“The most powerful and oldest guerrilla group in Latin America ceases to exist.” These were the words of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who on Friday announced the final disarmament of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The last stage of the leftist militant group’s disarmament process, according to the president, is due to be completed Tuesday.
Speaking to France 24 shortly after his announcement in Paris, Santos trumpeted the role of his government in ushering in a “historic moment for Colombia.”
“We have created a very complex system of transitional justice and the experts say this is one of the best systems,” he said, adding that it can serve as a “model” for other countries.
Santos presented Colombia’s 50-year-long peace process as one where the Colombian state was solely responsible for spearheading the country’s “definitive transition to peace.” He also gave the impression that the peace process was smooth.
The reality of the situation, however, is much more nuanced than Santos and much of the international media portrayed it.
Though widely vilified by Colombia’s media and elite, the FARC made important concessions and had to consistently push the Colombian government to keep its word on complying with the peace accords. The rebels have also been patient in the face of attempts to derail the process by staunch opponents such as former right-wing president Alvaro Uribe, and have remained committed to peace despite the alarming rise in assassinations against its members and social leaders in the country.
The central role of the guarantor countries, especially Cuba, in facilitating negotiations can also not be understated.
The FARC reached out to Santos, who took office a year prior, to consider exploratory meetings for peace talks after repeatedly being denied by former right-wing President Alvaro Uribe. FARC representatives Rodrigo Granda and Andres Paris reportedly met with government representatives Alejandro Eder and Jaime Avendaño near Colombia’s shared border with Venezuela.
Both parties agreed to continue exploratory meetings in Havana, Cuba administered by President Raul Castro and the Communist Party of Cuba. FARC and government representatives began discussing logistics and protocol for negotiations.
Santos appointed Cabinet members Frank Pearl and Sergio Jaramillo Caro along with his brother Enrique, a notorious media mogul, to participate in the process. The FARC appointed high-ranking militants Mauricio Jaramillo and Marcos Calarca to the negotiating team.
Colombian state forces assassinate FARC commander Alfonso Cano months after Santos’ administration promised to de-escalate tensions and negotiate for peace. Despite Cano’s murder at the hands of the state, FARC leaders carry on with negotiations, choosing Venezuela as a second guarantor country for mediation. The Colombian government chose Chile.
The FARC announced that it would prohibit members from extortive kidnappings, a military strategy which it officially began employing in 2000. The move was seen as an initial concession to the demands of the Colombian state.
Uribe publicly confirmed that the FARC and Santos’ administration were brokering negotiations for a peace deal. Weeks later, the FARC and the Colombian government signed the “General Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace.” The agreement allowed for each delegation to include up to 30 people, with no more than 10 participating in sessions and five serving as plenipotentiaries.
Uribe, a hardline conservative, came out strongly against attempts by the Colombian government to reconcile with the Marxist-Leninist militant group.
Santos announced during a speech that his administration and the FARC signed a bilateral agreement establishing the agenda and protocol for negotiations.
Peace talks kicked off in Oslo, Norway before permanently moving to Havana the following month. FARC members elected Ivan Marquez as their chief negotiator.
Upon arriving in Havana, the FARC announced a unilateral temporary cease-fire until January 20, 2013 as a way to earn the confidence of the Colombian government and civilians. Former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales and late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez come out in strong support of the FARC and their initiation of peace negotiations.
Colombian state forces reportedly bombed a FARC guerilla camp, leaving 20 militants dead. FARC leaders ended their unilateral temporary cease-fire on January 20 in response to the attack. Militants also kidnapped two Valle de Cauca police officers, killed four soldiers in the Nariño Department and murdered three police officers in La Guajira Department. Representatives of both parties debated the armed tit for tat in Havana, eventually agreeing to continue negotiations under the advice of Castro.
Uribe used the opportunity to begin publicly lobbying against the peace process under the “No” campaign.
Six members of Colombia’s Congress traveled to Havana to mend relations with the FARC and advance negotiations.
Both parties came to a partial agreement on comprehensive rural reforms, one of the FARC’s longstanding demands. The agreement created rules for access to land, property titles, technological development and agricultural distribution, among others.
The Colombian government presented a bill proposing constitutional referendums for the finalization of the peace process with the intention of having voters participate the following year during congressional elections. The FARC rejected the government’s proposal as not going far enough, opting instead for a national constituent assembly in order to change the country’s constitution and entire political system.
Both parties came to a second partial agreement on political participation.
Colombia Peace Process
The partial agreement included the following resolutions: the creation of a statute for opposition political parties, security guarantees for political activities, the creation of 16 special temporary peace constituencies for the election of representatives to the Chamber of Representatives for two terms, the creation of new political parties, the promotion of electoral participation, safety guarantees for social and political organizations and electoral reform.
The FARC announced another unilateral temporary ceasefire that would last from December 15, 2013 to January 14, 2014.
Weekly magazine Semana reported that a Colombian military intelligence unit illegally monitored the private communications of government negotiators in Havana. The resulting scandal forced Santos to call for a public investigation of the monitoring, later dismissing the implicated military intelligence heads, who were affiliated with Uribe.
Both parties came to a third partial agreement on illicit drugs.
The partial agreement included the following resolutions: the substitution of illicit crops, participatory planning processes to find solutions to illicit crops and poverty, immediate assistance plans for illicit crops growers, a new public health and human rights policy approach to the problem of drug use and a comprehensive strategy to dismantle and prosecute drug trafficking organizations.
Despite opposition from Uribe’s newly-formed Democratic Centre party and other right-wing, anti-peace process forces, Santos was re-elected as president in a second-round election. The FARC implemented two unilateral temporary ceasefires during the first and second rounds of the presidential election.
Santos threatened to end negotiations after the FARC allegedly bombed roads and infrastructure in Buenaventura in response to government killings of top commanders. Amid escalating tensions, Havana officials urged militants and government representatives to the negotiating table and continue talks.
FARC members kidnap General Ruben Dario Alzate, commander of Colombia’s Joint Task Force Titan, also in response to state killings. Santos called for government negotiators to boycott talks in Havana until Dario Alzate and other hostages were set free. FARC leaders used the kidnapping as leverage for negotiations, eventually releasing the commander and other hostages.
The militants announced an indefinite unilateral cease-fire that would begin on December 20, including a stipulation that it would end if more guerillas were killed by state forces.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Bernard Aronson as the special envoy to the Colombian peace process.
Both parties made public the creation of a mine clearance pilot project intended to clean and decontaminate land from anti-personnel mines and explosive devices.
Later that month, Santos called on military commanders to stop the bombing of FARC camps for a month. The decision was made in response to the FARC upholding its unilateral cease-fire.
Defying Santos, Colombian military forces attempted to invade a FARC guerilla camp, forcing the militants to respond — 11 soldiers were killed in retaliatory strikes. The soldiers’ death reignited tensions between both parties as Santos immediately ordering bombings on FARC camps to resume.
A Colombian military operation in Cauca and Choco killed 26 guerrillas and FARC commander Roman Ruiz. The militant group called off its unilateral cease-fire declared in December 2014. But after the shuffling of negotiation teams on both sides and minor concessions, both sides again returned to the negotiating table.
Santos and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez, known as "Timochenko," met in Havana to sign an agreement on transitional justice, outlining forthcoming judicial procedures for human rights abuses committed by both sides. The agreement also declared the peace process to be “irreversible.”
The final agreement on victims of the decades-long conflict was reached, offering mutually agreed upon punishments for perpetrators of violence and remunerations for those affected.
A trilateral mechanism for the verification and monitoring of a final cease-fire, cessation of hostilities and surrender of weapons was announced. The mechanism involved the Colombian government, the FARC and a political mission of the U.N. composed by observers from member nations of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.
Both parties reached an agreement to provide legal security to the final agreement. Upon confirmation, final agreement would be considered as binding under the country’s constitution. The FARC mentioned that the final agreement would be submitted for popular ratification, essentially ending their insistence on a national constituent assembly as an implementation mechanism. This was seen as another major concession to the Colombian state.
The release of minors under 15 years of age from FARC camps was also announced.
Both parties announced an agreement that included a bilateral cease-fire, cessation of hostilities and surrender of FARC weapons during a ceremony in Havana. The agreement established the protocol for FARC militants to begin moving to 23 transitory rural settlement normalization zones and eight encampments where they would deliver their weapons to the U.N. mission and prepare for “reincorporation” into civilian life.
The militants would gradually give up their weapons in three phases over a period of 180 days.
The FARC and the Colombian government also announced an agreement on security guarantees, intended to ensure the safety of social and political activists. Months after implementing the agreement, however, Santos’ administration was heavily criticized for overlooking rising human rights abuses committed against anti-government, Black, Indigenous and environmental activists.
The final agreement was announced in Havana.
September 2016 - February 2017
About 8,000 FARC soldiers start moving into the 26 designated concentration zones, where they will disarm and begin their transition to civilian life.
October 2, 2016
The peace deal is rejected in a popular plebiscite. The "No" won by a narrow margin, with 50.21 percent to 49.78 percent for the "Yes" vote. The difference was a half of a percentage point against the peace accord. Voter turnout was very low, under 40 percent, with only 13 million of the 35 million eligible voters making it to the polls.
The FARC and the government sign a modified version of the peace deal in Havana, Cuba. A formal ceremony took place in Bogota on Nov. 24. Colombia’s Congress ratified the deal on Dec. 1.
March 1, 2017
The FARC started the process of disarmament despite voicing concerns over the protection of about 7,000 of its members while stationed in the camps. Under the supervision of a trilateral commission including observers from the U.N. mission in Colombia, the rebels lay down their arms in disarmament camps where the rebels will transition back into civilian life.
May 18, 2017
The country's Constitutional Court struck down the "fast track" process for approving the deal in Congress, declaring parts of the measure unconstitutional. The fast track procedure was meant to allow Congress to carry out a special legislative procedure that would accelerate the implementation of key bills needed to implement the deal, most notably an amnesty bill that gave guarantees of safety to FARC members after they demobilize.
June 27, 2017
The FARC rebels deliver 100 percent of their weaponry, officially ceasing to exist as a rebel group and transitioning to civil and political life, thus putting an end to 53 years of conflict with the government.