In Colom­bia, FARC makes peace of­fi­cial

‘Now we are just one peo­ple, just one na­tion,’ president says at cer­e­mony mark­ing rebels’ dis­ar­ma­ment.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Chris Kraul Kraul is a special cor­re­spon­dent.

BOGOTA, Colom­bia — In a cer­e­mony that once seemed unimag­in­able, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia, or FARC, fin­ished dis­arm­ing on Tues­day as part of last year’s his­toric peace deal. With that, it of­fi­cially mor­phed from an in­sur­gent group that wrought vi­o­lent havoc for more than half a century to a po­lit­i­cal en­tity aim­ing to at­tain power through the bal­lot.

President Juan Manuel San­tos and FARC com­man­der Ro­drigo Lon­dono, alias Ti­mochenko, led the na­tion­ally tele­vised cer­e­mony in Me­se­tas, a ru­ral town about 90 miles south of Bogota, the cap­i­tal. About 2,000 ex-rebels, lo­cal of­fi­cials and mem­bers of civil so­ci­ety groups and the me­dia at­tended the cer­e­mony.

San­tos, who re­ceived the No­bel Peace Prize last year for push­ing the peace deal amid widespread op­po­si­tion among Colom­bians, told the gath­er­ing that the FARC has “ex­changed arms for words.” Rebels were shown hand­ing over weapons that United Na­tions of­fi­cials then placed in white freight con­tain­ers for stor­age and later de­struc­tion.

“Peace is ir­re­versible,” San­tos said. “Now we are just one peo­ple, just one na­tion. Long live peace.”

In ad­di­tion to turn­ing over the last of 7,132 weapons to the United Na­tions, the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist FARC, which had been at war with the gov­ern­ment since 1964, also gave the U.N. co­or­di­nates for 900 weapons caches spread around the coun­try.

The cer­e­mony was filled with images re­flect­ing the FARC’s tran­si­tion. San­tos and Lon­dono shook hands next to what ap­peared to be a golden as­sault ri­fle, but with a bar­rel that be­came the head of a shovel. A singer per­formed a song play­ing an in­stru­ment that ap­peared to be half gun, half gui­tar.

Al­though vi­o­lence has de­creased, Colom­bia is not yet tran­quil. An es­ti­mated 250 FARC fight­ers have re­fused to dis­arm and re­main at war with the gov­ern­ment, said Bruce M. Ba­gley, a professor of in­ter­na­tional stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Mi­ami. An­other in­sur­gent group, the 1,000-mem­ber Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army, or ELN, has re­sisted the gov­ern­ment’s calls to ne­go­ti­ate and con­tin­ues to kid­nap and ex­tort and to bomb oil pipe­lines.

Crim­i­nal drug traf­fick­ing groups, notably the so­called Urabenos gang, have rushed to fill the power vac­uum in many ru­ral ar­eas once con­trolled by the FARC, Ba­gley said.

At Tues­day’s cer­e­mony, rebels dressed in T-shirts in­stead of com­bat fa­tigues re­ceived plas­tic ID cards qual­i­fy­ing them for post­con­flict aid pro­grams. Me­se­tas is one of 26 “tran­si­tion vil­lages” scat­tered across ru­ral Colom­bia where about 7,000 rebels were re­lo­cated from jun­gle and moun­tain hide-outs for the de­mo­bi­liza­tion process.

After Aug. 1, the 26 lo­ca­tions will be­come “train­ing and rein­cor­po­ra­tion spaces,” where rebels will re­ceive ed­u­ca­tion and coun­sel­ing de­signed to ease their reen­try into Colom­bian so­ci­ety.

“To­day doesn’t end the ex­is­tence of the FARC. It merely re­places the armed strug­gle with ex­clu­sively le­gal means,” rebel leader Lon­dono told the gath­er­ing, adding that the FARC’s goal in peace­time will re­main the same as it was dur­ing half a century of war­fare, to at­tain power.

With their party guar­an­teed at least 10 seats in Congress for two terms start­ing 2018, FARC leaders will hold a con­ven­tion in Au­gust to de­velop a po­lit­i­cal strategy, which could in­clude form­ing al­liances with ex­ist­ing par­ties or strik­ing out on their own, leaders told re­porters this week. Adam Isac­son, a Colom­bia ex­pert with the Wash­ing­ton Of­fice on Latin Amer­ica think tank, said they may use a nascent left-wing party called Mar­cha Pa­tri­ot­ica as their electoral ve­hi­cle.

Colom­bia re­mains sharply di­vided over im­ple­men­ta­tion of the peace ac­cord, which the FARC signed last year. Op­pos­ing the ac­cord as too gen­er­ous to the rebels, a nar­row ma­jor­ity of vot­ers re­jected it in an Oc­to­ber plebiscite. San­tos then sidestepped the vot­ers and re­ceived con­gres­sional ap­proval in Novem­ber.

Skep­tics worry that for­mer rebels won’t for­swear crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing ex­tor­tion and drug traf­fick­ing, while some back­ers of the peace deal doubt the gov­ern­ment can keep its prom­ise to fun­nel bil­lions in agri­cul­tural aid and pro­vide ad­e­quate pro­tec­tion to demil­i­ta­rized rebels.

“It’s go­ing to be fas­ci­nat­ing to watch how the FARC trans­forms it­self into a po­lit­i­cal force be­cause it’s so ru­ral and so un­pop­u­lar,” Isac­son said.

Colom­bians’ dis­trust of the FARC runs deep, and with San­tos’ voter ap­proval rat­ings at only 30%, he has been un­able to gen­er­ate broad pop­u­lar sup­port for the peace deal. For­mer President Al­varo Uribe, now a pow­er­ful se­na­tor and lead­ing critic, has said he would urge a re­peal of some of the ac­cord’s pro­vi­sions if his party’s can­di­date wins the pres­i­dency in 2018.

For his part, Lon­dono said his rebels are con­cerned about the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to pro­tect the FARC’s rank and file from at­tacks by right-wing para­mil­i­tary groups, a ref­er­ence to how hundreds of mem­bers of the left­ist Pa­tri­otic Union party were as­sas­si­nated in the late 1980s be­cause of its links to the FARC. He noted that sev­eral left­ist so­cial ac­tivists have been slain in re­cent months.

Lisa Hau­gaard, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Wash­ing­ton-based Latin Amer­ica Work­ing Group, a hu­man rights ad­vo­cacy group, said the FARC dis­arm­ing should be seen as a step to­ward a “more in­clu­sive and peace­ful Colom­bia.”

“But ev­ery­one must play their part to have real peace, or this chance will be lost for an­other gen­er­a­tion,” Hau­gaard said.

Mauri­cio Due­nas Cas­taneda Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

COLOM­BIAN President Juan Manuel San­tos greets a baby held by FARC com­man­der Ro­drigo Lon­dono at a cer­e­mony cel­e­brat­ing the end of the na­tion’s half a century of conf lict. “Peace is ir­re­versible,” San­tos said.

Fer­nando Ver­gara As­so­ci­ated Press

THE CER­E­MONY was filled with images re­flect­ing the rebels’ tran­si­tion, in­clud­ing a singer play­ing an in­stru­ment that ap­peared to be half gun, half gui­tar.


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