Since the 1960s, Colombia has been engaged in a civil war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).  Although the FARC formed in 1964, it was not until the 1980s that it burst into the national consciousness because of its burgeoning economic and military power. It used this new influence to grow its army and carry out acts of terrorism. Throughout this time, the Colombian government was engaged in fighting the terrorist group, although it failed to defeat it because the FARC took refuge in the most remote parts of the country where the government’s influence and resources were low. But, in 2016, the Colombian government signed a historic peace agreement, ending the conflict.

This agreement would not only see the end of fighting between the government and the FARC, but also formalize the group as a political party, guaranteeing that all but the top leaders of the guerilla group would not be prosecuted. Further, the Colombian government was to provide economic aid to help former fighters and supporters integrate into civil society. In return, the FARC would demobilize, and coca – the plant used to make the cocaine, which the FARC used to grow their wealth and influence in remote areas – would be eradicated. 

The peace treaty was met with great enthusiasm around the world. It was hailed as multifaceted and comprehensive, and the  international community maintains support for the treaty , with the United Nations pledging to provide assistance for one facet of the peace treaty: integrating poor and rural areas of Colombia that were previously under the influence of the FARC into the political and economic mainstream of Colombia. However, five years on from the peace treaty, implementation of the programs have not gone as smoothly as planned, and questions remain whether the  government can maintain its commitment to peace. Arguably two of the most important areas of the peace treaty, the crop substitution program and the reintegration of ex-FARC militants, have failed to deliver on the lofty expectations of 2016.  

The Colombian Government Has Struggled to Help Rural Farmers Recover From The Conflict Because of Issues With The Implementation of  Programs.

One of the key aims of the peace treaty was to integrate the poor, rural areas of Colombia into the broader economy. Prior to the peace treaty, these areas were targeted by the FARC to increase their influence. Farmers, who were otherwise isolated from the rest of the country, were paid to grow coca rather than having to rely on subsistence farming. Once the peace treaty was signed, the government offered these farmers money to both eradicate the coca plants and to grow legal crops which they could take to the market. Farmers would also get a stipend and technical support to help support the transition out of the illicit coca market and improve the conditions of their fields. However, the implementation of this program has not been very successful. Despite efforts by the Colombian government and the UN, the program is falling short of the projected targets set in 2016, partly because of a decline in the government’s overall budget due to the overall global economy and partly because of the difficulties that come with reaching the remote areas of the country due to inadquate infrastructure. 

In some ways, the program has been a success. 98% of those that received funding eradicated their coca crops. However the Comptroller-General has pointed out that just one percent of farmers that signed on to the agreement have received the total compensation package that was promised. Even more concerning is the fact that, according to the legislature, it will take over 71 years for farmers involved in the program to see a profit. 

There are Remnants of Violence in The Countryside Because the Government Has Struggled to Project its Influence into The Most Rural Areas of The Country.

Another key aim of the peace treaty was to integrate FARC fighters into civil society and away from violence. There have undoubtedly been some success stories, as the town of Llano Grande shows. Llano Grande is the paradigmatic town that the drafters of the peace accords envisioned, with ex-FARC members working alongside rural farmers who now contribute to the national economy. Perhaps ex-militant Efraím Zapata Jaramillo described this village the best: as “ a family fighting for peace to move forward and not take up arms again.” But the peace that Llano Grande is experiencing is not universal. Since the signing of the peace treaty, there have been more than 300 ex-combatants killed, in addition to over  400 human rights and civic leaders. There are also reports that other relocation camps are no longer safe. As a result, ex-FARC members are having to relocate to other camps and start their lives from scratch once more. The parties responsible for the killings are dissident FARC leaders who have refused to lay down their arms. They continue recruiting new fighters and pressure veterans of the previous conflict to fight again. 

Without a State Presence, Peace Is Not Likely to Take Hold Because of Great Inequality and The Continuous Threat of Violence. 

The struggle the Colombian government is facing in implementing the terms of the peace agreement may be disappointing, but it is not that surprising. After all, it is a country that is 81.4% urbanized and is marked by extreme inequality-  in 2019 the World Bank qualified Colombia as the second most unequal country in Latin America and the Caribbean, behind Brazil. To measure this statistic, the World Bank used the Gini Index, which measures the distribution of income across a population, and is thus “a convenient summary measure of the degree of inequality.” This inequality is exacerbated by the fact that there is a weak government presence in rural areas of the country. Traditionally, the approach of the government was to focus on the security and development of urban areas, at the expense of the rural areas. But, the war with the FARC was fought in the most rural areas of the country, so in order to implement the goals of the peace treaty, the government will have to change its approach and make sure that it is present to enforce the rule of law in all areas of the country, The lack of state presence in rural areas of the country means that even though the FARC is no longer a formal threat, there is a power vacuum for other non-state actors to take advantage of the vulnerable communities.

In 2016, the Colombian government ended a multi-generational conflict, but crucial work still needs to be done to ensure that peace takes hold throughout the country. The two keystone policies of crop substitution and reintegration of FARC fighters need more work to be implemented well. Importantly, the government needs to increase its official presence in rural areas if it hopes to fulfill the promises made in 2016.

Author Biography: Esteban Munoz Calle is a Moderator of the International Law Society’s International Law and Policy Brief (ILPB) and a J.D. candidate at The George Washington University Law School. He has a Bachelor of Arts in political science and international relations, with a minor in Spanish from Gonzaga University.