colombians are willing to do so and enter a new era of peace in Colombia. But we will be fixed on that the 2nd of October…