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Colombia: No War and Peace

Colombia is just another mundane story of rebellion against social injustice that began 52 years ago. Long before, it was a country plagued with inequality.

The government sold its large swathe of land to private owners in the late 19th century or in the early 20th century to pay off the country’s debt.

Eventually in 1964, the farmers and poor workers of the land joined to form the rebel group FARC seeking social justice and land reforms. FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, abbreviated as per its Spanish expansion, was founded as the ideology of communism was widespread in the then world.

The conflict has killed nearly 220,000 lives since 1958 as per the report created by a commission of the Colombian government.  Even before the genesis of FARC, Colombia was not at peace.

When Jorge Eliécer Gaitan, the Liberal Party’s presidential candidate was assassinated in 1948, a civil war broke out in the country that lasted for the next 10 years killing between 200,000 and 300,000 people.

The conflict is remembered in history as La Violencia, or The Violence.  The guerrillas of FARC took arms in their hands to fight their way out. There were nearly 20,000 FARC rebels in 2002 as per a report.

Even after the defeat of communism, they sustained themselves through drug trafficking -Colombia being one of the largest producers of cocaine, extortion and kidnapping.

They were one of the richest rebel groups in the world, a few analysts say. They were also accused of recruiting women and children fighters by force.  With the support of US government, Colombia retaliated against the FARC, killing their top leaders during the last decade that left the rebel group reeling without a stable leadership.

Alfonso Cano, who took over leadership from the deceased Manuel Marulanda, was killed during a bombing raid in 2011. The fighters were also steadily declining in number with around 7000 rebels in 2011.

With no foreseeable promising future through armed conflict, the fighters decided to hang their guns and participate in the country’s politicians to attain equality through legitimate means by forming a left-wing political party. 

The commitment to reach a peace deal was very much evident. There are already a lot of changes in the FARC rebel group. Women once who were not allowed to become pregnant when FARC was at its peak in its fight against the Colombian government are expecting babies.

Guns are hung and remain untouched for years, the camouflaged green military uniforms replaced with colored t-shirts, and the once-fighters playing soccer in their camps with a hope of peace through an agreement with the Colombian government. Indeed, a peace agreement was signed in September 2016 between the rebel commander Rodrigo Londono and the country’s president Juan Manuel Santos-who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year for his efforts to end once and all the five-decade long conflict. 

But, peace had some other plans for the militants’ hope that had massacred thousands of innocent civilian lives. In a referendum on October 2nd, the Colombians voted not to end the war through the peace agreement but to continue the conflict by keeping the rebel fighters away from the nation and its Constitutional rights. 

The anti-peace campaign was run by the ex-president Álvaro Uribe that stoked fear among the Colombians that the guerillas becoming a part of the government is a threat to their well being.

The right-wing propaganda machine asserted that the peace effort is to end private ownership in the country and is to bring ‘atheist communism’ endangering Catholic family model as quoted by Juan Gabriel Vasquez in The Guardian. 

The peace agreement signed after four years of negotiation in Havana needs to be renegotiated and agreed by the leaders that opposed it. The new agreement can have hardline measures against the FARC members such as denying them the right to participate in politics etc.

The FARC militants despite the referendum decision, want peace and not conflict anymore.  Peace even when voluntarily desired by the once-peace-haters is not attainable.

We live in a world where peace can never be the opposite of war. Such is politics and its dirty games in which if war is the least desired, then peace is the most undesired.

Image Source: WSJ

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