Building the Peace in Colombia: Five years after the end of the FARC conflict

On December 9, 2021 the Inter-American Dialogue, in partnership with the International Crisis Group (ICG), hosted the event “Building the Peace in Colombia: Five years after the end of the FARC conflict.” The event featured a panel of experts including Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst at ICG, Ricardo Semillas, leader of the Charras ETCR and former FARC member, and Bernard Aronson, former US special envoy to the Colombian Peace Process and former US assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, to discuss the state of the former FARC after a half-decade of peace, and what it spells for Colombia’s persistent rural violence in the future. The panel was moderated by Renata Segura, deputy director for the Latin America and the Caribbean Program at ICG. Michael Shifter, president of the Dialogue, and Ivan Briscoe, director of the Latin America and Caribbean program at ICG, gave welcome remarks.

Briscoe opened the discussion by outlining the current obstacles to peace that Colombia faces, including a return to large scale growing of coca for cocaine, the killing of social leaders, the expansion of existing armed groups and creation of new ones, and the large nation-wide protests resulting from the economic damage of the pandemic. Despite these challenges, Briscoe believes there is reason to celebrate the peace accords as it led to the anti-militarization of nearly 14,000 former insurgents, the creation of a series of national polls, and gave rise to the protests of 2019 and 2021 by making it feasible for people to express discontent with society without being labeled as participating in a broader movement. However, these accomplishments are underlined by uncertainty regarding the reintegration of the FARC members into civilian life, power vacuums left in the countryside due to inadequate government investment, and the growth of new factions and armed groups in the region.  

Dickinson analyzed the FARC peace process and the message it sends to other armed groups in the region. Essential in the success of the Colombian case was the disarmament of FARC forces. Ex-combatants played an important role in this process by returning their best weapons to the government despite the risks to their own safety that this symbolic and political decision posed. Former FARC members now face several challenges in their economic, societal and political integration into civil life. The FARC found that its influence in the countryside changed significantly as it transitioned into a political force due to increased economic insecurity in the countryside and a lackluster implementation on the part of the government of certain aspects of the accord. Dickinson concluded her remarks by commenting on new armed groups that have recently arisen in the region, noting that these groups have been able to expand because they prey on the inequalities and lack of opportunities that the peace accords were supposed to address.

In Semilla’s remarks, he noted that the accords focus more on Colombia as a whole and less on the future of the ex-combatants and how they will be reincorporated economically, socially, and politically back into society. According to Semilla, the accords had three important moments for that led to peace. The first moment was the actual signing of the accords in 2016 when the FARC decided to disarm and fight their ideas from a political perspective. The second was the commitment to never use arms to exercise policy and the decision to move forward towards a discussion within the sphere of democracy and advocacy. The third moment was when ex-combatants discussed the main challenges of disarming, including a lack of trust in the government, displacement of their members, and security concerns.

Aronson defined and and evaluated two fundamental goals of the peace agreement. First, the agreement intended to disarm the FARC, reintegrate ex-combatants into society, and end the 52-year catastrophe that cost the lives of 260,000 Colombians. In this Aronson believes the accords were successful. The second goal of the agreement was to bring the two Colombia’s together. In his evaluation of this second goal, Aronson stated that a key strategic mistake was made by the Colombian government when they failed to move in quickly to the countryside after the FARC withdrew to provide services, security, and economic investment and development. The state’s efforts were inadequate and left a vacuum for dissident groups to move in and gain power. However he believes that the FARC peace agreement, which prioritizes the needs of victims and addresses root causes of the conflict, has a legacy that will influence peace talks around the world, becoming a baseline for future agreements. He concludes by emphasizing the key aspect in the success of the agreement in Colombia will be the political will from political and economic leaders in the country.

In the Q&A, panelists were asked what the priorities should be for the next government in terms of implementation and will results from the 2022 presidential election send the peace efforts backwards. Aronson warned that the peace process must be taken out of politics, and that agreements are made with the state, not with specific leaders or governments. Dickinson opined that although the peace accords have been institutionalized, there has been little discussion on the implementation of measures to establish security and stabilization of certain areas of the countryside. Shifter commented that the rural-urban divide in Colombia is one of the longstanding fundamental challenges that the country has faced, and at this point there is not a clear path forward although bringing the conflict with the FARC to an end is an important accomplishment in this challenge.

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