On the night of Aug. 23, after four long years of peace talks, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a lasting cease-fire in Havana. With the deal, the country hopes to end more than five decades of civil war — the longest sustained conflict in the history of the Americas. But implementation will not be easy, and the coming months will be the real test for the durability of the agreement.
Though the full details of the deal have not been made public, it appears that it includes previously agreed upon stipulations that FARC be allowed to participate in politics, that its leaders be supported in reintegrating into civilian life, and that amnesty be given to the rebels. Now that the preliminary signatures have been given, both the FARC and the government have work to do to make sure the deal sticks.
For the FARC's part, the leaders who participated in the peace talks must now go back to Colombia and convince the commanders on the ground that the deal is in their best interests. If they are successful, the final part of the deal will be signed in approximately three weeks, according to Colombian Sen. Roy Barreras.
The government will have to publish full text of the deal and present it to the Senate. Then the agreement will be put to a public referendum, potentially in early October. At least 13 percent of the Colombian electorate — 4.4 million voters — must participate for the results to be valid.
If the population votes in favor of the peace deal, the FARC will begin the demobilization process — supervised by the United Nations, the central government and high-ranking members of the FARC itself. It will have about six months to disarm.
To guarantee the FARC's disarmament process, the more than 7,000 members of the group will temporarily be sent to concentration zones in 16 departments, including in Cesar, Antioquia, Tolima, Cauca, Narino, Putumayo, Caqueta, Arauca, Meta, Vichada and Guaviare. They will remain there until international observers have verified that they have successfully disarmed. In the meantime, groups of FARC members will gradually begin to reintegrate into Colombian society by taking work-related workshops and training courses, while being kept far from illegal mining and cocaine processing sites.
What the Skeptics Say
However it plays out, disarmament will be difficult. Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Colombia's conservatives vehemently oppose the agreement, saying, among other things, that the FARC should not be given amnesty and should be treated the same as the former members of the government-backed paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), who face prison or extradition to the United States.
FARC leaders may be comforted in knowing that the agreed-upon peace deal would give them permanent amnesty from imprisonment or extradition to the United States. However, their security is not completely assured; any new government could reverse the agreement, as has happened to former leaders of various groups in Guatemala and El Salvador.
It is still uncertain whether the FARC would actually fully demobilize; the drug trade continues to be lucrative, and there have been internal struggles within the group. Some fronts, particularly those linked to the drug trade, have resisted calls by the FARC secretariat to join the peace agreement. This means that, just as remnants of the dismantled AUC decided to remain in organized crime, mainly in the Clan del Golfo, many FARC members will also join and shape Colombia's criminal landscape for years to come.