New blog: The FARC’s Transition to Colombian Democracy



The FARC’s new logo for their political party, the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force

Here is my new article for the AIIA looking at FARC’s transition from militancy to democracy.


New blog: FARC’s Insurgent Feminism


Photo from FARC E-Peace

I recently spent time in Colombia in June as part of a project examining the impact of the 2016 Peace Agreement’s gender provisions on women’s political participation, where I was able to hear from FARC about their new strategy, ‘insurgent feminism’. I contributed this article to AIIA, and I would love to hear your thoughts.



New Article: Mapping the Pursuit of a ‘Combination of All Forms of Struggle’: How Colombia’s Peace Agreement Complements the FARC’s political strategy


I recently wrote a new article for the Small Wars Journal. With emphasis often being placed on the nature of the FARC’s military activities and engagement in aspects of the coca trade, it is often stated that the movement lacks a cohesive political agenda. However, my article maps the FARC’s historical political strategy to demonstrate a consistency in adopting ‘la combinación de todas las formas de lucha’, or ‘the combination of all forms of struggle’. By drawing on primary FARC literature, it demonstrates how the 2016 Peace Agreement between the insurgency and the Colombian government appeases insurgent grievances and aids in the group’s political advances.

Colombia Votes No: But is all Really Lost?


Image taken from The City Paper Bogotá

I wrote this piece for AIIA’s Australian Outlook and has originally been printed here on October 4th, 2016 with additional hyperlinks

In a surprise outcome of the 2 October plebiscite, the Colombian population has voted ‘No’ to the final peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC. With 99.98 per cent of votes counted, the plebiscite question: ‘Do you support the final accord for the end of the conflict and the construction of stable and lasting peace?’ received 6,431,376 ‘No’ votes, closely followed by 6,377,483 ‘Yes’ votes. With a ‘No’ vote at 50.21 per cent and a ‘Yes’ vote at 49.78 per cent, this marks less than half a per cent between those voting for peace with the FARC, and those against.

President Juan Manuel Santos signed the final peace accord with the FARC at an official ceremony in Colombia on 27 September in Cartegena, Colombia. The agreement dealt with the five key agenda items in the current administration’s round of negotiations: rural and agrarian land reform, the nature of the FARC’s political participation, the solution to the illicit drug problem, how best to deal with the victims of the conflict in terms of transitional justice and repatriation, and how to end the conflict. Importantly, the Colombian government and the FARC agreed to a bilateral ceasefire marking the cessation of hostilities, and preparations have commenced towards post-conflict processes. For example, the FARC had begun to move towards 23 UN-monitored verification zones to commence the process of disarmament and reintegration. However, in light of the plebiscite decision, these processes have been temporarily stalled without a mandate that a successful plebiscite would have provided the presidency to implement the accords. Despite this unexpected result, does this mean that all in the four year negotiations are lost?

Reasons for a ‘No’ vote

Leading up to the plebiscite, polls demonstrated that there was in fact a clear lead for a ‘Yes’ vote. Should the ‘Yes’ vote been successful this would mark the end of the conflict with the FARC spanning over 52 years. Moreover, the final agreement dealt with key grievances that had traditionally framed the FARC’s political and military objectives and allowed for the transition from the battlefield to the political arena as a political party, with a guaranteed five seats in both the Senate and the House. The rural and agrarian reform provisions would allow for investment back into rural economic development, improving livelihood conditions for those living within the countryside. As such, there would be further government investment in social services and infrastructure, and the development of alternative illicit crop substitution in areas throughout the country. The agreement also included strong provisions for the inclusion of women in post-conflict processes, with both the Colombian government and the FARC agreeing to the necessity in creating a gender sub-commission overseeing the implementation of these gender inclusive provisions.

Yet a ‘no’ vote prevailed, significantly influenced by former President Álvaro Uribe who has consistently argued that the peace accord was too lenient. Uribe, a hard-handed president responsible for successful securitisation initiatives throughout the country, was particularly vocal against the FARC receiving guaranteed political seats and amnesty provisions. This echoed the sentiments of many in the broader Colombian public who felt that the government is granting too many concessions towards the guerrillas. In a conflict claiming over 220,000 lives since its inception, including over 7,900,000 registered victims, a variety of stakeholders, including the FARC, have caused lasting damage—both physically and psychologically. Particularly in terms of providing justice to the victims, this becomes complicated when many FARC fighters will not receive jail sentences but rather smaller penalties. Furthermore, a guaranteed incorporation into the political structure despite these atrocities can be seen by some as the legitimation of violence. Questions remain as to where and how the Colombian government will obtain the funding for many of social initiatives outlined in the accords, despite vowed US assistance through the launching of Peace Colombia.

What happens now?

Regardless of the narrow success of the ‘No’ vote, this doesn’t mark the end of peace attempts with the FARC. In fact, it has the potential to strengthen it. Whilst the rejection of the peace accord marks a significant blow for the Santos administration, the plebiscite itself is non-binding and the task now reorientates to addressing the question as to why Colombians would vote ‘no’. Although voter turnout was very low at just under 40 per cent, what is clear from the results is that the regions most affected by the conflict voted ‘Yes’ to the plebiscite.

Despite staking his presidency on a mandate for peace, Santos recognised the success of the ‘No’ vote in a speech shortly after the results of the plebiscite. He vowed to continue the peace process with the FARC, stating that he would be committed to calling “on all the political forces—particularly those that demonstrated ‘No’ today—to hear them and encourage dialogue and determine the way forward”. The president confirmed that the chief negotiator, Humberto De La Calle, and the High Commissioner for Peace, Sergio Jaramillo, will head back to Havana to advise FARC negotiators on the nature of the results. Shortly after the president’s announcement, the FARC issued a communique stating that the insurgency “maintains its will for peace and reiterates its willingness to only use the word as a weapon of construction towards the future”.

What is clear is that the peace process will take longer than initially intended. Whilst the ‘No’ vote may be a disappointment to many, the commitment of both parties towards recommencing negotiations immediately in Havana signifies not only the strength of the accords, but the strong desire to obtain peace for the country. Despite the fact that this plebiscite is not binding and could be passed with certain amendments through the Colombian congress, Santos has reaffirmed his commitment to popular democratic processes, and acting on the desires and opinions of the Colombian population. In vowing to work with stakeholders within the ‘No’ camp and include them directly in renegotiations of a final agreement, it potentially provides the opportunity for a more holistic framework respecting the wishes of greater sections of the population. Although the plebiscite’s outcome was a shock to many, it could in fact reorientate an agreement to achieve a more inclusive, consolidated and sustainable peace.

From Plan Colombia to Peace Colombia…will the US remove the FARC’s terrorism status?


President Santos and President Obama hold meeting commemorating Plan Colombia.  Photo from OP Cancillería used by Finance Colombia

On Thursday President Obama and President Santos held a meeting at the White House, in commemoration of 15 years of bilateral cooperation through Plan Colombia.  As one of the meeting’s outcomes, President Obama announced that he will ask congress for $US 450 million in aid to help the Colombian government implement a final peace deal with the FARC.  Plan Colombia has notoriously been shrouded in controversy, however the new strategy ‘Peace Colombia’ will actually mark an further increase in funding.  From 2000-2015, the US provided Colombia $10 billion in funding under ‘Plan Colombia’ towards the country’s military and social programmes.  The new strategy, if approved, will provide about 25 percent more US funding compared to 2016 levels.

According to the White House, the Peace Colombia framework will build on existing efforts and scale up ‘catalytic support to help Colombia win the peace’.  The framework will focus future US assistance under three key pillars, theoretically re-tailoring funding to deal with a post-conflict environment.  These are-

  1. Consolidating and expanding progress on security and counternarcotics while reintegrating the FARC into society
  2. Expanding state presence and institutions to strengthen the rule of law and rural economies, especially in former conflict areas; and
  3. Promoting justice and other essential services for conflict victim

Furthermore, the Obama administration advised that it would also request funds in FY 2017 for other ongoing programmes that would contribute to Peace Colombia’s goals.  This included funding for humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations and, importantly, the Department of Defense’s counternarcotics programmes if enacted by Congress.  Given that these counternarcotics programmes are closely linked to counterinsurgency strategy and combined with the three points mentioned above, it becomes clear that near future US policy towards Colombia will continue to be substantially influenced by COIN rationale.


SAN VICENTE, COLOMBIA: Two guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) stand guard on a highway next to a billboard with propaganda against the US-backed Colombia Plan in San Vicente, Colombia 30 January 2001. AFP PHOTO/Luis ACOSTA )

This then begs the question of how much Peace Colombia will truly differ to Plan Colombia.  Initially, Plan Colombia was also framed as a peace building initiative.  On January 11, 2000 the Clinton administration announced a $US 1.6 billion package to fund Plan Colombia, with roughly $1US billion of the total specifically designated for military and police aid.  The funding towards the military component of the strategy consisted principally of the supply of Huey and Black Hawk helicopters designated for anti narcotics operations, and the creation of two more military counternarcotics battalions.  This conveniently coincided with President Pastrana’s $US 7.5 billion plan to revive the Colombian economy, promote social development, eradicate illicit crops, and to continue stalled peace talks with the guerrillas at the time.  As a result, Plan Colombia was sold emphasising its political and social objectives, rather than its militaristic.

In an interview leading up to the meeting with Obama, Santos had asked that the US remove the FARC from its list of Foreign Designated Terrorist Organisations.  As quoted by the Guardian, Santos stated that-

‘If they sign it’s because we have a timetable for their disarmament and they have committed themselves to lay down their arms and make this transition to legal life. So I would say yes, I hope that they would be eliminated from the terror list’

Yet the US said on Thursday that it would be ‘premature’ and ‘inappropriate’ to take the FARC off the list before a final peace deal had been signed and implemented.  The FARC was placed on the US’s foreign terrorist organisation list in 1997 and the end of the Samper administration.  Whilst it is evident that the FARC has committed acts of terrorism, it wasn’t until the events of 9/11 that rhetoric of the FARC as ‘terrorists,’ rather than guerrillas, was significantly amplified within both Colombia and the US.  Given the nature of the ‘War in Terror’, it is really no surprise that the US Congress approved a $28 billion counterterrorism bill in July 2002 that included a further $35 million in supplemental aid for Colombia.  More importantly though, the new bill eliminated the conditions regarding the restrictions of US military aid to Colombian counternarcotics programmes solely.  This allowed the military aid that had constituted more than 70 percent in Plan Colombia counternarcotics funding since 2000 to be used towards COIN operations specifically.

There is no doubt that Colombia faces significant post-conflict challenges.  In terms of Peace Colombia, it is cautiously positive to see a commitment to funding that will be directed towards the implementation of a peace agreement after its signing.  However, in relation to how much it would significantly depart from the controversial Plan Colombia- it is still very much unclear given similar parallels between its objectives.  Whilst Santos has asked the US to remove the FARC from its designated terrorist organisations list, it is also unlikely that the US will do this in the near future until the outcomes of a successful peace deal implementation become more apparent.  Despite the AUC’s demobilisation between 2006-2008, it wasn’t until 2014 that it was delisted.  Moreover, peace talks with the ELN have not yet been finalised, which means that the future of the country’s second largest insurgency is not at all yet clear.  Terms of demobilisation have not been established, nor has potential entry into the country’s political arena.  Consequently, it is also likely to remain on the list.  More importantly than the label however, the designation of both the FARC and the ELN now justifies that amount of military aid that the US directs towards Colombia- particularly due to the lifting of restrictions on sole counternarcotics direction.  As a result it is unlikely that both the FARC and the ELN will be delisted until there is a substantial improvement in security, especially within the areas the insurgency’s maintain a significant degree of influence.  Despite the March 2016 peace deadline rapidly approaching, this increase in aid suggests an acceptance that Colombia faces many challenges yet to come in a post-conflict environment.

The final stages towards peace in Colombia, but what of politics and plebiscite?

Uribe Santos

November has marked a productive month in terms of peace negotiations between the Santos administration and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of  Colombia (the FARC).  Whilst under pressure to reach a final peace settlement before the agreed upon date of March 23rd 2016, on Monday the government and the FARC agreed to 74 of 75 points on a transitional justice deal.  As elaborated on in my previous post, some of the more controversial points include the granting of amnesty for FARC combatants, state agents and military officials who co-operate in terms of admission to their involvement in violence, and the nature of the FARC’s political involvement after a final deal is signed.

On Sunday, the government announced that it is granting pardons to 30 FARC members as part of a broader confidence building measure between the state and the insurgency. The FARC had urged the administration to release 81 of its jailed combatants based on health grounds. This was alongside imprisoned members of the insurgency protesting with a hunger strike to demand the release of injured combatants and appropriate medical treatment supplied.  Santos’ department guaranteed that none of the combatants being pardoned were imprisoned for serious crimes, and that they will be entitled to receive help in finding employment and receiving social support once they leave prison.

Moreover, the FARC’s Commander-in-Chief, Rodrigo Londono Echeverri alias ‘Timochenko’, announced that he had ordered the insurgency in September to stop buying weaponry as part of a ‘good will gesture’.  Of course, the complexity in disarmament continues to remain, with no clear process yet established to obtain the arsenal the combatants currently hold.

However, whilst it appears quite evident that a final deal between the government and the FARC will be in fact reached, the outcome of a plebiscite still remains.  In an interview with President Santos by BBC’s ‘HARDTalk Programme’ (audio available here), Santos stated that it is easier to make war than peace, and admitted that he will be ‘in serious difficulty’ if the Colombian population rejects the peace agreement put before them.  The question was posed to the President that many influential figures, including former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, continued to remain staunch opposers to the process. It was addressed that Uribe had formally stated, ‘it is not peace that is near, it is surrender to the FARC’.  In the context of Uribe stating that the FARC was literally getting away with murder, Santos later responded that ‘if you analyse what President Uribe is saying, you will come to the conclusion that he is being a bit…emotional’.  To which the interviewer reclaimed, ‘well the Colombian people are emotional! Of course they are emotional, 220000 people died in this war!’


In staunch criticism of the peace process, Uribe often takes to Twitter to vent his frustrations.  Photo Javier de la Torre, taken from Semana

It is clear to followers of Colombian politics that Uribe continues to remain a controversial figure, but it is hard to argue against the point that he was a strong president.  Under his administration, there were crucial  improvements in the securitisation of the country (not without its controversy).  These were policies that are remembered, and were largely supported by portions of the Colombian population.  Whilst Uribe has accused Santos of selling out to terrorists, he still wields significant influence over the Democratic Center (CD) party, who continue to opposed components of the package.

Furthermore, from a legislative perspective, not all has been smooth sailing for Santos.  In a surprising move in early November, the Colombian Senate voted against a constitutional reform that would allow for FARC leaders to participate in national politics, particularly in terms of the enforcement of peace.  As quoted in a Colombian Reports article, the Minister of the Interior, Juan Fernando Cristo, stated that-

‘We took the decision to eliminate the issue of political participation from Senate approval due to some modifications that were incorporated. The truth is it will be worth it to give it more debate and make more profound reflections concerning the issue’

Whilst this also surprised the Congress, it is indeed a move that draws attention to the fact that despite good intentions, there are a variety of legal issues that could influence the implementation of a peace agreement without support. The FARC has been pushing for guaranteed seats in Colombia’s Congress a part of the ‘political participation’ and ‘end of conflict’ agenda items.  Although the government is believed to support this motion, there is various division within the legislative bodies as to how this will technically occur.

Agreement to a political solution in ending the conflict with the FARC is one thing, but agreement to allow the FARC Secretariat’s involvement in Colombian politics is another- an issue that indeed is ’emotional’, and has the potential to influence a referendum vote.  Last week Colombia’s Senate approved a plebiscite, allowing the Colombian population to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the implementation of the peace deal with the FARC.  Proposed by members of Santos’ political party as the method of ratification, the final settlement cannot be implemented without the agreement of the Colombian population despite the March 23rd deadline.

Santos is confident that there will be a ‘yes’ vote to a final settlement, and what could work in his favour is that a 13% ‘yes’ vote could ratify the peace deal, rather than a 51% majority.  Despite it being argued that such a low threshold may need to be applied to all future plebiscites, this was set as a result of  historically low turnout rates in the country.  Not surprisingly this passed in the absence of the DC, as there as disagreement with the 13% threshold.  Despite his confidence, Uribe’s influence can not be forgotten- both within official politics, and the memory of the Colombian people.

Fundamentally, a plebiscite does indeed allow a vote of emotion.  I hold high hope that a ‘yes’ majority will pass, however when dealing with such a protracted and violent conflict, historical memory comes into affect.  Should there be a ‘yes’ vote, so starts the process towards peace.  Should there be a ‘no’, I suspect we’ll have a resignation.

Colombia and the FARC reach a breakthrough deal

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 12.10.19 PM

Picture from Flickr, user FARIANA

Announcing on Twitter that he will meet in Havana to accelerate the end of the conflict with the insurgency, President Santos declared twelve hours later that the FARC and Colombian government have reached an agreement to sign a definitive peace deal by March 23, 2016. According to the agreement, the FARC will have to disarm within a maximum of 60 days after signing a final peace accord. With this, so commenced the hashtag, #LaPazEstáCerca, met with a bombardment of cynicism and apathy.

Photo from Twitter

Photo from Twitter

Photo from Twitter

Photo from Twitter

Whilst Colombians have become accustomed to peace processes with both the FARC and the ELN failing, in terms of advancements within other negotiation periods this most recent agreement marks a historic breakthrough.  In a handshake between Santos and ‘Timochenko’ (the FARC’s current commander-in-chief) overseen by Cuban President Raúl Castro, the Colombian government and the insurgency have agreed to a final agenda item of the negotiation framework- a formula to compensate victims and punish those responsible for human rights abuses.

The two sides agreed upon investigations and the creation of special tribunals that will be responsible for processing crimes.  Combatants that immediately confess the nature of their crimes, provide information and compensate victims will be treated with a degree of leniency.  Should they promise not to take up arms again, they will receive up to eight years of restrictions on their liberty and face confinement in designated areas that are yet to be determined.  Those that confess once the trial has started will be eligible for reduced sentences to be served in jail.  Finally, those who do not cooperate, and who are convicted of crimes against humanity, will receive up to 20 years in jail.

These tribunals will be responsible for multiple actors including members of the FARC, state agents and military officials who committed crimes in direct relation to the conflict with the insurgency.  Moreover, it will also be applied to the conflict’s ‘funders’, such as businessmen and industrialists who played a role in providing finances to the insurgency based on their vested interests.

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 12.18.55 PM

Photo from Flickr, user Maria Carvajal Alcivar

The Colombian government and the FARC had already agreed upon other agenda items, including agrarian reform, political participation for demobilised combatants and joint efforts to combat the drug industry.  The parts of the FARC’s proposals on political participation and solutions to the drug industry were incorporated into the agreements.  However, the issue of kinds of penalties that were to applied to the guerrillas had always been one of the most difficult parts of the agenda, including issues of transitional justice.  From the outset of negotiations, the FARC had made it clear that it would not accept a condition that resulted in jail time for leaders and combatants.  Consequently, a final agreement on judicial processing marks a significant move in overcoming the last hurdle in terms of agenda.

However, there are two outstanding hurdles before peace can finally be achieved.  Understandably, many Colombians have expressed disenchantment with the current policy towards the insurgency, arguing that Santos has made too many concessions towards the guerrillas.  In a consequent Twitter post, Santos made it clear that Colombians will have the final say in endorsing the agreement with the insurgency.  This means that there will likely have to be a referendum for the final peace agreement to pass, that will give Colombians the opportunity to voice their opinions through popular vote.  Any peace deal will also have to pass the Colombian congress.  Moreover, the practicalities of disarmament and demobilisation have not yet been specifically agreed upon, despite being implied in both a 60 day deadline and opportunities for voluntary crime admission as mentioned above.  The next step for both sides is then to turn to the final stage of the implementation, verification and signing of a framework that ensures the non-reoccurrance of conflict between both parties, and a clearer structure for disarmament and demobilisation processes.

Photo from Twitter

Photo from Twitter

The agreement over one of the most difficult and controversial agenda item is a pivotal move in finally securing peace between the Colombian government and the FARC.  Whilst this can be seen as a positive step in achieving peace, it faces a tired population.  Hopefully, March 2016 will mark the end of a conflict spanning over fifty years.

Is Shining Path really back on the rise? It’s highly unlikely

In late July, Peru’s President Ollanta Humala announced that drug trafficking is no longer a parallel power in the Valley of the Rivers Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro (VRAEM) region.  Whilst this is a little premature, according a White House statement from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2014 marked the lowest estimate in coca cultivation since 2010, though production potential rose by 7 percent.  Despite this, Ollanta Humala declared that since he assumed office four years ago, alternative crops had developed in more than 98000 hectares of land previously utilised for the cultivation of the coca leaf.  Although the Peruvian government announced approximately US $566 million allocated to development efforts for the residents of the VRAEM, this region still remains as one of the world’s densest coca-producing belts, and home to some of the Andean region’s poorest populations.  Moreover, this region marks one of the last active areas of Sendero Luminoso, otherwise known as Shining Path.

Counterterrorism bases in the VRAEM. Photo by Galeria del Ministerio de Defensa de Perú, Creative Commons

Counterterrorism bases in the VRAEM. Photo by Galeria del Ministerio de Defensa de Perú, Creative Commons

Last week, Peru’s Defence Minister Jakke Valakivi stated that the government has been unsuccessful in eradicating the remaining faction of the insurgency, admitting that ‘we cannot say that this terrorist group has been exterminated…it is much weakened, of course, but it continues to operate’.  The remarks come after Peruvian security forces rescued 54 adults and children held by the Shining Path, some for over decades.  Amongst claims that militants are still holding around 200 people captive, there are concerns that the movement is back on the rise.  The question is , does Shining Path really have the capacity to strengthen to levels it enjoyed during the 1980s and 1990s?

The short answer is, no. Shining Path was considered to be one of the most violent and dangerous insurgencies in the world, and has been listed on the US’s List of Foreign Terrorist Organisations since 1997.  Throughout 1968-1980, Peru experienced military rule, when General Juan Velasco Alvarado overthrew President Fernando Belaúnde Terry.  By 1977, both economic and political pressures prompted the military regime to initiative a gradual return to civilian life.  Consequently, this resulted in the Constituent Assembly elections in 1978, with the Assembly producing the constitution of 1979.  The constitution set up elections every five years, and municipal elections every three years beginning in 1980.

On 17th May 1980, the eve of Peru’s first democratic elections in sixteen years, Shining Path announced that it was initiating its armed struggle.  Although a very small, obscure group at the time, Shining Path’s first attack was the burning of ballot boxes in the remote Andean town of Chusci, located in the southern Andean Department of Ayacucho.  The group’s leader, Abimael Guzmán, was a university professor and founding member of the pro-Maoist Communist Party of Peru- Bandera Roja (Red Flag).  Shining Path was formed from another pro-Maoist, break away faction by Guzmán in 1970.  He was considered amongst followers as the ‘fourth sword of Marxism’ behind Marx, Lenin and Mao, and believed that Peru after the death of Mao had now become the epicentre and vanguard of world revolution.

Though founded by Guzmán, the insurgency’s ideology was heavily influenced by

one of Latin America’s foremost Marxist thinkers, José Carlos Mariátegui, who sought to adapt Marxism to the realities of Peru.  ‘The Problem of the Indian’ published in 1928 was particularly influential, where Guzmán argued that Mariátegui anticipated Mao in emphasising rural rebellion as the vehicle for revolutionary change in less developed economies.

Within existing literature on Shining Path, it is noted that there are a few specific factors that accounted for the mobilisation of the insurgency.  The ideology of Shining Path was heavily Maoist, influenced by the Peruvian environment and realities of agrarian life.  Maoism seemed be more resonant within Peru, arguably much more than any other Latin American countries, particularly because of its emphasis on rural politics and the glorification of the traditional culture of the peasants and agrarian labourers.  Guzmán himself was convinced that by the late 1970s, Peru resembled China in the 1930s and that the country’s experience provided a ripe foundation for revolution.

Abimael Guzmán. Picture by Ipeape, Creative Commons

Abimael Guzmán. Picture by Ipeape, Creative Commons

Morever, Shining Path’s initial base of the San Cristóbal National University of Huamanga aided in its mobilisation strategy.  Like Shining Path’s original core support base, the university was situated in Ayacucho, which was one of the most isolated and poorest regions in Peru.  The re-opening of the university after its initial closure in the mid-19th century was designed to serve for social and economic change within the region by offering local youth various specialisations that were specifically designed to address the local problems of the area, including education, nursing, and agricultural engineering amongst others.  At the time, Guzmán was a philosophy professor before transitioning to various roles within the university, eventually becoming Director of Personnel.  Particularly throughout the 1960s, the university was considered to be a ‘breeding ground’ for communism, which was influenced by Guzmán’s position.  In the role of Director of Personnel, there was the ability to forge an institution committed to teaching and implementing Marxist principles, and then extending them after students graduated and returned to their communities.  Consequently, it is believed that this dynamic aided in Shining Path’s recruitment and mobilisation at a later stage.

Finally, though not prevalent in all insurgent movements, there was a significant degree of charismatic leadership surrounding Guzmán.  Within the university, there was a high degree of patronage and loyalty towards Guzmán, and was perceived as having both strong intellectual and tactical ability.  Particularly amongst core members, there was a genuine perception that he was worthy to be considered as the ‘fourth sword of Marxism’, and there was a strong dedication to the leader.

The Shining Path consisted of an elaborate political and military structure, operating in hierarchical format with Guzmán at the head of most functions.  It is generally estimated that by 1992 there were roughly 10000 militants, with some going so far as to estimate around 50000 passive supporters.  However, after Guzmán’s capture in 1992, there was a decline in membership to around 500 members  Later, he called on his followers to agree to a ceasefire and make peace with the government.  This move towards a peace settlement created a split within the insurgency between two main factions- those that remained loyal in the Huallaga Valley region, and those that considered Guzmán to be a traitor within the VRAEM region.  The latter is now led by members of the Quispo Palomino family.

In June this year, the US Department of Treasury designated the Shining Path as major drug traffickers, and sanctioned it as a narco-terrorist group.  The Department  froze the individual assets of Shining Path leaders Victor Quispe Palomino, who is known as “Comrade José;” his brother, Jorge Quispe Palomino, also known as “Raúl,” and Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, who is known as “Comrade Artemio”. He headed the faction loyal to Guzmán in Huallaga and Peruvian Troops captured him in February 2012. In June 2013, a court sentenced Artemio, the last of the original Shining Path leaders, to life in prison.

Despite the re-emergence of Shining Path in the media given the events of the last few weeks, and the admission by the Peruvian government that it hasn’t been able to defeat the movement, it is unlikely that what’s left of the Shining Path will be able to mobilise to the extent that it be considered a serious threat to the state’s stability.  Whilst it is evident that the faction operating in the VRAEM is firmly engaged within the coca industry, it is difficult to label the movement solely as a drug trafficking organisation, given that the current movement does indeed espouse a general form of Maoism throughout its propaganda.  The term ‘narco-terrorist’ is fitting, however it is critical to acknowledge that this militant group acting under the name ‘Shining Path’ has fundamentally transitioned from the original insurgency.  Currently, the group is estimated to have 80 fighters and some 350 members. In terms of ideology, the political objectives of the present faction are unclear beyond attempting to secure a monopoly of the coca industry in VRAEM.  In fact, I’d go so far to argue that given the incredibly loose ties between those operating in the VRAEM and the original core leadership, the name ‘Shining Path’ is purely being utilised in an attempt to legitimise the group’s economic objectives.  The ideological underpinning differs from the Shining Path under Guzmán’s directive that mobilised on a strong Maoist platform in areas where the agrarian elements of the discourse resonated.  Moreover, the group doesn’t have a leader like Guzmán.  Whereas many insurgencies survive without charismatic leaders, in the case of the original Shining Path command-and-control was heavily structure around the leader, and he was viewed as the vehicle of its political objectives.  Throughout the movement, there was a genuine perception by the top tiers that Guzmán was the ‘fourth sword of Marxism’, which sheds light on the effect his arrest had on the original insurgency.  Whilst the Peruvian government hasn’t been able to dismantle what’s left of the movement as yet, given current ‘pacification strategy’, the development of alternative livelihood crops and significant funding being devoted to social initiatives within the VRAEM, it may only be a matter of time.

FARC and Colombian Government Agree to Bilateral Ceasefire

Santos tweets

On July 13, Santos states an important announcement will be made. Image courtesy of official account, Twitter

On Sunday, President Santos tweeted that negotiators were making an important step in the advancing agreements with the FARC.  Shortly after, a bilateral ceasefire was agreed upon between the government and the insurgency, as long as the FARC upholds their unilateral ceasefire.  Commencing 20 July (the day that the FARC declared its commencement of a unilateral ceasefire), the ceasefire will initially last a month, with both the government and FARC to tentatively agreeing to extend it for another four months.

Whilst not a surprising move given mounting international pressure, the last time a bilateral ceasefire had been agreed upon in negotiations was those commenced under the Betancur administration in 1982.  However, this can be seen as a major step towards easing tensions between the Colombian government and the FARC, and a commitment to the de-escalation of conflict.  Furthermore, this demonstrates that peace talks are being accelerated with both parties pushing for a political solution.

A copy of the press release regarding the bilateral ceasefire can be found here.  The stated objectives of such a move include to strengthen the confidence of the Colombian population in the peace process and trust amongst delegations; to speed up the construction of agreements on all remaining aspects of the Agenda of General Agreement, and to create the conditions for the implementation of the ceasefire and Bilateral and Final Hostilities, the third point of the ‘End of Conflict’ agenda item. Commitment to a bilateral ceasefire is a positive move in keeping negotiations on track, and hopefully all FARC Fronts will abide to the conditions of a unilateral ceasefire.