Colombia Insurgencies - 1949-2016?

Following a prolonged debate on 30 November 2016, 75 Senate members voted for the peace plan, zero votes rejected it, while the harsh critic of the deal, former President Alvaro Uribe, and his supporters abstained. The original peace deal was rejected by the people of Colombia in a referendum on 02 October 2016, as many felt that the rebels would not receive the deserved punishment. FARC was formed in 1964 as the military wing of Colombia's Communist Party. The half-century war between the FARC and the Colombian government claimed the lives of a quarter of a million people. The two sides began peace talks in November 2012.

Colombia's government and its largest rebel group announced a new, modified peace accord 12 November 2016, after voters rejected an earlier deal in a referendum. The government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) - a Marxist guerrilla group - said in a joint statement they had incorporated proposals from various groups in the new deal. “It is a better agreement," said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who last month won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the war. Chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle and rebel negotiator Luciano Marin, known as Ivan Marquez, signed the deal in Havana, Cuba.

The revised accord took stock of over 500 proposed changes to the original text. Around 65 percent of the initial 297-page document was amended, with FARC giving ground on several key points. The special justice system that will be set up to try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the half-century conflict will not include foreign judges, as the original accord specified. The “No” campaign, led by ex-president and current senator, Alvaro Uribe, urged that the special courts exist within Colombia’s existing legal system. In the new accord, FARC and its members must provide an inventory of all their assets, which will be used to pay individual or collective reparations to victims of the protracted war.

All demobilised guerrillas must now also provide “exhaustive and detailed” information about the group’s relationship to the drug trade, a provision that could expose them to retaliatory measures by drug traffickers. The document now specifies that “nothing in the accord should affect the constitutional right to private property.” It specifies that taxes on property will not be affected by the new accord, which was a major concern of the country’s wealthy landholders.

The new accord will not be incorporated into the Colombian constitution as FARC originally requested. The rebel army hoped for this move as a guarantee that current and future governments would comply with the accord. They must now rely on the state's good faith.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on 07 October 2016 for his efforts in securing the end of a five-decade conflict with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels. Santos said he would extend a cease-fire agreement reached with the rebels to October 31 in an effort to facilitate negotiations, but his offer was met with skepticism by Timonchenko. A renegotiation of the peace deal seems to hinge on whether rebels would accept tougher terms. Many "no" voters were offended that nearly all FARC rebels would avoid prison time for crimes allegedly committed during the uprising, and would get various levels of financial support from the government. They are also upset that FARC would be guaranteed seats in the Colombian Congress without an election in exchange for transforming FARC into a political party.

FARC-EP head Timoleon Jimenez expressed the rebels' deep disappointment in Colombia's "No" win, shortly after electoral authorities declared that the “No” vote against the peace deal won by a slim margin. “The FARC-EP commits itself to use only words as weapons for peace,” said Timoleon. “The struggle for peace continues,” adding with optimism that “there was still hope.” Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos also denounced the results, saying from Bogota that he “acknowledged that the majority, with a very short margin, said 'No'” to the peace deal his government negotiated for four years with the rebels, while “the other half said 'Yes.'" “I am the guarantor of the country's stability, my duty is to maintain public order while continuing to seek peace for the country,” he told reporters, adding that the bilateral cease-fire was still in effect. “We all want peace, without exception."

On 02 October 2016 a referendum vote asked for a simple “yes” or “no” on whether Colombians support the accord signed last week by President Juan Manuel Santos, who had staked his legacy on peace, and the rebel commander known as Timochenko. The "no" vote took the lead in ballot counting for Colombia's national referendum.

The plebiscite had been non-binding from the start and now the Colombian congress can still elect to pass the laws necessary to comply with the accords. The amnesty law was built into the plebiscite, and without its passage the agreement is basically null. The FARC-EP had called for a Constituent Assembly instead of a plebiscite, arguing that an assembly would be much more representative of the most marginalized and affected peoples of Colombia.

With 99 percent of the vote in, "No" won by a narrow margin, with 50.23 percent to 49.76 percent for the "Yes" vote. The "No" has 6,326,413 votes to 6,387,438 votes for the "Yes." For example in the heavily affected area of Choco, with 28 percent of the vote in, 78 percent voted "Yes." The Caribbean provinces have also voted "Yes." Also, with 40 percent of the vote counted in the capital of Bogota, the "Yes" vote is winning 56 percent to 44 percent for the "No" vote.

There was a 63 percent voter abstention, however, which amounted to 22 million of the 35 million eligible voters. Hurricane Matthew had turned deadly off Colombia’s Caribbean coast, with houses damaged and some of them submerged in ocean surges. With winds peaking at 160 miles per hour Matthew was at the highest level, five, meaning it’s the most powerful hurricane in the Atlantic ocean since Felix in 2007.

Opinion polls before the referendum had predicted an easy victory for the "yes" side in the referendum called by Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos. Colombians had looked set to back a peace accord with FARC rebels in a referendum on Sunday, the final hurdle to a deal that would end 52 years of war in the South American country. “All the polls that have been conducted since August have consistently put the ‘yes’ side in the lead,” said journalist Dimitri O’Donnell from the capital of Bogota. “Turnout is expected to be high when the polls open at 8am local time here.”

The "No" campaign was led nationally by former president Alvaro Uribe, whose close links with paramilitary groups have been well-documented in recent years, and in the case of Medellin, by former convicted drug-trafficker Jhon Jairo Velasquez alias "Popeye." Velasquez was Escobar's chief assassin, who acknowledges having killed over 300 people, ordered the killing of over 3,000 people, including journalists, judges and activists.

As Escobar's chief assassin, Velasquez participated in the systematic extermination of the Patriotic Union members — many former FARC-EP fighters — who had demobilized after a peace process to run in elections. From 1985 to 2002, two UP presidential candidates were killed, eight senators, 13 lawmakers, 11 mayors, 70 councilmen and at least 5,000 party members at the hands of paramilitary groups, Colombia's security forces and drug-traffickers, including Pablo Escobar's cartel.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he was extending a cease-fire agreement with the rebels until October 31, in the hope negotiators can find a way to salvage the peace agreemen. "Time is very important. We can't prolong this process and this dialogue for a long time because we're in a gray zone, a sort of limbo, that is risky and can wash away the entire process," Santos said. FARC leaders made it clear they want the peace process to continue, and they want to negotiate a settlement to the war.

Colombia made history in Latin America with the groundbreaking peace deal between the government and left-wing FARC rebels. The nearly four-year peace process in Havana, Cuba, between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC] and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos achieved a landmark 297-page final agreement covering six key issues: agrarian reform, political participation, disarmament and reincorporation of former combatants, illicit drugs, victims’ rights, and implementation of the end of the war. Chief negotiators from both sides of the conflict, government delegation head Humberto de la Calle and FARC leader Ivan Marquez, signed and spoke about this historic agreement in Havana.

"Now the battle of ideas can start," the FARC-EP's representative Ivan Marquez said, adding that the final deal marks a new chapter in Colombia's history. "The peace deal is a point of departure—not of closure—toward the social transformations demanded by the masses." Government representative Humberto de la Calle said, "I am certain now that this is the best agreement possible. But the Colombians will judge."

While the more than half century-long war is finally over, difficult times still lay ahead to fully realize the promise of peace in the South American nation. One of the issues that has not been part of the negotiations in Havana, but many, including the FARC, have frequently stressed as a key part of building peace is the question of ending hostilities between the government and the country’s smaller left-wing guerilla force, the National Liberation Army, or ELN. Former ELN commander Carlos Velandia, alias Felipe Torres, applauded the announcement of the deal, heralding it as a “new era” that could give a “peaceful” push to “other conflicts” to follow a similar path.

President Santos insisted that the text of the final agreement was “definitive,” and could not be modified. “From the beginning, one principle ruled the negotiations: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Today, at last we can say that everything has been agreed,” he added.

The final agreement called for meaningful agrarian reform to address inequality in poor, rural areas. It calls for new political forces to address the issues that initially led the FARC-EP to take up arms, and also guarantees the safety of the rebels after they put down those arms to participate in politics. The agreement calls for protection of human rights activists and labor organizers who have been targeted by right-wing paramilitaries; alternatives to illicit drug production; reparations for victims of violence on all sides; and a commission made up of the Colombian state, the FARC-EP, alongside the United Nations to monitor the accord's implementation.

The historic deal is set to be put to a vote on 02 October 2016 to ratify the agreement with Colombian society by asking voters whether or not they accept the peace accords with the FARC.

Colombia experienced five decade long conflict, pitting the government against two leftist insurgencies -- the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) -- and demobilized members from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a defunct right-wing paramilitary organization whose former members have created new criminal organizations, commonly referred to as BACRIMs. The US government has officially designated these three different organizations as “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” (FTOs) due to continued armed attacks against U.S. interests in Colombia.

The FARC, ELN, and BACRIM are all well organized criminal enterprises and regularly carry out kidnappings, assassinations, bombings, and other terrorist activities throughout Colombia. These organizations operate in areas where there is a weak host country security presence.

The domestic conflict resulted 220,000 deaths over 60 years. According to the United Nations High Commission, over two million people have been internally displaced over the past 15 years, forcing them into urban areas in an attempt to escape continued violence.

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