Does the Most Recent Conviction of FARC Leaders Mark the End of Peace Talks for Colombia?

On June 24, a Colombian court sentenced Rodgrio Londoño “Timochenko” Echeverri and Luciano Marín Arango, leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia; FARC), to up to 40 years in prison each. The court found each of them guilty of arranging a bombing in Puerto Rico in 2003 that resulted in four deaths. [1]

While this ruling marks a critical step towards holding FARC leaders accountable for their war crimes, it also highlights the failure of the Colombian government to adequately prosecute the infamous Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia; AUC) paramilitary troops for their own acts of violence. In fact, these forces often wreak more havoc in Colombia than the FARC, yet the government in its historic struggle against the FARC has largely failed to restrain them. The punishment of past FARC misdeeds would be a significant move to thwart future human rights violations, though by no means does the punishment of the FARC leaders alone atone for the injustices committed by the the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army; ELN), the AUC, and government security forces. The government must demonstrate the same commitment to prosecuting the crimes committed by these forces as it has with the FARC.

Further, the convictions actually may serve to endanger the ongoing fragile peace process in Colombia. Timochenko and other major FARC leaders have avoided numerous convictions in the past by seeking refuge outside the nation. [2] This time, however, Timochenko and Arango are currently leading peace deliberations with the Colombian government in Cuba and, as the BBC reports, will not “… get up from the negotiating table until peace [has] been achieved.” [3] Imprisoning them now would thus halt what progress has been made in the delicate peace talks that are now proceeding. Moreover, it is not likely that those who would replace Timochenko and Arango would possess the same strength of leadership and tenacity to bring an end to the conflict. By simultaneously convicting and negotiating with the FARC officials, Bogotá has undermined the effectiveness of the entire peace process. It would be naïve to assume that true peace could be attained in the midst of such antagonism among the groups. In this manner, refusing amnesty to the FARC leaders is counter-productive to achieving stability in Colombia. Further, this raises serious questions about how to punish past crimes to best promote the welfare of the Colombian nation and placate the grievances on both sides.

Bogotá must counter the ramifications of the court ruling in an effort to salvage the peace talks and bring an end to the continuing warfare in the country as soon as possible. Violence among paramilitary, government, ELN, and FARC forces has threatened the lives of Colombians for a half a century. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been claimed and more than three million have been displaced by the unending conflict. [4] At this late date, it must be clear to all that human rights violators on both sides must face some kind of punishment since perpetrators of human rights crimes must never escape judgment. However, the government must also meet the challenge of ending the ongoing strife. As ugly as it may be, it might be necessary to delay further prosecution—despite the desire to avenge the deceased—lest the prospects for peace talks be destroyed and another generation of Colombians made victim to this conflict.

To best achieve peace while upholding justice, the Colombian government must fairly and impartially punish all sides of the conflict at a time that does not unnecessarily disrupt the current peace process. By prosecuting all other human rights violators in this conviction process as it has the FARC perpetrators, the government will treat the FARC as equal members of the political landscape and give the organization more reason to trust that it can effect change through the political system. By making these pragmatic concessions, Bogotá and the FARC could make much more durable progress to deliver sorely needed peace.

Brian Drumm and Nicole Wasson, Research Associates at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

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[1] “Colombian court convicts top Farc leaders,” Latin News, June 25, 2013, archive=3&cat_id=791937%3Abrazil%E2%80%99s-opposition-gags-at-rousseff%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98bolivarian-coup%E2%80%99

[2] “Timochenko,” Colombia Report, October 24, 2012,

[3] “Colombia and FARC Rebels Chart Course for Peace Talks,” BBC News Latin America & Caribbean, September 4, 2012,

[4] “Colombians March in Support of FARC Peace Talks,” BBC News Latin America & Caribbean, April 9, 2013,