Ten former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have officially become legislators in Colombia’s Congress.
On Friday – the country’s independence day – as part of the peace deal between the Colombian government and the disbanded guerrilla group, five former members took seats in the Senate and another five joined the House of Representatives.
The group’s Spanish acronym, FARC, now applies to the name of the political party: the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force. The 10 members say they’ll do everything possible to comply with the peace deal signed in Havana, Cuba, in 2016.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later that year for pursuing the agreement.
Santos, whose term ends in two weeks, urged political leaders to defend peace.
“Today I tell you, congressmen, and the next president @IvanDuque: Take care of the peace that is being born! Fight for it! Because it is the most precious good that any nation can have. #ColombiaAvanzó and we deserve to live in peace,” Santos wrote on Twitter.
Duque starts his term August 7.
FARC’s presence in Congress has created a divide among many Colombian lawmakers and citizens.
“Well, I can´t feel happy with rapists of children here, obviously, coming to lecture about peace,” said Sen. María Fernanda Cabal of the Democratic Center Party.
“The arrival of a delegation of the FARC to the Congress, after a confrontation of more than 50 years with the Colombian state, has a profound meaning that in some way synthesizes what has been the signature of the peace agreement in Colombia,” said Sen. Carlos Lozada, a former FARC member and one of the peace deal negotiators.
As part of the peace deal, FARC members agreed to lay down their arms, leave their jungle camps and re-enter Colombian society. The government agreed to give them 10 seats in Congress until 2026.
As long as the new Congress does not make changes to the conditions of the agreement, the new legislators will be able to debate policy proposals but will not have the right to vote.
FARC, was formed in 1964 with the aim of overthrowing the government. At one point in the early 2000s, it had more than 16,000 troops, though that number dwindled in the next decade.
The group clashed regularly with government troops and the United States considered FARC a terrorist organization.
FARC also carried out kidnappings. Among the most high-profile kidnappings was that of Ingrid Betancourt, a presidential candidate who was held for six years before being rescued in 2008.