Background to the armed conflict

The peace process has entered its final leg. But discussion continues on a bilateral and definitive cease-fire and full FARC disarmament, as well as the implementation, verification and countersignature of the peace agreements.

The end of the conflict is about much more than signing the final agreement, it is about what comes after and how diversity will be respected.

Since 2012, the Colombian government and the FARC have negotiated in Cuba over how to put an end to the decades-long armed conflict that has left nearly 5 million people displaced, more than 218,000 dead, at least 79,000 disappeared and 30,000 kidnapped, since 1958.

In the three years of negotiations, many important agreements have been met. These include agreements on political participation, illicit drugs and land development.

FARC spokesperson Pablo Catatumbo has said that a final peace agreement will not be possible unless right-wing paramilitary groups are dismantled. He stressed that "the presence of paramilitary groups in politics and economy hinder progress towards peace."

Catatumbo has also demanded the Colombian government guarantee the security of the FARC when they become a legal political movement.

There are many theories to explain how Colombia’s armed conflict first broke out.

According to the report “That’s Enough!” by the Historical Memory Group, the conflict began when the National Front came into force in 1958. The National Front was a power sharing system between the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. Under this system, control of the government was exchanged every four presidential terms. This concentrated power in the hands of an elite few and excluded minority voices from the political domain.

But members of the peace commission argue the roots of the conflict go back much further.

Many historians argue the causes of the conflict emerged in the 1920s when capitalism first began “to impact the rural world.” Other historians also point out that the war intensified in the 1980s with the expansion of paramilitarism, bringing the conflict to its current stage.

But inequality, social injustice and the great unsolved agricultural problems are considered the biggest aggravators of the conflict.

Studies also blame foreign interference for intensifying the conflict. Analysts argue the United States trained Colombia’s military, which limited the autonomy of the country’s authorities.

On the question of responsibility, reports emphasize that it "doesn’t exempt anyone and also shouldn’t attribute individual responsibilities."

How unfair land distribution contributed to the conflict

Unfair land distribution has been a major factor in Colombia’s internal conflict.

According to the preliminary results of the National Agricultural Census of Colombia in 2014, only 6.3 percent of the rural land (7.1 million hectares) is used for agricultural purposes, while the majority — 93.7 percent — is used for other activities, such as ranching.

But data released by the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo shows that only 5 million hectares are used for agriculture — not the 7 million as reported by the National Administrative Department of Statistics.

In early February, El Tiempo found that 46 percent of the land is concentrated in the hands of 0.4 percent of the population, with each owner controlling around 500 hectares. The other 70 percent own just 5 percent of land, with farms no larger than five hectares.

These results confirm the existence of an unfair distribution of land in Colombia.

Guerilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known as the FARC, the Popular Liberation Army, or EPL, and the National Liberation Army or ELN, emerged in the 1960s as a result of this unequal land distribution and social injustice.

Paramilitary groups also appeared as part of a government strategy to "fight" the insurgents. These groups worked together with the army and security forces, under the National Security Doctrine guided by the U.S.

But paramilitarism dates back further. It has its origin in the bands of "pájaros," which ravaged the Colombian countryside in the 1950s as part of a conservative strategy to eliminate Liberal Party supporters.

Later, in the 1960s, the government issued decrees that allowed groups of civilians to take arms to face the "communist threat," following recommendations and counterinsurgency models applied by the U.S. in Vietnam and Guatemala.

The paramilitaries, grouped together in the Colombian United Self Defenses, or AUC, executed widespread massacres and forcibly displaced millions, mostly peasants, under this pretext.

The Center for Historical Memory of Colombia estimates that from 1958 to 2012, 218,094 people in the country have died due to the war. Of this figure, just over 11,000 died in massacres; more than half executed by far-right paramilitaries.

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