Founded in 1964, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia are a Marxist–Leninist revolutionary guerrilla organization that has battled Colombian authorities for the past 49 years, with neither side gaining the upper decisive hand in the conflict. The talks in Cuba are designed to bring the Western Hemisphere's longest running insurgency to a close, but the two sides remain divided on many issues.
Last Thursday Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos introduced legislation into the National Constituent Assembly seeking a nationwide referendum to validate any agreement between the parties to end the armed conflict prior to the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 9, 2014 and the upcoming May 25 presidential elections.
FARC rejects the proposal, suspecting Santos of political grandstanding in order to influence next year's elections, favoring instead that if an agreement is reached, it be voted upon and ratified only by the National Constituent Assembly, El Periodico reported on Tuesday. FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, also referred to as Timoleon Jimenez, or Timnochenko, stated that the FARC delegation saw the referendum issue as the government's attempt to "paint us into a corner."
In a startling political development last week during the Havana discussions FARC partially accepted responsibility for the thousands of deaths as a result of its struggle with the authorities in Bogota. FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo stated on the sidelines of the peace negotiations, "Without a doubt, there has also been cruelty and pain provoked by our forces. Still, we must recognize the need to approach the issue of victims, their identification and reparations with complete loyalty to the cause of peace and reconciliation." Adding credence to his words, Catatumbo is the third highest FARC commander and the second most important FARC representative in the peace delegation.
Aside from FARC's reservations about the referendum proposal, Santos also faced political opposition back home in Colombia. While His referendum proposal had broad political support, former president Alvaro Uribe emerged as a fierce opponent of a peace settlement with the insurgents.
The government and FARC began their negotiations in late 2012 and already reached a consensus on a number of critical issues such as agriculture and are currently discussing how FARC might be integrated into a new political and legal framework. Since 1964 conflict has caused nearly 230,000 deaths and displaced 5 million, according to a Colombian government commission report issued last month. Other estimates put the number of casualties as high as 600,000.
FARC is believed to have about 8,000 armed fighters, but the Colombian government's increasingly successful counter-insurgency campaigns have put the group under increased military pressure. Colombia has Latin America's fourth largest economy, but the distribution of wealth is highly unequal, with a report by the National University of Colombia noting that only 13.8 percent of total national income is allocated to the poorest 50 percent of the population, while the wealthiest 10 percent of the population benefits from 46.5 percent, providing a rich environment for FARC to insist that its campaign is to address issues of social inequities.