“Hope is essential for peace and stability. Men and women everywhere need incomes to support their families and they need the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile and meaningful in their lives.”
Senator George Mitchell
Oversaw the Good Friday Accord
After 52 years of fighting, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government signed a deal to bring peace to the country. Yesterday history was made in the Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala Convention Center in the city of Cartagena. The city that Pedro de Heredia founded in 1533 became the city of peace when Colombian President Juan Manual Santos and FARC Commander Rodrigo Londono, use a bullet pen to end the fighting. Both men were dressed in white shirts
“The horrible night has ceased.”
President Juan Santos
In May 1964, Manuel Marulanda a member of the Colombian Communist Party and Jacobo Arenas formed what would later be known as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). After the period in Colombia referred to as “the Violence,” the Colombian government cracked down on a communist peasant collective in the mountain region of Marquetalia. On May 27, 1964, forty-eight communist guerillas led by Manuel “Sure Shot” Marulanda fought the Colombian Army forces in Marquetalia. Guerrilla fighters gathered in the First Guerrilla Conference after this battle and declared they would defend the people from the government and would now be called the Southern Bloc.
With the Second Guerrilla Conference in May 1966, the group took the name the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Evolving out of the communist leftist movement in Colombia, the FARC took much of its early identity and ideology from the works of Lenin, Marx, Simon Bolivar, and Che Guevara. Jacobo Arenas sought to structure the FARC more as an army and improve the weapons the FARC would use on the battlefield. But the FARC would evolve and undertake kidnappings, assassinations, bombings, extortions, and become a major player in the cocaine trade. The FARC grew with its proceeds from kidnappings, drug, mining, and taxing operations. Over the years, the terror increased in Colombia as the FARC conducted attacks on soldiers, police, politicians, citizens and foreigners. Foreigners including missionaries, petroleum engineers, businessmen, and non-governmental organizations working in rural areas were often targeted for kidnappings.
On January 16, 1994, members of the FARC’s Fifty-Third Front kidnapped two American missionaries from the New Tribes Mission School in Villavicencio, Colombia. The FARC had demanded $2 million dollars for their release. The two Americans, Steve Welsh and Timothy Van Dyke were shot at point-blank range in 1995. Welsh had arrived in Colombia in 1981 and Van Dyke, his wife and four children arrived in 1989. From 1996 to 2005 a person was kidnapped every eight hours on average. Kidnappings were one of the major undertakings of the FARC. On February 20, 2002, members of the FARC hijacked a domestic flight carrying Senator Jorge Eduardo Gechem Turbay. Three days later they kidnapped Senator and Presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. The FARC held three Americans contractors, Marc Gonsalves, Tom Howes and Keith Stansell hostage for 1,967 days when their aircraft crashed in a FARC held area. Starved, marched through the jungles of Colombia, the three were finally rescued in a daring piece of deception and boldness along with a dozen others including Ingrid Betancourt.
Over the years, the government and the FARC have undertaken numerous attempts at peace. On May 2, 1999 President Pastrana and Manuel Marulanda agreed to talk peace. The government agreed to a demilitarized zone for the FARC that consisted of 16,000 square miles. President Alvaro Uribe Velez campaigned to take the fight to the FARC and that is what he did cancelling the demilitarized zone after the FARC hijacked an airplane and kidnapped a Senator from it.
From 1997 through 2001, the IRA sent a number of mobile training teams to Colombia to train the FARC on explosives, mortars, missiles and urban warfare. In exchange for millions of dollars the Provisional IRA sent training teams to Colombia. On August 11, 2001, three IRA individuals, James “Mortar” Monaghan, Niall Connolly, and Martin McCauley were arrested in Bogota, after they returned from training FARC cadre for five weeks. Monaghan was skilled in the design and manufacturing of homemade mortars. The FARC used mortars in the May 2001 attack on the Presidential Palace in Bogota during the inauguration of President Uribe. In 2002, homemade mortars were also used in the FARC’s attack on the town of Bellavista which killed 119 people. The mortar was identical to the IRA’s Mark 15 developed by James Monaghan.
On March 1, 2008, Colombian troops attacked a camp one mile over the Ecuadoran border and killed senior FARC commander Raul Reyes. His death was a significant blow to the FARC leadership. Then on March 25, 2008, Manuel “Sure Shot” Marulanda, the founder and leader of the FARC died of a heart attack. The FARC’s seven-person leadership council “the Secretariat” appointed Alfonso Cano as the new leader in May 2008. Three years later, Cano was killed by the Colombian military. In November 2011, Rodrigo Londono Echeverri became the Commander of the FARC. Better known as Timoleon, he had risen through the ranks of the FARC since joining in 1993. The United States has a $5 million-dollar reward on Rodrigo Londono Echeverri for the distribution of hundreds of tons of cocaine to the United States. For the last fours the FARC and the Colombian government have been negotiating the end of this fifty-four years of conflict that has killed over 220,000 individuals.
“Let no one doubt that we will now pursue politics without weapons.”
Rodrigo Londono Echeverri FARC Commander
Whether Rodrigo Londono becomes the Gerry Adams of Colombia remains to be seen. However, the first steps to a long lasting peace begins one step at a time. The signing of the Peace Agreement is an impressive step in the right direction. The next six months will determine whether this peace agreement has any chance to take hold in a country that has known only war and conflict for the last fifty-two years.
On October 2, 2016, the people will have the opportunity to vote on the peace agreement. As one Colombian citizen stated “we are tired of war.” The FARC will have to turn in their weapons within the next five months and begin their reintegration into society. Then the countryside will have to be cleared of the thousands of mines that have been set out during this conflict. Governance, economic opportunities, a pivot away from illicit drug trade and hope for the Colombian people all must be addressed in the short term. But what the Colombian people now have is hope for the future. And hopefully the rest of the world sees that terrorism and war sooner or later burns out and that the true genius of men is for compromise. Now if only a few other people in conflict can learn this lesson without spending so many years killing.