BOGOTÁ, Colombia – The last United Nations truck carrying containers filled with pistols, rifles and grenades that formerly belonged to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has left a “transition zone” in the northeast of the country, marking the end of the rebels’ disarmament.
In late February, the last FARC unit arrived in one of the aforementioned “transition zones,” essentially demobilization camps established in rural and topographically-challenging regions throughout the country in departments like Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca, La Guajira, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo and Valle del Cauca, where they turned over their weapons and began the transition to civilian life.
In early January, the 26 transition zones were opened and since then, more than 7,000 now-former guerrillas have passed through the camps. They arrived in groups by boat, bus and on foot from their encampments in the lush jungles of Colombia through treks that lasted several days.
Once they arrived, they expected to have found common spaces constructed by the national government that included areas for cooking and eating, cleaning and health services. Furthermore, they were to find waiting for them the materials and tools needed to construct beds and dormitories, per the government’s promises.
In reality, the FARC units arrived to find the vast majority of the camps either in the process of being constructed or completely empty. Government instructors meant to provide job training and give lessons on political and civic society were absent.
As a result, the rebels slept through torrential thunderstorms on patches of uncovered grass, read and played sports to pass the time and lived off 2 cans of food a day for weeks until the government’s promises were fulfilled.
Due to the delays in the construction and infrastructure of the camps, the weapons handover deadline was pushed back from mid-June. Despite the setback, however, the demobilization and disarmament process concluded as intended.
Pondores, La Guajira was the site of the very last white UN container being sealed and shipped off in a semi-truck while President Juan Manuel Santos, top FARC figures and journalists looked on to mark the end of the important stage.
Jean Arnault, the Special Representative of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Head of the United Nations Mission in Colombia, was also present in Pondores. He outlined the end of the historic mission in bulk numbers: 8,112 firearms and over one million ammunition boxes were surrendered while the positions of 873 weapons storage sites were revealed.
Arnault, who has been in the South American nation for several years now working on the peace process, said that the remaining ammunition boxes and individual cartridges will be incinerated while the firearms will be registered, packed and melted.
The remaining material that is produced by the foundries will be made into monuments which will be placed in Bogotá (as it is the Colombian capital), Havana (as it was the host of the peace talks) and New York City (at the headquarters of the United Nations).
“What we once thought impossible is now reality. The disarmament of the FARC is definite,” said Santos just after he ceremoniously closed and locked the doors of the last UN weapons container. “In spite of the delays, we have managed to achieve this objective. By comparison, the abandonment of arms took ten years but we have thankfully managed to do the same here in eight months,” added Santos.
The 26 “transition zones” now become essentially FARC towns or “Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation” as they are officially labeled by the government. There, the remaining (and now weapon-less) former rebels who have known nothing but warfare as a daily routine will finally be given the education, job training and lessons on civic society they were promised; many are expected to remain in those areas or in the vicinity given their knowledge of the land and self-sustaining agriculture.
In December of 2016, Congress ratified the agreement reached during peace talks between the FARC and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos. The peace talks in question between the FARC, Latin America’s oldest insurgency group, and the Colombian government, started in October of 2012 initially in Oslo, Norway and then continued in Havana, Cuba with the hopes of ending a conflict that has lasted over half a century.
In reaction to a ultraviolent crackdown on peasant organizations, the FARC militarized in 1964. As the primary guerrilla force, the FARC rebels have been engaged in war with the Colombian government since then, a war that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and displaced nearly seven million more.
Agreements on land reform have been achieved during the peace talks, along with the group’s future political participation and the topic of the illicit drug trade. The last point that was agreed upon, which was transitional justice, carried with it the sub-point of suspect and victim recognition and reparation, the most sensitive subject given that it concerned all those affected by the conflict.