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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Colombia’s FARC Rebels Laid Down Weapons. Winning Votes Is Harder.

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BOGOTÁ, Colombia—Before the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia put down its weapons and transformed itself into a political movement, the rebel group terrorized the country for decades with kidnappings, extortion, and attacks on small towns. Now it is struggling to remake its image and win votes.

Under the terms of a 2016 peace deal that ended a conflict that claimed more than 200,000 lives, the group, known by the Spanish acronym FARC, has become a Marxist-inspired party of former guerrilla fighters that recently adopted a new name to broaden its appeal: Comunes, or the Common People party.

Martín Cruz, a 62-year-old former commander who joined FARC when he was 14, has been trying to attract new, younger members and persuade the Colombian public that the rebels-turned-politicians have not only left their violent past behind, but have a vision for the country’s future. The party is run by Rodrigo Londoño, who had long served as the rebels’ supreme commander.

“There’s still a lot of stigma around us,” said Mr. Cruz, who once ran clandestine jungle radio stations. He has swapped his battle fatigues for a gray sports jacket, and now has an office in a discreet brick house in central Bogotá.

So far, progress has been slow. Though the former rebels hold nine spots in Colombia’s congress, those seats were granted to them through the peace pact, no votes needed. Those who did run for congress in 2018 were trounced, receiving just 0.34% of the overall vote.

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