Politics is proving to be a brutal battleground for Colombia’s former FARC guerrillas. In recent days, political candidates of the once-feared rebel group have been insulted, harassed and pelted with rocks and eggs. Another FARC political activist has been murdered.
On Friday, the political organization said it was suspending its legislative and presidential campaigns “until we have enough guarantees.”
FARC senate candidate Pablo Catatumbo said the attacks on the campaign were proof of a “coordinated and focused plan to impede the political participation of a legally constituted political party.”
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Speaking at a news conference, he said party officials would meet Monday in hopes of coming up with new strategies — like keeping rallies indoors — so they might continue their campaign.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was the hemisphere’s oldest and largest guerrilla group until it signed a peace deal in 2016 that allowed its members to disarm in exchange for the right to participate in politics.
Although the agreement won President Juan Manuel Santos a Nobel Peace Prize, it’s been controversial in this South American nation where the wounds of the half-century conflict that left more than 220,000 dead are still fresh.
As part of the agreement, the FARC is guaranteed at least five seats in the House and Senate during the March 11 legislative election. In addition, former FARC Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño is running for president in the May 27 race. However, he has approval ratings of about 2 percent and is running last in a recent poll of 10 candidates.
To compete on the political stage, the group changed its name to Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Comun, which roughly translates to the Popular Alternative Revolutionary Force, but allows it to keep its controversial acronym.
The FARC is hoping that a pro rural-development platform will win support in long neglected farming communities. On the campaign trail, however, Londoño has had to flee stops amid hails of debris. At one rally, the tires of his car were slashed as people screamed “murderer!” Social media have also been swamped with venomous anti-FARC posts.
More ominously, a former FARC member was assassinated on Feb. 6, presumably by guerrillas from the rival ELN, or National Liberation Army. The murder comes amid a wave of assassinations of community leaders and human rights advocates.
Asked about the public backlash, FARC senate candidate Antonio Lozada denied that his group was seeing broad-based rejection.
“You can’t say that it’s the Colombian people,” he said of the outbursts. “It’s a small group of professional provocateurs.”
In particular, he singled out members of the Centro Democrático party — the organization founded by former president and peace-deal detractor Alvaro Uribe — for organizing anti-FARC mobs at the events.
Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace, Rodrigo Rivera, said the harassment campaign against the FARC set a dangerous precedent.
“There’s a very small step between insults and acts of violence,” he said. “We’re playing with fire.”
Richard Aguilar, a senate candidate for the Cambio Radical party, said the FARC made a mistake by jumping into politics before their members, including Londoño, had gone before a truth commission, offered reparations to the victims or been processed by a special tribunal where they will be given alternative sentences.
“Timochenko is dreaming if he thinks he’s going to have the backing of Colombians,” Aguilar said. “First there should be justice, reparations and truth. And then he can weigh his popularity in the polls.”
Catatumbo suggested that Colombians hadn’t learned from their history. After all, the FARC was formed in 1964 “precisely [due to] intolerance, and political exclusion mixed with political violence.”
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