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Release peace: the magazine

Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

Colombia 5 years after the FARC peace deal

Article by: Amelia Simmons

A changing image

Having emerged from a brutal 50-year civil war that sadly killed over 200,000 people and displaced seven million, light is shining at the end of the tunnel for Colombia. In late 2016, a peace agreement that promised to end the conflict and bring order to the country was finally signed. Colombia’s president met with the leader of the FARC, a powerful guerrilla group that had been fighting against the government for decades. Pens made from bullets were used to sign the deal as a symbol of a key turning point hopefully leading towards a peaceful future.  It included agreements such as a final ceasefire and the surrendering of weapons by both the government and the rebel opposition. Sanctions were promised for anyone who was trialled and found to have committed human rights violations. It was a historic event and positively perceived by the rest of the world. So, can peace finally come to Colombia?

The history behind the treaty

In the 1960s, a group that named themselves the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) emerged in rural Colombia. Their main goal was to battle for the rural poor, against a minority of rich landowners who exerted their power and wealth to rule the rest of the population. Over time, the group captured huge swathes of Colombia and became an effective government by building basic roads, schools, and hospitals. However, the FARC eventually mutated from freedom fighters, into an often-criminal army funded by cocaine, extortion and hundreds of kidnappings. Millions of Colombians were caught up in fighting between the FARC and the Colombian army (who are also accused of committing appalling atrocities, including the mass killing of innocent civilians). The situation was amplified by the emergence of other powerful drug cartels who dominated much of this country, fighting the state, people, and each other. At one point, many believed Colombia could become a failed state.

A positive case study: The city of Medellin

Colombia was once home to what was described as the most dangerous city in the world, Medellin. It had a murder rate that peaked at a terrifying 6000 murders per year as Pablo Escobar and his Medellin Cartel waged war against the government. But there is proof that change can happen. Two decades ago, drugs, violence and crime were out of control here, however recently it has gone through a miraculous transformation. In the past 20 years, murders have dramatically decreased by more than 90%, whilst poverty rates are down by over 60%. Many believe this is down to investing in poorer areas rather than heavy-handed security.

Sergio Fajardo, the ex-mayor of Medellin, is praised for positively rebuilding the city. One of his signature projects has changed the lives of an extraordinary number of people there. This was the implementation of cable cars. When Medellin’s cable car system opened, it connected the most violent hilltop slums to the city centre, giving the poorest access to jobs, health care, education, and opportunity. It allowed for greater social integration between people who would not normally mix in day-to-day life. He also imposed less visible social interventions on the ground including internship centres, parks, housing, and offices.

What’s particularly impressive about the evolution here is that it started from the idea of giving the best and most beautiful buildings and facilities to the poorest. It’s completely counterintuitive compared to what most cities do. In terms of its economy, the city is now described as ‘the corset capital of the word’. Its textile industry is one of the key leaders for exportation, generating an impressive $45.5 million in 2021. Medellin is now often described as one of the most exciting cities in South America. It boasts cool hostels, which accommodate an increasing number of international travellers, picturesque lagoons, and an abundance of captivating museums. Its change seems nothing short of outstanding. 

All is well that ends well?

In 2018, it was estimated that Colombia has more internally displaced people than anywhere else in the world. People have become refugees in their own country. Hundreds of thousands have fled from remote rural areas to the big cities as a result of being forced off of their land through threats and terror during the war. When they arrive in the city, they are often homeless and jobless. The legacy of the country’s past has not disappeared and is unlikely to anytime soon.

It cannot be denied that Colombia is making progress in many areas of development, but the story is never perfect. Even the peace deal itself has not been without criticism and remains highly controversial. Many thought it was too soft on the FARC because they should have received harsher punishments. As an incentive for being truthful and expressing remorse, it promised perpetrators reduced sentences of 5-8 years, through alternative arrangements such as house arrest. The deal itself was actually put to a referendum, and the public narrowly voted no, but after political wrangling, it was amended and irrespectively implemented. Ultimately, perhaps the main question we should ask is, when so many Colombians have been victims of the war, can peace ever be guaranteed?

Fragility and hope

After countless years of enduring dismal conflict and a lack of opportunities, the future is finally looking bright for Colombia and its people. Change is happening. The ear-piercing sounds of sirens and gunfire are slowly disappearing. Cities are becoming vibrant places, offering exciting prospects and chances for people to improve their lives. But the fragility of the situation here should not be undermined. In 2021 year, over 50 people have died in protests against government tax reforms in the country’s capital. The legacy of war and violence have not been left behind. But, positive progress is slowly being made, and that is certainly what the people of Colombia deserve.

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