It seemed impossible. After four years of grinding negotiations, the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) agreed to put an end to the longest-running insurgency in Latin America. It was a vicious 52 years of guerilla insurgency with almost a quarter of a million killed and another 7 million displaced. Under the terms of the peace accord, FARC will demobilize its 7,000 fighters and move to UN camps where they will be given 180 days to disarm. This low-intensity guerrilla war is remarkable because of extensive participation by minors or child guerillas in the insurgency. According to human rights groups around 20 percent to 30 percent of FARC recruits are minors, most of whom are forced to join the guerillas. In prosecuting its war, FARC has been accused of massive human rights violations including hostage taking, assassinations, bombings, involvement in the drug trade which is the main source of their funding and other criminal activities. The cocaine trade is largely responsible for making the FARC an economic powerhouse. Some say that the FARC is little more than a terrorist organization devoid of any ideological pretensions. Its present state is a far cry when it first emerged in the 60s as a communist-inspired army emerged in the mid-1960 defending the rights of peasants in rural Colombia.
The administrations of President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) and President Juan Manuel Santos (2010-to date) carried out numerous military offensives which considerably reduced the number of FARC to its current level of 7,000 combatants. These offensives also effectively diminished the territory under the control of the guerillas and pushed them back to remote and sparsely populated mountain redoubts.
In 2012, the Santos government announced that it was engaging in exploratory talks with the FARC. It was reported by the media that the initiative began after Santos met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and asked him to mediate. But former President Uribe was and remains against the holding of peace talks with the FARC “at any cost.” He called for a signature-collecting campaign of “civil resistance” to the peace initiatives of President Juan Manuel Santos. But with the peace deal signed, President Santos wants that it be subject to a referendum for approval by the people. He is confident that the Colombians will overwhelmingly endorse the peace agreement in the coming plebiscite which will be held in the coming months.
The plebiscite is seen as a final confrontation between two towering figures in Colombia—President Santos and former President Uribe. While President Santos has the backing of the United Nations and the United States, he seems to be struggling with a low popularity ratings among the people who matter—the Colombians. On the other hand, former President Urbize, who during his presidency significantly weakened FARC’s fighting force, remains an influential figure in Colombian politics. To end the longest insurgency in the Western hemisphere is no small feat. The peace deal is certainly a historic moment for Colombia. Disarmament, opposition by Urbize and his supporters, the grant of amnesty to its leaders perceived to have committed human rights violations will prove to be daunting obstacles. But it cannot be denied that with the signing of the peace deal, peace in Colombia is a distinct reality.
In this part of the world, the Philippines has the distinction of having the longest-running Communist rebellion in the world. Jose Maria Sison founded the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1968 while its armed wing the New People’s Army was formed by Bernabe Buscayno in 1968. Since then the State has been in constant war with this revolutionary group. Over the years, the Philippine government has made use of three-pronged approach to end the war, the military option, low intensity warfare and peace negotiations. Of the three, peace negotiation remains the most viable tool of ending the conflict. In the past, peace negotiations broke down because both the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (which includes the CPP and NPA) suffered from a trust deficit. The government had been accused of violating its ceasefire agreements while the Communists were in turn accused of using the peace process to achieve their tactical objectives. Peace process and agreements initiated by various governments since the time of Corazon Aquino have been largely intermittent and inconclusive. The most significant progress that the peace negotiations reached was in 1998 in The Hague when the parties produced the Comprehensive Agreement to Respect Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
With the ascent of President Duterte, peace process has gained a new impetus. Peace negotiations recently resumed in Oslo, Norway. Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who is concurrent GPH chairman, led the five-member government panel that met with NDF leaders—some of whom flew directly from the Philippines immediately after being released on bail. Despite early setbacks because of a heated exchange between the feisty president and the CPP founding chairman, never before has the environment been so conducive to arriving at a peace accord. The President himself has a long history of dealing with Communists as a mayor of Davao for more than 20 years where he succssfully made that city a peace haven where both military and revolutionary forces did not attack each other.
The goodwill and optimism between the two parties are palpable. As of the deadline of this column, the government and the NDF has reached agreement on the issues in their agenda, including the acceleration of the peace process. I will write about these in my next column.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in his classic novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, condemned the town of the book’s protagonist to dissapear forever from history because it will not be given a second opportunity in earth. Sometimes, I feel like the Philippines is like that and we too are condemned to a hundred years of solitude without another opportunity to be given us as we repeat our violent history.
Fortunately, Colombia, the Philippines may be in the cusp of a historic moment, that is, the end of a long-standing conflict with a formidable revolutionary movement. And the country will be better for it.
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