BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Unfortunately, over the past 50 years the conflict in Colombia has become synonymous with cruelty and violence as numerous groups spar over a variety of reasons. However, hope lingers on the horizon for millions of Colombians, as peace may soon become a reality; the bestowal of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize to President Juan Manuel Santos marks one more step toward an end to the warfare. Here are nine things to know about the conflict in Colombia’s long and complicated history:
1. The beginning of the conflict is generally associated with the assassination of Liberal party leader and former presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, shot in broad daylight in Bogotá on April 9, 1948. This began the period of upheaval referred to as La Violencia. The riot following his assassination resulted in more than $570 million in damages throughout the country.
2. During its 10-year duration, La Violencia claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people, primarily at the hands of Communist and Leftist military groups. The conflict bore the trademark of exceptional cruelty and violence, with extreme torture a commonplace occurrence. By 1958, between 600,000 and 800,000 had been injured, and over a million Colombians displaced.
3. The largest of the rebel groups to emerge from the Colombian Conflict is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia (FARC). The group originated in 1964 as an armed response to the Colombian military, primarily representing rural land owners and workers who faced increasingly severe inequality at the time. Peaking at an estimated 20,000, their current active membership is estimated to be around 7,000.
4. Working closely with FARC is the National Liberation Army, known in Spanish as the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN). It is the second-largest leftist guerilla group in Colombia, embracing Marxist ideologies and inspired by the Cuban Revolution. As of 2013, membership was estimated at roughly 2,000.
5. On the other side of the conflict in Colombia sit the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), or the United Self-Defenders of Colombia. Formed in 1997 in an effort to consolidate right-wing paramilitaries, the AUC includes groups that have been around since the 1960s, vehemently embroiled in combat with ELN and FARC forces. As with the left-wing armies, many of the factions encompassed within the AUC have ties to drug cartels and organized crime, and have come under heavy criticism for human rights violations.
6. More than 220,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the conflict in Colombia in 1958 (almost a quarter of a million of the fatalities occurred during La Violencia), victims of the violence of both left- and right-wing paramilitaries. More than 80 percent, or four out of five victims, were non-combatant civilians.
7. Despite the unfortunate trademark of violence and conflict that has been bestowed upon Colombia, the country remains an incredible bastion for a rich, tenacious heritage. It is one of the most diverse countries on the planet, and the homeland for some of the most influential cultural contributors in modern times, such as author Gabriel García Márquez, one of two Colombians to receive the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature award.
8. In October 2016, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the 52-year-long conflict, the longest-running war in the Americas. Despite the rejection of the referendum just two days before, Santos continued his campaign toward peace, undeterred by its rejection from voters: “I infinitely appreciate from all of my heart this honorable distinction, not in my name, but the name of all Colombians… Thank God peace is close. Peace is possible.”
9. On October 5, voters rejected a peace deal by less than one half of one percent. However, after four years of negotiations with FARC in Cuba, Santos saw the revised referendum approved with a 130-0 vote on November 30, a significant step forward in the search for peace that has so extensively eluded the Colombian people.
The conflict in Colombia has been the longest-running war in the Americas, with substantial civilian losses that include 30,000 Colombians who have been “disappeared” due to political and cultural affiliations. This new peace deal not only reflects the hopeful and resilient spirit of the Colombian people, but also proves to the world that Colombia is ready to embrace enduring peace.
– Emily Marshall