The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, formed in 1964 to fight a right-wing government, have inspired fear and devotion ever since its inception.

But after a historic cease-fire deal was reached, this brutal and violent chapter in Colombian society appears to be ending.  

For 50 years, the FARC waged battles that left 220,000 people dead and displaced up to 5 million.

The guerillas convened deep in forests to avoid detection. They raided towns and often replenished their ranks with kidnappings, causing deep fissures to emerge in Colombia. While they kept the Marxist dream alive, they morphed into a mostly criminal enterprise that pushed drugs and trafficked people.

They have achieved, relatively speaking, very little through their efforts and their numbers have plummeted over the past decade.

Now they will be retiring from battle after a historic, if arduously negotiated, ceasefire, which was made official at a ceremony in Havana Thursday.

The Colombian government and the FARC will end their hostilities and begin a slow process of mending the country.

More than 7,000 soldiers are expected to disarm and return to civilian life. To prevent the fragile truce from falling apart —as it has in the past —FARC soldiers will enter an alternative justice system that will mete out less severe sentences, mostly community service.  

UNICEF is helping to child soldiers reintegrate, who are particularly traumatized by spending formative years in conditions of war.

The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, met with the FARC leader Rodrigo Londono and other Latin American leaders to cement the ceasefire.

Over the years, the government has tried all sorts of measures to break up and rehabilitate the FARC, including ingenious marketing ploys, but have never been successful.  

This time, they’re hoping it will be different.

The majority of Colombians support the ceasefire, especially since so many families are entangled in some way in the FARC.

After so many years, most people just want to move on.

Still, some critics think that this ceasefire will never be fully realized as some FARC elements will continue to extort and abuse local communities.

Others believe that FARC soldiers are unable to reintegrate because too much resentment exists on both sides.

But this overlooks the fact that FARC soldiers are, at root, still Colombians and that peace has been achieved after similarly bloody episodes. In Rwanda, for example, when the horrific genocide ended, the country refused to descend into a spiral of reprisals and courageously established peace.

In Colombia, too, there are signs that peace is possible.  

Recently, a pineapple farm has acted as a microcosm of this potential. La Fortuna employs 100 former soldiers, giving them the opportunity to raise a little money, contribute to society and adjust to a life without conflict.

Many of the soldiers have a hard time--their minds are still wired for conflict. But they’re giving in and slowly changing, hoping that others will give them a chance.

As one former FARC soldier said, “I think that showing them this will give them the idea that ‘Yes, we can make it.’ We know that not everybody wants to be associated with people like us, and not everybody wants to support people like us, but we’re trying to shed that stigma. All we want to do is work.”


Demand Equity

After decades of war, Colombia will have peace

By Joe McCarthy