The FARC’s Next Gig
On October 2, Colombian citizens went to the polls in a historic plebiscite to approve the peace accord between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC. The peace effectively ends over 52 years of conflict characterized by murders, kidnappings, land mines, forced conscription, terrorism, massacres, disappearances, and other indescribable misery. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos trumpets this peace accord as the end of the five decade war that has claimed over 220,000 lives and displaced 7 million people, the highest number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the world. Despite the razor-thin defeat of the treaty in its current form in the plebiscite, all indications are that some sort of peace is imminent. As citizens weighed in on the merits of the peace, many are asking a simple yet very important question: what’s next for the FARC?
In its most basic form, the peace treaty is based on a four-point framework: 1) transitional justice, an agreement for dealing with war crimes; 2) land reforms, facilitating peasant farmers into land-owning arrangements; 3) the cessation of FARC drug trafficking operations; and 4) the transformation of the FARC into a political movement with guaranteed representation in the national congress. Supporters of the treaty argue that the peace is long overdue and is necessary to mend the wounds of a country desperate for rapprochement, while detractors are skeptical of the deal’s highly idealistic assumptions for FARC reintegration into civilian life and question the lack of transparency of the secret talks that led to the 297-page deal. Former President Alvaro Uribe is an outspoken opponent of the peace, arguing that the government is ceding an inordinate amount of political power to the FARC while granting overly lenient amnesty for a group who are nothing more than glorified terrorists and drug traffickers. His supporters often say that Santos is “giving away” the country to the FARC.
The first three points of the deal stand to have the most immediate impact on the relationship dynamic between Colombian society and the 7,000 FARC insurgents, who will turn in their weapons as part of a UN-monitored program. The fighters’ new lease on life as citizens and land owners will allow them to step out of jungle combat roles and into normal life, buoyed by generous cash stipends from the government, which, in theory, will deter the FARC rank-and-file from employing their unique skill sets for drug trafficking organizations and BACRIMs, or from joining the fight with the ELN, a more ideological left-wing insurgent group. For the many fighters who were conscripted as adolescents and only know armed conflict and regimented military life, however, the assumption that they will seamlessly ease into legitimate employment seems tenuous at best. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of reports indicating that FARC commanders have simply ditched their warcraft specialization to focus on full-time drug trafficking.
Lost on no one in Colombia is the potential for the last point—the FARC’s transition to a political party—to have the most enduring and consequential effect above all others in the peace deal. Under the terms of the peace, the new FARC party will immediately seat nonvoting representatives in Congress that will be able to weigh in on the implementation of the peace accords. In 2018, they will receive a minimum five seats in the 106-member Senate and five more seats in the 166-member lower chamber for two consecutive legislative terms, all without having won any elections. It also establishes two new voting districts in the areas dominated by the FARC, advancing the prospect of perpetual representation by the future left-wing party in Congress. As for the agenda of the new political party, the supreme commander of the FARC, Rodrigo Londoño, has not been ambiguous in his aims. He argues that the FARC has won the right to continue its “struggle” through elections, and for the Marxist-Leninist group, this means the elimination of capitalism and Colombia’s free trade economy.
In reality, the prospects for Colombia turning into a communist fantasy or perhaps a socialist dystopia resembling Venezuela, are slim. Colombia boasts one of Latin America’s most robust economies and stands to benefit financially from the reallocation of money previously earmarked for war. Additionally, the FARC’s lack of popularity stemming from their history of terror, repression, and even taxation seems to point at a marginal following at best. There are many other points to consider, but the FARC’s next gig primarily hinges on successfully reintegrating its ranks into Colombian society and channeling their passion for the revolution into peaceful, democratic political activism. As Colombians wake up to a cautiously optimistic new world free of war, the new gig seems, at least for now, a win-win for everyone.