Last month, Rodrigo Londoño, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), ordered an end to the practice of collecting “revolutionary taxes.” For decades, FARC insurgents forced Colombian civilians and businesses in areas under their control to pay tolls, amassing at least $150 million per year from this practice at the height of the group’s power in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Londoño’s call to end the lucrative practice sends a hopeful signal that after more than 52 years of armed conflict, the FARC’s leadership finally believes peace is possible.
In part, the FARC may simply believe that the current deal, hashed out over four years with the administration of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, is the best it can get. Support from the group’s traditional peasant base has waned recently, as military pressure from the U.S.-backed government has pushed the FARC to the geographic periphery of the country. The group has faced difficulties in recruiting new members; its numbers have dwindled from a high of more than 20,000 fighters in 2002 to roughly 7,000 in 2016.
If passed into law, the current accords would permit FARC leaders, many of whom are suspected of committing crimes against humanity, to run for political office after completing five to eight years of “alternative” community service, such as clearing land mines and eradicating illicit drug crops. This transitional justice scheme would exempt FARC members of all ranks from jail time in return for honest confessions to their crimes. Since the peace talks began in Havana, Cuba, in 2012, both sides have also reached an agreement on improving peasant access to rural land—one of the FARC’s founding aims—through government-sponsored credits and subsidies. The FARC was also able to obtain a commitment from the government to boost investment in the countryside, including infrastructure, health services, and education.
On June 23, the FARC and the Colombian government signed a historic bilateral cease-fire agreement in the Cuban capital in the presence of 30 percent, recent polling suggests that a vast majority of the Colombian electorate believes that peace is on the horizon. Whether or not Colombians will vote in favor of the final peace agreement in a national referendum, however, remains to be seen. Such a vote is required for the accords to go into effect, and public opinion is divided on the peace process.
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