World News

Colombia’s FARC Suspends Presidential Campaign After Attacks

Posted February 9, 2018 11:38 a.m. EST

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Colombia’s once-feared largest rebel group, which signed a peace deal with the government, has suspended all campaigns in upcoming congressional and presidential elections, sullying an electoral cycle that was supposed to be a celebration of the group’s move into the political arena, without its rifles.

The leftist organization, which signed the deal in 2016, said there were “a lack of guarantees to realize political activity in the country,” after a spate of attacks against their wartime leader and current presidential candidate, Rodrigo Londoño. The group said the suspension of campaigning was temporary but did not indicate when, or if, it might resume.

Londoño, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, was twice attacked on the campaign trail within a week by protesters who pelted his motorcade with rocks, on one occasion practically destroying his armored SUV.

Other candidates said they have received death threats, and one prominent member of the organization, who goes by the nom de guerre Iván Márquez, canceled a campaign event earlier this week in the face of violent protests.

Londoño’s running mate, Imelda Daza, said in an interview with a local radio station Friday morning that the violence was instigated by “persons interested in sabotaging the FARC’s campaign.”

Daza singled out the hard-line Democratic Center party for the most recent violence. The group’s spiritual leader and Colombia’s former president, Álvaro Uribe, has been a fierce critic of the peace process.

The U.N. mission charged with monitoring the peace process reported last month that 36 members of the group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have been killed since the peace deal’s implementation in late 2016.

During Uribe’s tenure in the seat Londoño hopes to occupy, he led a brutal military campaign against the FARC. After his presidency, he led the successful effort to vote down the peace deal in an initial referendum in October 2016. The deal was ultimately passed in November 2016 by lawmakers.

The FARC’s decision to suspend its campaign, in which it is running 74 candidates across both houses of congress, is a dispiriting moment in a peace process that struggles to maintain public support.

The government was considering these elections an indicator of the peace process’s success.

Londoño was running on an anti-poverty platform, having begun his presidential bid late last month in a downtrodden Bogotá neighborhood. Bespectacled and wearing a suit and tie — a far cry from the jungle fatigues he once donned — his campaign represented the group’s willingness to move from armed struggle to the political arena.

Still, many Colombians are unable to look past the wartime atrocities he is accused of overseeing. A faction of society still considers him a terrorist, and wants him to answer for his role in a half-century-long conflict that left at least 220,000 dead and nearly 7 million displaced.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who oversaw the peace deal, called on the country to resist political violence.

“I believe we all agree that aggression and violence toward candidates in the elections must not occur,” Santos said at the installation of an election oversight committee Monday. “We want transparent and peaceful elections.”