By William Tucker
Last week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos placed the final padlock on a shipment of weapons formerly belonging to the insurgent organization FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). Santos called the arms turnover the “last breath” of the 52-year-old internecine conflict. FARC has agreed to disband as a military force and reestablish itself as a legitimate political party.
This year has seen the realization of a long and controversial peace plan between the Colombian government and FARC. The U.N. has taken control of 17 shipments of weapons and nearly 7,000 former insurgents have been demobilized.
Under the peace plan, the U.N. can collect weapons for destruction until September 1, 2017. After that date, any remaining weapons that are turned in by FARC members will become the responsibility of the Colombian armed forces.
Rebuilding Trust after Decades of War Will Not Be Easy
Colombia says that it is committed to the safety of the rebels who peacefully surrender and the communities affected by FARC occupation. But rebuilding trust following decades of war is not an easy task.
Family members of FARC victims are critical of the peace accord because it does not provide much punishment for the rebels. Communities that lived through some of the more intense fighting will not easily trust the peace accord to last. Additionally, some factions of FARC, along with other rebel groups, have refused to participate in the peace process.
Violence has declined rather significantly throughout Colombia, despite the desire by some groups to carry on their resistance. These smaller rebel groups will likely continue to wreak havoc in some areas. But with their smaller numbers, it is unlikely they will become a potent force to rival FARC.
FARC’s Jungle Isolation Prevented the Colombia Army from Destroying It
However, the decline in violence doesn’t mean that all criminal activity or militancy will soon disappear from Colombia or from the northern reaches of South America. The geography of Colombia, and of South America as a whole, is conducive to concealing people, movements or even entire tribes who wish to stay hidden.
This ability to get lost in the jungles of the Amazon basin or on the high plateaus of the Andes allows militants to survive for a long time. The terrain also makes it difficult for anti-government groups to evolve beyond anything other than engaging in sporadic militancy or criminality.
FARC suffered from this problem even after it received state-sponsored support from Cuba or Venezuela. FARC launched attacks against the Colombian military or civilian targets in the cities, but it struggled to move beyond those attacks.
In later years, FARC moved into the criminal drug trade because it found securing new weapons or funding difficult while its members lived in isolated jungle encampments.
This geographic disparity is evident to the other nations in South America as well. Colombia’s population is mainly concentrated near the coast and on the plateaus. Population density drops off sharply in the Amazon region. The very jungle isolation that allowed FARC to survive for so long also prevented the Colombia army from penetrating the region with any success.
To put this in perspective, nearly half of Colombia is uninhabited. Some areas are still unexplored because the terrain is too difficult to penetrate.
This inability to tame the far reaches of Colombia hindered Bogota’s ability to make economic and development advances for years. Nevertheless, the Colombian people persisted in turning a former Spanish colony into a functioning state, complete with democratic institutions and a growing economy.
With FARC neutralized as a militant force, Colombia now has the opportunity to consolidate its gains and foster continued growth.
It won’t be an easy task, however. FARC will now have a presence in the national legislature, albeit a small one. But small political movements can grow over time.
The political dynamics in Bogota have shifted. With the decrease in violence, we can expect to see a more stable Colombia moving forward.
@In Homeland Security