Preceded by confrontations between liberal and conservative guerillas in the period of Colombian history known as “La Violencia” (The Violence), the armed conflict between the state and the FARC-EP can be traced back to the 1960s. The FARC-EP guerilla group formed in 1964, and its guerilla structures spread and evolved in different regions of Colombia over the following decades.
The first peace process with this group was under the government of Belisario Betancur (1982-1986). In addition to issuing an amnesty law that facilitated the demobilization of guerilla group members, Betancur managed to sign a ceasefire agreement in 1984, titled the Uribe Accords (after the municipality in the department of Meta, in southern Colombia). This agreement also included the suspension of kidnappings, the creation of a commission for verifying the contents of this agreement, and commitments for guaranteeing the political participation of FARC-EP members and those of other guerilla organizations who later signed the ceasefire as well (the Popular Liberation Army, the 19th of April Movement and the Worker Self-Defense (EPL, M-19 and ADO, respectively, according to their Spanish initials)). The breach of terms by both parties, the worsening of the war, the impacts that this had on the civilian population, and the subsequent assassination of more than three thousand members of the Patriotic Union—a political party created through the accord—wound up shattering these peace talks in 1987.
A new attempt at negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP took place from the end of the 1980s to the beginning of the 90s, within the framework of a constituent assembly and the development of peace accords with other guerilla groups like the M-19, the EPL, the Quintín Lame Movement and the Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT, according to the Spanish initials). After years of fruitless attempts, in the first months of 1991, under the government of César Gaviria (1990-1994), the FARC-EP’s willingness to open a dialogue becomes public along with that of other guerilla groups assembled under the name Simón Bolivar Guerilla Coordinating Committee (the National Liberation Army (ELN, according to its Spanish initials) and factions of the EPL). Months later, formal talks were planned for Caracas, Venezuela and Tlaxcala, Mexico. Despite some advances in defining an agenda for the talks, this negotiation attempt was foiled by the kidnapping and death of ex-minister Argelino Durán Quintero at the hands of the EPL.
The possibility of a new negotiation between the government and the FARC-EP swayed presidential elections in favor of Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002). Once elected, he ordered the military, in mutual agreement with the FARC-EP, to withdraw from five municipalities in southern Colombia (approximately 42,000 km2) to begin peace talks in early 1999. The talks had a few landmarks, like the signing of an agenda and other agreements to overcome critical junctures and address subjects like a ceasefire. Yet, after three years, the process failed as the violence and the confrontation between parties worsened and the FARC-EP were repeatedly accused of improperly using the demilitarized zone for strategic retreats. In 2002, the demilitarized zone was retaken by military forces, and this attempt at peace came to an end.
During Álvaro Uribe’s two terms in office (2002-2010) different initiatives for reconciliation with the FARC-EP were proposed, beginning in 2003 and 2004 with proposals for a humanitarian agreement that would encompass the guerilla’s release of kidnapping victims. From 2004 to 2007, through a government-authorized facilitator who would contact a member of the FARC-EP’s Central Command for humanitarian proposals, different exchanges developed around the need for a space to hold direct meetings between parties, the definition of terms for a possible demilitarized zone, and the fulfillment of some unilateral actions that would allow a humanitarian agreement to be reached. By the final months of Uribe’s government, in 2010, through the same facilitation channel, the possibility of a direct meeting between delegates from both parties was once again proposed for exploring a humanitarian accord and the beginning of talks. These exchanges ended with the publication of a letter where the FARC-EP repeated their willingness to enter into dialogue, lamenting the brief window of time for such talks in light of the upcoming presidential elections.