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All photos: Kimberley Brown

FARC fears after rightwing Duque elected

Colombia
Elections
War & Peace

A handful of former guerrilla fighters met Sunday at La Tienda (The Store), the only store and social area in the FARC reintegration zone near Icononzo, Tolima, to watch the election results. But the space that is normally full of laughter and banter was grim Sunday afternoon. Many wondered what will be in store for them now that the right-wing Ivan Duque – an outspoken critic of the peace agreements – is their new president.

‘This is bad. This is really bad,’ said Sonia, staring blankly in front of her, before hurrying away to continue with her tasks, trying to remain busy.

FARC guerillas are worried for their future after the right-wing Duque was elected president. Photo: A view of the FARC reintegration zone outside of the town of Icononzo, Tolima, where approximately 200 former guerrillas live.
A view of the FARC reintegration zone outside of the town of Icononzo, Tolima, where approximately 200 former guerrillas live.

This year, Colombians had to choose between two figures from the extreme opposite sides of the political spectrum: the left-wing former mayor of Bogota and former M-19 guerrilla fighter, Gustavo Petro, or the right-wing Ivan Duque who lead a campaign promising to change the peace deal.

Less than an hour after the voting stations had closed, Duque was announced president, taking 54 percent of the vote. Petro finished with 42 percent while four percent spoilt their ballots.

FARC guerillas are worried for their future after the right-wing Duque was elected president. Photo: many guerillas have decorated their homes with murals.
Many of the former guerrillas have decorated their small homes with balconies or elaborate murals in the reintegration zones.

At the FARC reintegration zone at Icononzo, some 136 km from the capital Bogota, most of the approximately 200 former guerrilla residents went to cast their votes Sunday morning. They organized trucks to bring them into town, almost an hour down a narrow, dirt road full of gaping holes – a symbol of state neglect, they say, and common in Colombia’s countryside that has been entangled in over 50 years of war.

There were mixed emotions throughout the day, as some of the former guerrillas remained hopeful for a Petro win, their only possibility for a government who would comply with the peace deal created in Havana, Cuba after four years of negotiation with the government of Juan Manuel Santos.

But others knew Duque was too powerful to lose.

‘The political machine behind him is too strong,’ former guerrilla fighter Fabio Rodriguez told New Internationalist from his small one room home at the reintegration zone.

FARC guerillas are worried for their future after the right-wing Duque was elected president. Photo: Three former guerrillas watch the election results from La Tienda, the social space in the Icononzo reintegration zone.
Three former guerrillas watch the election results from La Tienda,
the social space in the Icononzo reintegration zone.

A large part of Duque’s popularity comes from his close ties to Alvaro Uribe, a powerful but controversial figure in Colombian politics. Uribe was president between 2002-2010 where he gained a large following for his pro-business economic policies, but also his strong militant stance against the guerrillas. This includes his involvement in the ‘false-positive’ scandal, in which over 10,000 innocent civilians were killed and presented to Colombian authorities as guerrillas in order to get large payments promised to them by the state, making the state appear more successful in the war.

FARC guerillas are worried for their future after the right-wing Duque was elected president. Photo: A former guerrilla stares at the television in silence, after it was announced that Ivan Duque will be the next president.
A former guerrilla stares at the television in silence,
after the results were announced.

Despite this, many people continue to see Uribe as a man with a firm hand who brought stability to the country. But many others fear his militant policies, mainly those in the country-side where most of the violence has taken place.

In 2016, Uribe and his Centro Democratico (Democratic Centre) party also backed the ‘No’ vote for the peace agreements with the FARC, which won by a thin margin. President Juan Manuel Santos made changes and pushed the agreement through congress months later, but it remains very controversial.

During the election, Duque tried to distance himself from the No campaign – which he helped lead at the time, last year also vowing to ‘shred’ the peace deal – and reiterated this in his acceptance speech Sunday night, saying, ‘we will not shred the agreements, but we will make modifications so that peace shines.’

Some of his strongest critiques of the peace agreement have been the FARC’s participation in national politics, and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a separate judicial body that runs parallel to the state judicial system, created to try both guerrillas and government personnel accused of war crimes during the last decades of fighting.

This would allow most actors to receive lighter sentences than they would in traditional courts. The FARC has considered these points central to the peace process, but Duque and his followers argue they will lead to impunity.

Many of the FARC members in the Icononzco camp fear that Uribe’s historic vendetta against them will lead to incarcerations, or targeted violence against them, now that they find themselves unarmed and concentrated in particular areas.

‘It’s really ugly. But we’ll have to see if he keeps with the peace process or not… it’s one thing what people say in the campaign and it’s another what they do in office,’ said Rodriguez.

When asked if he will stay in the FARC camp with Duque in power, he responded, ‘I don’t think so. But we have until August to figure it out,’ referring to the date when Duque will take office, 8 August.

Benjamin Lopez, another former guerrilla at Icononzco, told New Internationalist he’s concerned, but he doesn’t know what’s next.

‘That’s something we’ve been asking ourselves, where do we go?’ he said.

But while many feel changes will have to happen, they will wait until they are directed by their higher ups in the movement, for what could be relocation or a change in political strategy, they say.

FARC guerillas are worried for their future after the right-wing Duque was elected president. Photo: Two former guerillas outside their houses.
Two former guerrillas outside their houses in the reintegration zone. They say the future is uncertain.

After Duque’s election, what does the future hold for FARC guerillas?

Sunday night, the FARC leaders released a statement recognizing Duque’s win and called for national unity and a continued commitment to the peace process.

‘What the country demands is a comprehensive peace, leading us to the expected reconciliation, based on social well-being, truth, justice, and comprehensive reparation to the victims of conflict and the guarantee of non-repetition. Evading that purpose cannot be a government plan,’ reads the statement, adding that the FARC are ready to meet with the president-elect.

Leonel Narvaez, president of the Reconciliation Foundation, which has been monitoring the war in Colombia for almost 20 years, says although Duque is certain to increase Colombia’s military, it’s unlikely that the FARC will again take up arms.

‘The big bosses are old, and I don’t think they want that,’ Narvaez told the New Internationalist. ‘I don’t think the FARC can return to the way they were before.’

But it’s very likely that other armed groups will get bigger, he added, as both citizens and some of the FARC who are adversely affected by Duque’s policies could decide to join the fight.

Narvaez says both candidates this year led campaigns that generated fear and hate towards the other. If Petro had won, the country would have seen a rise in right-wing armed groups joining the fight against him, Narvaez argues.

‘We come from a culture of revenge, where people think the only form of resolving conflict is with revenge and elimination of the other… it’s very hidden, but it’s very deep,’ he said.

Since the peace deal was signed in 2016, armed groups such as paramilitaries, narco-traffickers and guerrilla groups have continued to operate and violence has actually increased in many areas. This has led to over 150,000 people being displaced in the last two years alone, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Narvaez and other peace agreement monitors all agree that the only answer to continue to move towards peace in Colombia is for both the FARC and the government to ‘actually comply with the original agreements,’ he said.

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