What would a FARC doing non-armed politics mean for Colombia?

The idea of FARC’s old political party coming back is stirring up bitter memories in Colombia. In a separate life, deep in south western Colombia some time during the 1980s, current chief negotiator for the FARC Ivan Marquez was assembling a new political party called the Patriotic Union (UP) party. FARC created the party as it simultaneously agreed to a truce with the Belisario Betancur government and began peace talks. Marquez earned a congressional seat as a UP representative. But when a systematic massacre of top UP leaders started in the late 1980s, Marquez turned in democracy for arms and joined the FARC. Marquez’ UP platform might not be that far off from a disarmed FARC would look like in Colombian politics.

In fact, the UP is already back. In July 2013, the UP reformed and psychologist and union leader Aida Avella Esquivel returned from exile in Switzerland to lead the party. Ideologically socialist, the party claims to represent some of Colombia’s most marginalized groups (peasant farmers, indigenous communities, Afro-Colombian communities) as well as victims suffering paramilitary violence. In February in the northern Colombian town of Conejo, Guajira FARC issued pamphlets stating its political movement was ‘socialism’, suggesting a retreat from the more radical Marxist-Leninism and Communism for which the organization has historically stood.

What would it mean then to have a non-armed socialist political movement supported by the FARC in the event of a peace deal? For the FARC themselves it would mean being included in the same Colombian state it claims excluded its constituents in the first place: poor peasants, indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups. “Contrary to what a lot of people think, the FARC have a great deal of popular support in many regions around the country, particularly in agriculture and colonial frontier regions,” a former leader of the UP and friend of Marquez Boris Cabrera told La Sillva Vacia in an interview.

For the Colombian people, any political project backed by FARC would mean a test of political tolerance for an organization many still perceive as more of a terrorist group than an armed political movement. During the early stages of peace talks between president Juan Manuel Santos’ government and FARC, 68% of Colombians polled in a survey said they were not in agreement with the formation of a FARC-sponsored political party.

The Colombian state will have the challenge of solving the problem of guaranteeing security for all political actors no matter how unpopular. In a partial accord on political participation signed on June 13, 2013, negotiators in Havana, Cuba gave the presidential office authoritative responsibility for ensuring the FARC’s peaceful political transition. State organs including the Fiscalía (Attorney General’s Office), Procuraduria (Inspector General’s Office), and the Defensoría del Pueblo (a state office for guarding human rights) will be charged with overseeing the security measures, according to the document. If security falls through, the state will be tested on how well it applies the rule of law and bring justice to authors of political persecution.

There are a number of risks associated with the FARC’s transition into politics. One risk to a lasting peace is that opposition toward the FARC doing politics turns violent and systematic again. An assassination of any member of the FARC Secretariat following demobilization would pose a huge risk to security and the viability of a post-conflict. Guerrilla could return to picking up arms. Finally, some observers say they’re paranoid the FARC could take advantage of the détente like it did with the Pastrana government, that this is all a ploy for regrouping and continuing to their war against the state.

Originally published at www.beaconreader.com.