Colombia: FARC becomes legal political party

Pope Francis urged Colombians Sept. 7 to move beyond what he called the "corrupting darkness" of the country's 50 years of internal conflict, saying they live in a land of "unimaginable fertility" that can meet the needs of all. His homily and Mass drew an estimated million people to Bogotá's Simon Bolívar Park. (NCR, Sept. 7) Exactly six days earlier, a rally of some 10,000 was held in the city's central Plaza Bolívar to hear leaders of the FARC formally announce their transformation from a guerilla army to a political party. Iván Márquez, a member of the FARC secretariat, pledged: "We have entered legal political life because we want to be the government, or take part in it." (Prensa Rural, Sept. 3)

The new party is to be called the Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Comun, or Popular Alternative Revolutionary Force—crucially, maintaining the FARC acronym. The group's old logo of AK-47 rifles crossed over an outline map of Colombia is to be replaced by a new one with a star surrounded by the petals of a red rose. (Miami Herald, Sept. 1) The Plaza Bolívar rally was preceded by the FARC's first general congress to be held wihtin Bogotá, attended by some 1,200 delegates. Presiding was the organization's ailing top leader, Timochenko, who returned to Colombia from Cuba to attend. (BBC News, Aug. 28; El Tiempo, Aug. 21) The peace accord awards the FARC 10 automatic seats in Congress through 2026, although the new party may also campaign for others. (Reuters, Aug. 27)

On Aug. 30, with the historic congress underway, Colombia's Constitutional Court approved Law 895, which creates an Integral Security System for Political Exercise, under which the FARC will be transformed into a legal party. (El Colombiano, Medellín, Aug. 30)

Amid all this, the US position has been less than encouraging. In Senate testimony on Aug. 2, assistant secretary of state for counter-narcotics William Brownfield addressed the surge in Colombian coca production over the past year, and actually blamed it on the peace process: "Widespread reporting indicates FARC elements urged coca growers to plant more coca, purportedly motivated by the belief that the Colombian government's post peace accord investment and subsidies would focus on regions with the greatest quantities of illicit crops." (Nuevo Siglo, Bogotá, Aug. 6; PDF at Foreign Affairs)