Colombian citizens head to the polls Sunday with a simple mandate: to approve or reject a peace deal brokered by the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
A “Yes” vote would end a 52-year conflict that has killed more 220,000 people and offer the possibility of real political power to a group that has run its violent operations from the jungle. A “No” vote would mean, as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said, that the war is back on.
Rusty on your Colombia-FARC recent history? Brush up by reading these five stories by The Post’s Latin America correspondent Nick Miroff:
The terms of the peace accord
The deal facing public vote consists of five key points:
- The end of political violence.
- Justice for victims of the conflict.
- Rural development.
- FARC in politics.
- Ending the drug trade.
Colombia’s war with FARC: in numbers
The war began in 1964 and has cost the country thousands of lives and as much as $40 billion in economic losses. More on the human toll:
The fighting in Colombia has killed more than 220,000 over the past five decades, according to government tallies. Nearly 7 million Colombians have been driven from their homes — the highest number of what the United Nations considers “internally displaced people” (IDPs) in the world. And Colombians will continue to be maimed long after the war ends by land mines, which have killed or injured more than 11,000 people since 1990. That is second-highest number of land mines in the world after Afghanistan.
Colombia’s war with FARC: a rebel’s story
Around 7,000 rebels will emerge from years of living in the jungle if the peace accord is approved. Here’s the story of one of them: Yurluey Mendoza is the nom de guerre of a woman who has spent 20 years as a FARC guerrilla; she joined up when she was 14.
Many, like Yurluey, are preparing to re-enter the modern world. They have spent years roaming Colombia’s mountains and forests, bathing in creeks and sleeping in crude campsites.
Talking to Yurluey was like meeting someone who had stepped out of a time machine. She has never used the Internet, never seen the ocean, never been to the movies or ridden a bicycle.
She was also clearly not used to answering questions.
“Why me?” Yurluey asked. “Why did you pick me?”
How U.S. intervention tipped the war
By the early 2000s, negotiations between FARC and the government were failing, and the United States stepped in. In 2001, the U.S. approved a security aid package called Plan Colombia, providing what would be 16 years and $10 billion in training and other support for Colombian armed forces.
It delivered a shot of confidence to Colombia’s institutions, particularly its military. It gave the country a vast, sophisticated intelligence-gathering system to hunt the rebels, as well as the lethal hardware to strike them from the skies.
By 2003, nearly 5,000 staff members and private contractors were working out of the American diplomatic compound in Bogota, making it the largest U.S. embassy in the world.
Once outmaneuvered and intimidated by the FARC, Colombian soldiers received the training and technology to confront the guerrillas head-on. With American Black Hawk helicopters, they learned to deploy quickly into rugged guerrilla terrain. They are widely viewed today as Latin America’s best-prepared and most professional military.
Up for grabs: the drug trade
FARC’s long war is funded by drug profits, but Colombian armed forces aren’t betting that the drug trade goes away if the peace deal is approved by voters.
As the Colombian government nears a deal to end its 50-year conflict with FARC guerrillas, it is intensifying another war in the jungles here along the Caribbean coast, the stronghold of a shadowy drug organization known as Clan Úsuga.
For more than a year, U.S.-trained Colombian commandos in Black Hawk helicopters have been hunting the group’s leader, Dario Antonio Úsuga, a.k.a. Otoniel, in an urgent campaign to capture or kill him before a truce with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is signed.