The latest truce in Colombia's half-century internal conflict began this week, as FARC guerillas agreed to implement a unilateral ceasefire following the release of a government soldier on Sunday.
The truce, the sixth since October 2012, was announced by the leadership of the Marxist guerilla group earlier this month, and was timed to coincide with Colombia's Independence Day, celebrated on July 20. In December, FARC — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — began a similar unilateral pause, but the respite was punctuated in April when 11 soldiers were killed by FARC during an ambush in western Colombia. After the attack, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos lifted a hiatus on aerial bombings that was part of its reciprocation for the December ceasefire.
In the months following the April resumption of fighting, FARC guerillas carried out a series acts of sabotage attacks against infrastructure sites. Bomb explosions that crippled oil pipelines and the destruction of power lines left several hundred thousand Colombians without power and clean water.
On May 21, airstrikes reportedly left 27 guerillas dead, after which FARC officially declared the ceasefire dead. Between May 22 and June 22, the Bogota-based Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC) counted some 83 attacks carried out by FARC. According to CERAC, June was the deadliest month since intermittently peace talks began in Cuba in 2012.
Over 220,000 have been killed since the mid 1960s amid fighting between FARC and other leftist guerillas and the armed forces of Colombia, as well as the country's notorious paramilitary groups. More than 80 percent of those who died were civilians, according to Colombia's National Center for Historical Memory. More than 5.7 million Colombians have been internally displaced by fighting — the second highest toll anywhere in the world.
All sides have all been implicated in atrocities, and guerrillas and paramilitaries of heavy involvement in the country's drug trade. In its latest annual report on Colombia, Human Rights Watch called the demobilization of the paramilitaries that began in 2003 "deeply flawed," and said the remnants of the right wing militias continued to murder and commit human rights violations, including the forced displacement of civilians.
When FARC announced the latest ceasefire on July 8, Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos accepted it cautiously, echoing the frustration of many Colombians over the peace process.
"If the ceasefire were accompanied by concrete commitments on the subject of justice and a definitive ceasefire, then we would be talking about progress," he said at the time.
On Sunday, in an apparent gesture of good will ahead of the ceasefire, FARC released to the Red Cross a soldier it had captured on July 7.
Earlier this month in Havana, the Colombian government promised "to set in motion a process of de-escalation of military actions," following steps taken by FARC on the 20th. On Tuesday, CERAC reported that it had not registered any violations of the ceasefire since it took effect.
Cynthia Arnson, director of the Wilson Center's Latin America Program, told VICE News on Tuesday there are still significant unresolved questions surrounding the Havana talks — specifically the question of handling accountability for FARC leaders and providing justice for the conflict's victims. Further complicating matters, said Arnson, is FARCs wealth derived from the drug trade — profits many of its disparate members likely will be loath to give up. As the violence drags on into its sixth decade, the Columbian public, meanwhile, is increasingly suspicious of FARC's intentions.
"The experience is that the FARC used these ceasefire to gather strength and deepen their involvement in drug trafficking," said Arnson. "But the real sticking point right now is the nature of transitional justice, and whether the FARC will agree to any kind of jail time."
"In their minds [transitional justice] means they will apologize and pay some reparations, but never have to go to prison," added Arnson. "This is not a formula that is acceptable to the Colombian public."
Though FARC's numbers have dwindled over the decades to an estimated 6,000-7,000 guerillas, its members, who often operate in small units, are still able to melt into Colombia's vast mountain regions and jungles. In addition to the drug trade, FARC runs local extortion rackets and has involved itself in illegal resource extraction.
Arnson said that many in Colombia fear that in a "post conflict scenario there would be lots and lots of combatants who would recycle themselves into other forms of organized violence, just as the paramilitaries did in the 2000s."
Members of the paramilitaries, who operated under the Umbrella title of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia until their disbandment in 2006, have since reportedly moved onto participation in less ideological criminal syndicates that exert control in many parts of Colombia.
But despite the failures of the official demobilization of right wing groups, the focus remains steadfastly on negotiating with FARC and other leftists guerillas, like the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN).
"The next couple of months are going to be really critical," said Aronson.