FARC Ceasefire Deadline on the Horizon

Via the BBC:  Farc ceasefire ‘to end’ as peace talks resume in Cuba

Colombia’s Farc rebels have said their ceasefire will be suspended on 20 January, as initially planned.

The announcement came as peace talks between the rebels and the Colombian government resumed in the Cuban capital, Havana.

Both parties have hinted at speeding up the pace ahead of the unilateral Farc ceasefire deadline.

The talks aim to end five decades of an armed conflict that has killed an estimated 600,000 people in Colombia.

Some fear fresh Farc attacks in Colombia may hamper the negotiations.

But the rebels’ chief negotiator, Ivan Marquez, has ruled out an extension of the ceasefire.

“The unilateral ceasefire ends on January 20,” Marquez told AP news agency. “That’s it.”

The Colombian government and the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have been in peace talks since October with the hope of finally ending the armed conflict between the guerrilla group and the state that has been ongoing since the early 1960s.  This is not the first time that there has been an attempt at a political settlement, but the first since the dramatic failure of the Pastrana administration (1998-2002).  The prospects for a peace deal strike me as real, if anything because the FARC has suffered a number of serious setbacks since 2007, including, but not limited to, the escape of some high profile prisoners, the successful rescue of the FARC’s prize captives (Ingrid Betancourt and three US contractors, the death by natural causes of the group’s leader and founder, and the death of numerous high level commanders at the hands of the Colombian armed forces.  In addition, and rather importantly, the FARC’s level of public support was, and remains, quite low.

It is important to understand that while the FARC’s ability to achieve its ideological goals of revolution in Colombia are impossible to achieve.  Revolution is, in a word, hard,* although the FARC has sufficient capacity to make serious trouble indefinitely that the Colombian state has a motivation to negotiate.  Further, if the situation could be managed via negotiation, it would bring closure to a significant and lengthy era in Colombian history.  It is worth further noting that there is a history of peace negotiations in Colombia that have lead to the demobilization of guerrilla organizations (and other violent actors, such as paramilitary groups), so the current talks with the FARC have to ne understood in that context.**

A major long-term obstacle is, of course, the fact that the FARC has been involved in the drug trade as a means of funding their revolution since the early 1980s, with some cells of the organization more heavily invested in the criminal enterprises of the group.  The cellular nature of the organization makes it possible, if not likely, that even if a peace agreement is reached that some of those cells will continue to operate.

As to the ceasefire issue noted above:  this is almost a negotiating tactic, as would be any violence perpetrated should the deadline pass.  The FARC clearly want to remind that government that they are present and remain a significant actor. 

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  A real question to me is how a post-violence FARC would manifest as a political actor if the peace talks are successful.  There is some political space in Colombia for a political party to emerge from such talks, but such space would be small at the national level.***  I could see the a post-FARC party having significant cache in some localities in Colombia, especially in areas of the country where the FARC has operated as a quasi-government for some time.

*Even, I would note, when one is well armed.

**Two major groups, the M-19 (Movement of April the 19th) and the EPL (The People’s Liberation Army) both demobilized  in the early 1990s and became political parties, to name the two most prominent examples.

***In terms of the FARC’s goal, El Tiempo notes that they are seeking agrarian reform as part of the talks: Empezó debate por la reforma agraria que proponen las Farc.

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