What is the 2nd longest war?

The Second longest war title belongs to the Colombian conflict between the Colombian government and various rebel groups including FARC. The Colombian conflict lasted for 53 years from 1964 to 2017. This makes it the 2nd longest conflict after the Philippine-Moro conflict which lasted for 53 years and 1 month from 1963 to 2013. Some key facts about the 2nd longest war, the Colombian conflict are:

  • It started in 1964 between the Colombian government and peasant self-defense groups
  • The main rebel group was FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia)
  • It is estimated that over 220,000 people died in the conflict
  • Over 7 million people were displaced from their homes
  • Peace agreements were signed in 2016, ending the conflict in 2017 after 53 years

Background of the Colombian Conflict

The Colombian conflict has its roots in the political tensions between the two main political parties, the Conservatives and the Liberals in the 1940s and 1950s. This led to a period of violence known as “La Violencia” between 1948-1958 which left over 200,000 dead. The Liberal party gained power in the 1950s which angered some Conservatives and led to the formation of peasant self-defense groups.

In 1964, the Colombian government launched attacks on these peasant communities which in turn helped solidify the guerrilla forces, with the main ones being the FARC, ELN and M-19. FARC was established in 1964 by Manuel Marulanda and grew to control large parts of the country through funding from kidnapping, extortion and the illegal drug trade.

Key Periods in the Conflict

– Early 1960s to 1980s – Initial formation of guerrilla groups and rise of drug cartels
– 1980s to 1990s – Heightened violent conflict between government, paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug cartels
– 1998 -1999 – Government crackdown regains control of territory
– 2000s – Government offensives weaken FARC, who turn to high profile kidnappings
– 2012 – 2014 – Peace negotiations held in Havana between government and FARC
– 2016 – Peace deal signed ending the conflict

Factions Involved in the Conflict

Colombian Government – The main opponent of the guerrilla groups. Used the military and paramilitaries in fighting the insurgents. Juan Manuel Santos, president from 2010 to 2018, initiated peace talks.

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – The main left wing rebel group formed in 1964 to overthrow the government and install a Marxist regime. Estimated to have around 20,000 fighters at their peak.

National Liberation Army (ELN) – 2nd largest guerrilla group following Marxist ideals. Formed in 1965 and had around 5,000 fighters.

Paramilitary groups – Right wing militia groups funded by drug lords and landowners to combat guerrillas. The AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) was the largest umbrella paramilitary group.

Drug Cartels – Cartels like the Medellin and Cali trafficked billions in illegal drugs, funding guerrillas and paramilitaries while fighting extradition. Pablo Escobar was the most notorious drug lord.

Faction Description
Colombian Government Used military and paramilitaries against guerrillas. Initiated peace process.
FARC Main left wing rebel group, formed in 1964, estimated 20,000 fighters.
ELN 2nd largest guerrilla group, formed 1965, around 5,000 fighters.
Paramilitary Groups Right wing militias funded by drug cartels and landowners.
Drug Cartels Cartels like Medellin and Cali trafficked drugs and funded armed groups.

Timeline of Main Events

1964 – FARC guerrilla group established.

1965 – ELN guerrilla group formed.

1970s – FARC and ELN gain power in rural areas through kidnapping, extortion and drug trade.

1980s – Height of Medellin and Cali drug cartels. Pablo Escobar killed in 1993.

1980s-90s – Paramilitary groups expanded to fight guerrillas. AUC umbrella group formed in 1997.

1984 – M-19 guerrilla group attacks Palace of Justice leaving over 100 dead.

1998-2002 – President Pastrana concedes control of area to FARC to negotiate peace, but fails.

2002-2010 – President Uribe crackdown weakens FARC and kills AUC paramilitary leaders.

2012-2016 – President Santos engages in peace talks with FARC leading to a peace deal in 2016.

Key Events

  • 1964 – FARC guerrilla group formed
  • 1984 – M-19 guerrilla attack on Palace of Justice leaves over 100 dead
  • 1993 – Medellin cartel leader Pablo Escobar killed
  • 1998-2002 – Failed peace attempt by President Pastrana and FARC
  • 2002-2010 – President Uribe crackdown against FARC and AUC paramilitaries
  • 2012-2016 – President Santos holds peace talks with FARC
  • 2016 – Peace deal signed ending the conflict

Impacts and Effects of the Conflict

The Colombian conflict had devastating impacts on the country including:

Deaths and Casualties

– An estimated 220,000 people were killed including combatants, civilians, activists and journalists.

– 81% of civilian deaths were attributed to right-wing paramilitaries.

– Guerrilla landmines and bombings also caused many civilian deaths.

Displacement of People

– Conflict displaced over 7 million Colombians from their homes making it one of the worst displacement crises.

– Many fled to urban areas or became refugees in Venezuela, Ecuador and other neighboring countries.


– Guerrillas kidnapped thousands for ransom and political leverage. FARC guerrillas were behind most kidnappings.

– Notable kidnapping victims included presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in 2002 who was held for 6 years.

Damage to Infrastructure

– Guerrilla bombings of oil pipelines and electricity towers caused severe economic damage. FARC attacks cost over $1 billion in damage.

– Infrastructure in rural areas suffered from neglect and underinvestment due to conflict.

Key Impacts

  • 220,000 deaths with most civilian deaths by paramilitaries
  • Over 7 million people displaced from homes
  • Thousands kidnapped including presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt
  • Severe damage to infrastructure like oil pipelines from guerrilla attacks
Impact Description
Deaths 220,000 killed including many civilians by paramilitaries
Displacement Over 7 million Colombians displaced from homes
Kidnappings Thousands kidnapped including presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt
Infrastructure Damage Severedamage from guerrilla attacks on oil pipelines and electricity towers

The Path to Peace

After over 50 years of conflict that caused immense suffering, steps towards peace were finally made between 2012 and 2016 under President Juan Manuel Santos:

Peace Negotiations (2012-2014)

– Formal peace talks between the government and FARC were launched in Oslo in 2012.

– Talks continued in Havana, Cuba between government negotiators and FARC leaders like Timochenko.

– Sticking points included FARC disarmament, political participation, transitional justice and reparations.

Ceasefires (2014-2015)

– A bilateral ceasefire began in 2014 to build trust during talks.

– FARC declared unilateral ceasefire in 2015 but was lifted after a deadly bombing death of 26 FARC members.

Peace Deal (2016)

– After almost 4 years, the historic peace deal was signed in 2016.

– FARC agreed to lay down arms and disable 7,000 fighters within 6 months.

– The deal sought FARC integration into society with legal amnesties and political representation.

Referendum and Revised Deal (2016)

– An initial referendum narrowly rejected the deal but a revised deal was signed in late 2016.

– The revised deal kept FARC amnesties but toughened conditions and sanctions for violations.

Path to Peace

  • Peace negotiations held in Oslo and Havana from 2012 to 2014
  • Bilateral and unilateral ceasefires from 2014 to 2015
  • Historic peace deal signed in 2016 after almost 4 years of talks
  • Revised peace deal in late 2016 after initial rejection in referendum

Aftermath and Ongoing Challenges

Despite the peace deal ending the conflict with FARC, Colombia still faces challenges:

ELN Insurgency

– Peace talks with the ELN guerrillas stalled in 2019 after a deadly bombing. Clashes continue sporadically.

FARC Dissidents

– Parts of FARC rejected the peace deal and continue drug trafficking and illegal mining activities.

Poverty and Unequal Land Distribution

– Addressing poverty, inequality and lack of public services remains a key challenge especially in rural regions.

Violence Against Activists

– Hundreds of human rights defenders and activists have been killed despite the peace deal by criminal groups.

Transitional Justice

– There are divisions on how to balance justice and amnesties for perpetrators of abuses on both sides.

Ongoing issues like integrating former guerrillas, reducing violence, and transitional justice measures will determine if the hard won peace gains can be sustained.

Ongoing Challenges

  • ELN insurgency remains active with stalled peace process
  • FARC dissidents reject peace deal and continue illegal activities
  • Poverty, inequality and lack of public services
  • Killings of human rights activists and community leaders
  • Debates on transitional justice and amnesties for perpetrators


The Colombian conflict was the 2nd longest conflict of the 20th and 21st centuries after the Philippine-Moro conflict. This 53 year war led to immense suffering with over 220,000 deaths, millions displaced from homes, thousands kidnapped, and severe damage to infrastructure from guerrilla attacks and drug trafficking violence.

Key factors that fueled the conflict included unequal land distribution, lack of public services in rural areas, exclusive politics, and the illicit drug trade that funded armed groups. After decades of failed peace attempts, hope emerged in 2012 when formal negotiations between the government and FARC rebels began.

These complex talks culminated in an historic peace deal in 2016 which sought FARC disarmament and reintegration into society through amnesties and political participation. But challenges remain from ELN guerrillas, FARC dissidents, violence against activists, transitional justice debates, and deeply rooted issues like poverty and inequality.

Sustaining the fragile peace and addressing these ongoing challenges will determine Colombia’s future trajectory after emerging from over 50 years of brutal internal conflict.

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