Deal with armed forces bears vital relief

After years of negotiation, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as FARC, agreed to a peace deal that would end the region’s last major conflict. The 52-year war was the longest running in the Americas, leaving 220,000 people dead and five million displaced.

The two sides were locked in negotiations for four years, clearing hurdles and eliminating impasses. A huge breakthrough was made in June, as the FARC rebels agreed to a ceasefire.

The biggest success in their negotiations, however, was announced last Wednesday when the two sides struck a deal in Havana, outlining a timetable for rebels to lay down their arms. The deal also opened up a pathway so that former fighters could re-enter civilian life and, in some cases, run for office.

This is not the first time agreements have been made by both sides. A ceasefire was also declared in the 1980s, and FARC entered the political landscape through the Patriotic Union political party. Many of the parties’ leaders, however, were killed by right-wing para-military forces.

Approximately 7,000 FARC soldiers and commanders, many of whom were kidnapped as children, are expected to disarm. Under a related agreement made last year, these soldiers will also enter a transitional justice system. Those who confess to crimes during the war will receive reduced sentences, which is thought to be a more reasonable punishment.

In most cases the punishment will be community service. Child soldiers, some as young as 15 years old, were also released based on an agreement made in May. The United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF, will help these children reintegrate into civilian life.

Nonetheless, the deal has one final hurdle to clear before it can be ratified. The president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, who has staked his legacy on the deal, must now sell it to the people of Colombia. Citizens will vote in an up-or-down referendum.

A majority of Colombians welcome this agreement as a promise to the end of a war that has affected so many. The war was one of the most emotionally charged issues in Colombia, characterized primarily by various kidnappings, massacres, indiscriminate killings and bombings.

However, the treaty is facing strong political opposition. The first and foremost of the deal’s critics is Santos’ predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, whose term ended in 2010. He is widely credited for the military gains that forced the FARC rebels to the negotiating table.

Uribe is now leading an ever-growing force that is against the deal. Opposition forces claim this deal is nothing but amnesty for former FARC fighters and they feel that the deal breaks the rule of law in Colombia.

Even if the agreement is ratified, it does not mean success. The FARC guerillas promised Marxist revolution for Colombia, but they have not delivered.

How will these former fighters integrate back into civilian life when an overwhelming majority of them have only known war? It is definitely not easy to revert back to a life that has never been known. Most of these fighters only know and are acclimated to situations of war and combat.

Colombians who lost loved ones to this dreadful war are still aching from the pain it has caused. Will they be willing to let the FARC fighters who brought them that pain re-enter society? A simple apology may not be enough. What is most worrying, however, is the uncertainty surrounding whether or not FARC will give up their control on their lucrative drug trade in the nation—profits may be too high to leave behind.

The FARC derived most of its income from the drug trade and is the largest supplier of cocaine within the United States. As far as the U.S. government is concerned, FARC is a terrorist organization. Even some of the peace negotiators from FARC were wanted by the U.S. government for a myriad of charges.

The United States has also provided billions of dollars in aid to train and better equip the Colombian military.

Overall, this deal leaves much to be desired. On one hand, this terrible and disastrous conflict seems to finally be over. The people of Colombia no longer have to fear for their lives, especially not when they go out to work or relax. The Colombian government has also promised to make substantial investments in rural regions which, according to the rebels, have long been neglected.

On the other hand, FARC guerillas used kidnapping and drug trafficking to finance its war on the state. Fear and violence was its business and they have terrorized thousands. While the treaty has made  strides  toward peace, it leaves many questions, doubts and anger, especially among the combatants.