Colombia's half-century of conflict that led to historic peace deal

From an outgunned group of 50 guerrillas in 1964 to a thousands-strong fighting force, the Farc waged war on the state in the name of revolution

Colombia and Farc sign historic ceasefire deal to end 50-year conflict

After more than 50 years of war, Colombia’s government and the leftwing guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Farc, have declared a definitive bilateral ceasefire and end to all hostilities. The conflict is believed to have cost some 220,000 lives and displaced more than six million.

The Farc leader Manuel Marulanda, left, during combat following an attack at their camp in Marquetalia during the 1960s.
The Farc leader Manuel Marulanda, left, during combat following an attack at their camp in Marquetalia during the 1960s. Photograph: --/AFP

May 1964: A group of communist guerrillas and peasants at odds with the government resettles in the Colombian countryside after La Violencia, a decade of civil war estimated to have killed more than 200,000 people. In May a group of 50 guerrillas under the leadership of Manuel Marulanda is attacked by the Colombian army in the tiny community of Marquetalia. Outnumbered and outgunned, the rebels escape and later become the core of an organized fighting force. Another leftwing group, mostly of students and intellectuals who hoped to replicate Cuba’s revolution, forms the National Liberation Army (ELN).

May 1966: Marulanda and guerrilla leaders meet and formally create the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), calling for land reforms and militant resistance. The Farc also starts acting in some government roles, setting up training camps, medical services and even schooling in sympathetic towns.

1970s: The Farc begins kidnappings for ransom, often targeting politicians and wealthy landowners, and uses the funds to pay for its militant camps and ersatz social services. Militants also begin to traffic cocaine to fund operations, and amass a huge amount of wealth and arms through the drug trade.

1982: The Farc modifies its name to add the words “People’s Army” and begins hesitant peace talks with Colombian president Belisario Betancur. Two years later the sides manage a ceasefire, raising hopes that Farc members would be able to reintegrate into society.

1986: The Patriotic Union (UP), a political party co-founded by elements of the Farc, wins a series of elections in the local and federal government, but party leaders are soon targeted by rightwing forces in the army and drug rivals of the militant group. The new round of violence is estimated to have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of UP party members and their enemies over the next few years.

Late 1980s: Rightwing paramilitary groups rise in resistance to Farc, creating further bloodshed and blurring the boundaries between the government, criminal gangs and the rebels. Cartel factions align with the army, vigilante groups pursue vengeance killings for equally brutal killings by Farc, and landowners fund parties on all sides.

Guerrilla fighters Andrés and Daniela watch videos made by the Farc at a jungle camp.
Guerrilla fighters Andrés and Daniela watch videos made by the Farc at a jungle camp. Photograph: Stephen Ferry/The Guardian

1997: Three brothers whose father was murdered by the Farc form the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which gathers other paramilitaries under its banner. The group is believed to have killed thousands of supposed sympathizers and Farc guerrillas in the first few years of its existence. This year the US state department declares Farc and the ELN terrorist groups; a few years later the AUC joins them on the list.

1999: The war between the Farc and Bogotá reaches a new peak, as the guerrillas kidnap an estimated 3,000 people and “No Más” protests erupt in cities around the country. Tentative peace talks begin again as the government struggles to contain the war.

2000: US president George W Bush expands Bill Clinton’s military aid to Colombia in a $9bn package to bolster the army in its drug war, and the CIA and NSA begin a covert program that assassinates at least 24 rebel leaders.

February 2002 to July 2008: After peace talks reach an inconclusive end, the Farc kidnaps presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. Then the newly elected president, Álvaro Uribe, begins a big new campaign against the Farc, with a modernized army and US aid behind him. According to the Colombian government, the Farc’s membership falls from 16,000 fighters in 2001 to about 8,000 people over the next few years. Over the course of the campaign, Marulanda dies of an apparent heart attack and Betancourt is freed with several other hostages.

February 2012-2014: The Farc announces an end to kidnappings, and the group resumes peace talks about disarmament, land reform and drug trafficking with Juan Manuel Santos’s new administration. But members continue to hold people for ransom, the government ends its ceasefire, and talks continue only with frequent interruptions.

President Raúl Castro blesses a provisional agreement between President Juan Manuel Santos, left, and the Farc leader, known as Timochenko on 23 September 2015.
President Raúl Castro of Cuba blesses a provisional agreement between President Juan Manuel Santos, left, and the Farc leader, known as Timochenko, on 23 September 2015. Photograph: Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images

June-September 2015: The Farc declares a unilateral ceasefire, after which the military ends its air strikes on Farc camps. Talks quietly make progress on Cuba, where the Castro regime mediates negotiations between Farc leaders and Santos’s officials.

June 2016: The Colombian government and Farc leaders announce a bilateral ceasefire to be signed in Havana, with Santos and Farc leader Rodrigo Londoño, better known as Timochenko, present alongside the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. The ceasefire is billed as the framework toward a final peace deal, disarming Farc’s fighting force of about 7,000 people, and an end to a 52-year war that has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced six million.


Alan Yuhas

The GuardianTramp

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