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Here's A Timeline Of Colombia And The FARC's Attempts At Peace

As voters reject a historic peace deal that ends more than 50 years of war, a look back at the decades of conflict and failed efforts to end it.

Posted on October 2, 2016, at 7:37 p.m. ET

October 2, 2016: Voters in Colombia reject a historic peace peace agreement with the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC, negotiated to end a five-decade-long civil war.

Luis Acosta / AFP / Getty Images

The vote comes as a shock to the country, where approval was expected to win by a wide margin. More than 220,000 people were killed and nearly 7 million were displaced from their homes as the conflict dragged on, and peace negotiation after peace negotiation over the years failed. This year's agreement meant to finally break the cycle.

That's now. But let's go back to look at how we got to the point that the longest conflict in the Western Hemisphere came closer than ever to finally ending — and the moment its fate became uncertain.

1964: The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC, is born in Tolima, a rural area in the country’s west.

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The movement, founded by nearly 50 farmers fed up with the concentration of power among Colombia’s elite and the systematic dispossession of land across the country, is led by Manuel Marulanda and Jacobo Arenas.

They join a wave of leftist guerrillas that begins sweeping over Latin America during the 1960s and into the 1980s. The goal: a more equitable spread of Colombia's wealth and power to all the people in Colombia.

1970s: The FARC, which started off small, begins to grow and recruit other disaffected men and women throughout Colombia. It finances its expansion through high-profile kidnappings and drug trafficking.

Eric Vandeville / Getty Images

It doesn't enter the field without competition: It is up against both drug lords trafficking millions of dollars worth of cocaine out of Colombia and groups of right-wing paramilitary groups founded to push back against leftist rebels. These eventually became criminal groups themselves, whose portfolios include high-profile assassinations and extortions. Their ongoing rivalry with the FARC adds another bloody dimension to Colombia’s struggles.

1984: By the 1980s, clashes with FARC rebels have become a major destabilizing force in Colombia. Then-President Belisario Betancur opens peace negotiations with FARC commanders to attempt to end the fighting.


After two decades of fighting, the FARC shows signs that it is attempting to go mainstream. It joins more moderate leftist groups to back a new political party, the Union Patriotica (Patriotic Union), which manages to win several seats in Colombia's congress. The talks eventually collapse under the weight of mutual distrust, however, and the Patriotic Union never gains much in the way of political strength.

1990: FARC co-founder Jacobo Arenas dies of natural causes. Following a brief power struggle, his fellow co-founder Manuel Marulanda takes over the leadership of the FARC. The entire decade is marked by a string of bombings and mass murders.

Ariana Cubillos / Associated Press

Marulanda will continue on as the FARC's commander-in-chief until he dies of a heart attack in 2008.

1991: Peace negotiations between FARC leaders and the Colombian state take place in Caracas, Venezuela, though they — as with all other attempts at peace so far — eventually break down.

Ricardo Mazalan / ASSOCIATED PRESS

In response to the failed talks, the FARC embarks on a huge expansion campaign, taking over territory from groups that had demobilized in the wake of Colombia's new constitution being ratified in 1991.

1996: An estimated 600 FARC rebels attack a military base in southern Colombia, a direct assault that takes the soldiers inside by surprise. The rebels kidnap 60 Colombian soldiers, killing 31 more.

Martin Bernetti / AFP / Getty Images

It's the first mass kidnapping that the FARC manages to execute. The incident has two main effects: Colombia sees a marked increase in kidnappings over the next decade, and the Colombian government sets out to eradicate the FARC's primary funding source, its coca fields.

1997: In the face of FARC expansion, several paramilitary groups merge and immediately launch a campaign of all-out warfare against the FARC and other leftist groups.

Reuters Photographer

The new group — the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) — also determines civilians to be fair targets in its campaign against the leftists and becomes competition for the FARC in drug trafficking. The group will be linked to several Colombian government officials during its years of existence, despite being labeled a terrorist organization by the US and other countries.

1999: Another peace negotiation begins, this time with then-President Andres Pastrana.

Afp / AFP / Getty Images

The talks lead to the development of a "demilitarized zone" in El Caguan, a jungle-covered region in south-central Colombia, but eventually begin to fray over a resurgence of the AUC, the Colombian government's refusal to conduct prisoner exchanges, and renewed kidnappings by the FARC.

2000: The United States and Colombia launch “Plan Colombia,” a program to combat the twin problems of drug cartels and left-wing groups like the FARC that includes aerial spraying of chemical herbicides in large parts of the country.

Rodrigo Vazquez / AFP / Getty Images

The plan is met with skepticism by human rights advocates for the use of the military in an anti-drug strategy and the additional support for the armed forces, who had been accused of a multitude of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings.

February 2002: The FARC kidnap presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt as she prepares to tour the demilitarized zone between the FARC and government.

Gabriel Aponte / Getty Images

Her kidnapping and that of Senator Jorge Gechem Turbay prompt the Pastrana government to declare the end of the demilitarized zone and a cancellation of peace talks. She’ll remain the FARC’s prisoner until 2008, when she and three American hostages are freed in a daring operation where Colombian soldiers masqueraded as NGO workers.

August 2002: As President Alvaro Uribe takes his inaugural oath, promising to destroy the guerrilla group, the militants attack Congress and the presidential palace, leaving 21 dead.

Luis Acosta / AFP / Getty Images

2003: A bomb kills more than 30 people at one of Bogota’s most exclusive social clubs, popular with foreigners and the city’s wealthiest.

Carlos Villalon / Getty Images

No group ever claims responsibility for the attack, but the government blames the FARC, trying several members in absentia for the bombing. The rebels in turn blame the government itself for planting the bomb to turn public opinion against them.

2008: After 40 years of violence, popular support for the FARC is at an all-time low in Colombia. Anti-FARC marches draw millions of people to the streets as Facebook is used to organize simultaneous rallies around the world.

Fernando Vergara / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Some said the marches in Colombia, seas of white that flooded countless streets, were the biggest in the country’s history.

2011: FARC leader Alfonso Cano is killed in a military raid. Cano is the third top leader killed since 2008. His replacement, Timoleon Jimenez, reaches out to the government for peace talks.

Raul Arboleda / AFP / Getty Images

President Juan Manuel Santos, a former defense minister, urges the FARC to end the fighting. "Demobilize or you will end up in prison or in a grave," he warned.

2012: The most recent round of peace talks begin in Oslo, Norway, and then continue in Havana, Cuba.

Ramon Espinosa / AP

During the talks, the FARC demands that in return for it laying down its arms, the government move forward with not just land development, but also more structured political participation and a fair justice system for its soldiers to be tried.

2013: The first of five agreements, over land rights and development, is signed. The agreements on the agenda include political participation, reparation for victims, and drug policy.

Ismael Francisco / AP

2014: Groups of victims of FARC violence and their families travel to Havana to partake in discussions over how justice will be delivered.

Franklin Reyes / AP

June 23, 2016: The FARC and the Colombian government sign a "definitive" bilateral ceasefire and disarmament.

Raul Arboleda / AFP / Getty Images

After the signing, Jimenez declares, "Never again will parents be burying their sons and daughters killed in the war."

August 24, 2016: Both parties announce that they’ve reached a final peace deal.

Yamil Lage / AFP / Getty Images

September 26, 2016: The FARC and President Manuel Santos sign the final peace deal in Cartagena de Indias, a city on the country’s Caribbean coast. More than a dozen heads of state attend the ceremony.

Luis Acosta / AFP / Getty Images

Per the accord, FARC members will move to several designated areas and hand over their weapons to the UN over a six-month period. Some will be able to run for office. A truth commission will be set up and special justice tribunals where former guerrilla fighters will be tried; those who tell the truth will be given lenient sentences, in some cases avoiding jail time altogether.

October 2, 2016: Colombians take to the polls to vote in favor or against the accord.

Luis Robayo / AFP / Getty Images

Despite a poll by Ipsos signaling that 72% of the population supported the peace deal, the "no" vote wins by a small margin. The country rejects it by some 60,000 votes with a less-than-40% turnout. FARC negotiators have previously said that they will not move forward with new negotiations, leaving the way forward from here unclear.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.