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What’s behind rising tensions between Colombia and the FARC

Colombia’s three-year-old peace deal may be coming apart. On Thursday, hardliners from the country’s main rebel group, the FARC, renewed the call to arms, claiming the Colombian government was not living up to its part of the agreement. The president elected last year, Ivan Duque, said during his campaign that the deal was too lenient. William Brangham talks to the Wilson Center’s Cynthia Arnson.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The three-year-old peace deal in Colombia may be coming apart. Yesterday, hard-liners from Colombia's main rebel group, known as the FARC, issued a renewed call to arms.

    As William Brangham reports, they claim the Colombian government is failing to live up to its part of the peace agreement.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Judy.

    The FARC and the Colombian government signed a historic peace deal in 2016, agreeing to end the 50 years of civil war that's killed more than 220,000 Colombians.

    But, last year, Colombia elected a new president, Ivan Duque, who vowed to renegotiate parts of that deal, saying it was too lenient on the rebels and didn't do enough for their victims.

    Yesterday, one of the FARC leaders known as Ivan Marquez said the Duque government was violating the deal and carrying out political assassinations, and he declared a new round of fighting.

    Today, Colombian troops killed nine FARC rebels in a raid, and described it as a clear message for FARC members who want to walk away from the peace deal.

    I'm joined now by Cynthia Arnson. She directs the Latin America program at the Wilson Center, which is a nonpartisan Washington think tank originally established by Congress.

    Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • Cynthia Arnson:

    Thank you.

  • William Brangham:

    The FARC leader, Ivan Marquez, as we saw, here has said, take up arms, my fellow rebels.

    Are people likely to heed that call?

  • Cynthia Arnson:

    Well, I think it is unlikely that a lot of people in the FARC will heed that call.

    The FARC political party has rejected what Ivan Marquez and other FARC leaders did along with him. And there are 7,000 to 13,000 13,000 former guerrillas and militias that did lay down their arms. And there is really only about 1,500, maybe 2,000 people that are the so-called rearmed guerrillas.

    But not all of them were people that had laid down their weapons to begin with. So I think that it remains to be seen, but it is obviously incumbent on the government to do much more to carry out the promises of reintegration of former combatants and to really deliver on the major parts of the peace deal that had to do with rural reform.

  • William Brangham:

    Because, as you well know, that is Marquez and his fellow rebels' argument, that the government has not been doing a very good job.

    I mean, is there evidence for their point of view? They are saying, you are not living up to your end of the deal. You have been assassinating members of our group.

    Is that true? Are their complaints true?

  • Cynthia Arnson:

    There is truth to that, but it probably is not the main reason that they have gone back to take up weapons.

    Some about 130 to 150 members of the FARC that had demobilized have been killed, and there had been hundreds and hundreds of social leaders, of even government officials that are based in Colombian communities that have been killed with impunity. And a number of organizations, including the U.N. verification mission, have condemned the relentless assaults.

    And I think what really…

  • William Brangham:

    And those are assaults done by the Colombian government?

  • Cynthia Arnson:

    These are not done by the Colombian government?

    The issue is the state, the Colombian government, didn't move quickly enough or resolutely enough to reoccupy all of these spaces or territories that the FARC left behind when they demobilized. And those are the areas where people are getting killed, where criminal groups are competing for territory, for control of drug trafficking routes, of gold mining routes, and also in many instances where the coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine, is grown.

    And these are very, very difficult areas. And there needs to be much more done not only in security terms, but also to bring roads and development and the legal presence of the economy and the state, including services, to these areas.

  • William Brangham:

    We know this deal was signed by the former president, Santos, and now there is the new president, Duque, who campaigned saying, I am going to make a lot of changes to that.

    And I understand that this was a very controversial deal to begin with and there is a discontent about the parameters of the deal as it was signed.

    What are Colombians' problem with the deal as it was put together?

  • Cynthia Arnson:

    Well, essentially the peace deal was submitted to a vote of the Colombian public, and it was rejected by a narrow majority.

    And that led to a quick effort over a period of months during the previous government, during the Santos government, to try to renegotiate parts of the agreement.

    But the central objection of President Duque and people in his political party is that the accord it is much too lenient in terms of the justice aspects. And when any civil war comes to an end, there are usually these mechanisms of transitional justice that are put into place.

    It is very difficult to tell a guerrilla force that you are negotiating with, lay down your weapons and you go to jail. And so they come up with these kind of hybrid mechanisms of transitional justice.

  • William Brangham:

    Lay down your weapons, confess your crimes.

  • Cynthia Arnson:

    Confess your crimes, give reparations to victims.

    And for many people, the FARC is hated. It committed terrible crimes, massacres, kidnappings, abuses against the civilian population. And there are people who want to see the FARC behind bars.

    And the fact that that could be a result if people don't confess fully is just simply not enough for President Duque, for his party and obviously for the majority of the Colombian public.

  • William Brangham:

    Quickly, just the last question, is it your sense that the actions of the last few days mean that the deal is coming apart or not?

  • Cynthia Arnson:

    I don't think it is coming apart.

    In fact, there have been some important, a lot of advances, and the government doesn't get enough credit for some of those things. There have been advances in voluntary eradication of coca. There have been efforts to give titles to land to campesinos in rural areas.

    But the security situation is just not conducive to allowing the government to move ahead fully. There is also 1.4 million Venezuelan refugees that have flooded into Colombia. And the government really has its hands full.

  • William Brangham:

    Cynthia Arnson of the Wilson Center, thank you very much.

  • Cynthia Arnson:

    Thank you. A pleasure.

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