Farc may adapt ‘North-style’ peace deal

Colombian rebel leader gives clearest signal yet of end to decades of insurgency

The chief peace negotiator for Colombia’s Farc guerrilla movement has given the clearest signal yet that the group’s near half-century left-wing insurgency is drawing to a close.

"Wars are not eternal, conflicts have to reach their end and we consider that in Colombia we are in this situation," said Iván Márquez during an interview with a Colombian radio station.

Mr Márquez – the nom de guerre of Luciano Marín Arango – is Farc's second in command and leads the group's delegation at peace talks being held in Cuba with the Colombian government, which hopes to sign a comprehensive agreement before the end of the year.

Under way since last November, the talks achieved a major breakthrough in May, when the two sides agreed a deal on land reform and rural development, a key demand of Farc (the Spanish acronym of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The first substantive agreement between the state and the guerrillas in several decades of on-off peace talks, it raised hopes of achieving a final settlement.

Contest elections


Earlier this month Colombia restored the legal status of Farc’s political front, the Patriotic Union, which means it will be able to contest elections due next year.

But there remain considerable obstacles before any final peace deal can be concluded. Farc is demanding a constitutional assembly to write reforms into the country’s constitution, a move rejected by the government. Agreement is also threatened by resistance within Colombia to allowing Farc leaders accused of crimes against humanity from taking part in democratic politics.

Mr Márquez said Farc was open to the country's second, smaller guerrilla group – the ELN – joining the peace talks in Havana. Former rivals, the two movements have in recent years moved closer together in the face of a US-financed offensive by the Colombian military that has driven their fighters back from the country's main population centres into remote mountainous and jungle regions.

Colombia Three

After a clandestine summit between the two rebel movements last month, they released a statement that emphasised the “importance of working for the unity of all political and social forces that are dedicated to making deep changes in society and Colombia’s economy, politics and institutions”.

In his radio interview Mr Márquez said that as part of its peace strategy the group had been looking at other peace processes, including Northern Ireland’s. “We have met with the Irish, with the IRA, and they there found a formula which has to be analysed very closely,” he said.

In 2001 three Irishmen were arrested in Colombia while travelling on false passports. They were accused of being IRA members providing Farc with bomb-making expertise. Known as the Colombia Three, the three republicans always claimed they were in the country to observe a previous failed attempt at a peace process.

Though greatly weakened by the military’s decade-long offensive against it, Farc still has about 9,000 fighters organised into various ‘fronts’ across Colombia. The strength ELN (the National Liberation Army) is estimated at between 1,500 and 3,000 guerrillas.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America