🇨🇴Hard Road Back: A war that never ends? l Witness

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Colombia’s former FARC guerrillas must live with the regrets of their past and the deadly temptations of the present.

After decades of war, today the Colombian government claims to be putting an end to one of the oldest guerrilla organisations in the world: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The strategy that accompanies the government’s military strikes is to offer opportunities and guarantees to those soldiers who decide to leave the ranks of the group. But can Colombia keep its promise of peace for the ex-FARC guerrillas returning home from the jungle – and can they resist temptations? In the following account, filmmaker Russ Finkelstein describes the issues behind the demobilisation programme and why many ex-FARC guerrillas are struggling with demobilisation.

The FARC has been fighting a revolution in Colombia for 47 years now. What first began as a Marxist-inspired struggle over land rights, social and agrarian reforms and resistance to neo-imperialism has been intensified and warped by the influence of the extremely lucrative cocaine trade.

At times, the FARC has held support among Colombia’s lower classes, especially in the countryside. In other contexts they have been feared and despised for their ruthless tactics. The Colombian government, the US state department and the European Union consider them to be a terrorist organisation.

Alvaro Uribe, who was president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010, made eradicating the FARC a top priority of his administration.

Contrary to his predecessor, Andres Pastrana Arango, who held peace talks with the guerrillas, Uribe took a hardline approach to ending the conflict; perhaps in part because his own father was killed by the FARC during a 1983 kidnapping attempt.

During his presidency, Uribe launched countless military operations against the group, and his former minister of defence and the country’s current president, Juan Manuel Santos, has kept putting an end to the FARC a top priority of the current administration.

For the guerrillas, the harshness of the jungle combined with enduring increasingly effective military strikes has made life for the combatants treacherous, if not intolerable.

Thousands of the groups remaining members have been tempted to defect thanks to the government’s demobilisation programme, which consist of a pardon for having been a member of a terrorist organisation as well as economic, educational and psychological assistance while integrating into civilian life. The Santos government considers the programme, along with the military pressure on the FARC, to be successful, citing the large numbers of demobilised combatants as forward progress in the seemingly endless war.

“The best way to win the war is to prevent combat from continuing while still being able to achieve one’s objectives,” said President Juan Manuel Santos at a recent forum on the demobilisation process, adding, “How can we defeat them as quickly as possible? Of course military action continues. They are constantly adapting, they have and continue to finance themselves through drug trafficking, and so what will put an end to them once and for all? We have told them to demobilise and form part of the [demobilisation] programme, because if they don’t it will either be jail or the grave. For this to be more convincing, we’ve got to make demobilisation more attractive, and we’ve got to make the threat of jail or the grave more effective.”

Filmmakers: Manuel Contreras and Russ Finkelstein

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