South America

5 things you should know about FARC

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FARC ran one of the longest armed insurgencies in the Western Hemisphere, and were known for kidnapping, extortion, and a reign funded by cocaine – but who are the FARC guerillas, and what did they want from the Colombian state?

How is Colombia's FARC moving on from 50 years of fighting? Watch 'What the FARC?' here.

After 53 years of civil war that left almost 220,000 dead and 7 million displaced, rebel group FARC and the Colombian government have reached a peace agreement. Here are five things you need to know about the ex-fighters who have laid down their arms. 

WHO the FARC?

FARC, or the The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) were Colombia’s largest rebel group. They were founded in 1964, during a time of brutal repression of any form of opposition of government.

While the FARC had some urban presence, the group largely kept its focus as a rural guerrilla organisation. It was founded by small groups of farmers and land workers who banded together to fight the staggering levels of inequality in Colombia at the time.

More recently, human rights groups have often accused the FARC of forcibly recruiting poor farmers and children. The FARC combatted the argument, adding everyone who joined the group did so voluntarily.

In 2016 FARC signed a peace deal with the Colombian government, led then by Juan Manuel Santos, laying down their arms and transforming and swapping their pistols for party politics.

WHY the FARC?

Colombia has recent history is of a country that suffers from huge levels of inequality and where vast swathes of land are owned by a very small elite.

The cause of this is often attributed to the sale of large tracts of land to private owners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the Colombia state to pay its debts. Following this, some of the farmers and land workers in the region of Marquetalia banded together to form FARC EP to fight for the rights and push for ownership of land.

However, the elite handful of landowners, alongside the state saw FARC's communist ideals as a threat - and sent the army in to disband the group.

HOW the FARC?

Colombia is one of the world’s main producers of cocaine and the rebels get a large part of their income from drug trafficking or levying "taxes" on those who do. Experts estimate that FARC took in between $500 million and $600 million annually from the illegal drug trade.

The organisation has also resorted to extortion and kidnapping for ransom to finance their activities.

Analysts report FARC is amongst the richest rebel movements in the world – in 2004, the group supplied close to  90 per cent of the world's cocaine.

Watch: "What the FARC?"

A peace deal is reached

Reconciliation and rebranding is not a simple process. While many guerrillas are keen for a fresh start and acceptance, much of the population still carries the scars of the war – drugs, extortion, kidnapping, brutal deaths the hallmark of FARCs insurgency.

On 27 June 2017, the FARC ceased to be an armed group, with its forces disarming and handing more than 7,000 weapons to the United Nations at a ceremony hosted by the FARC leadership, and the Colombian government. A year and a half on, the peace process has been fraught with complications.

After four years of negotiation, the two parties agreed on some critical points:

1. The end of political violence

2. Justice for victims of the conflict, on either side - and eligibility for alternative sentences for combatants who attest to their crimes.

3. Rural development

4. Ending the drug trade

5. FARC's integration into Colombia's political landscape. Rebels have been granted a limited number of seats in Congress through 2018 for two legislative terms, after which they will have to go to the ballots to win over their electorates. 

6. Former fighters are to recieve a monthly stipend of around $300AUD per month to aid them in their transition to regular day to day life.

What happens now?

Colombia's new president Ivan Duque has declared he will take steps to fix "structural flaws" in the deal with FARC, without offering any details. He also faces other challenges – since the rebel group laid down their arms, other drug trafficking gangs have moved in on what was once FARC controlled territory.

On the other hand, FARC is trying to re-establish themselves as a political party, and attempting to find their way back into the hearts of the communities they once terrorized.

Watch Dateline's film "What the FARC?", here.