The story of Josué Giraldo and his party, the Unión Patriótica (UP), started with the idea of peace, of settling the long-standing conflict that had ripped the country apart for decades. The new party was a crucial part of a peace process between the government and the FARC guerrillas. It was established as a means to reconcile the two sides: The UP was going to be the conduit through which the FARC-by then one of the country's four guerrilla groups-could drop its guns and pick up its placards, give speeches in the plazas, and slip a ballot into a slot. At least that was the idea.
It was the early 1980s when the notion of the UP began to take shape. Colombia had seen nearly thirty-five years of uninterrupted war, the last of which had been some of the worst. Hundreds of political dissidents and suspected rebel collaborators had been jailed and tortured by government troops. Many had died. The army had also launched attacks on rebel strongholds. Despite the government's resolve, the size of the guerrilla armies had increased fourfold. To many, like presidential candidate Belisario Betancur, it was looking increasingly like a stalemate.
During his presidential campaign in 1982, Betancur promised a "democratic opening" and to seek peace with the rebel groups. The Conservative Party leader was going against the trend in the region. In El Salvador and Guatemala civil wars were heating up, and military governments in those countries were ushering in scorched earth policies to deal with the guerrillas. The United States, under the Reagan administration, supplied these governments with massive military assistance. Colombia could have gone to the United States and argued for the same treatment to deal with its guerrilla problem. But Colombians were tired of war, and Betancur gauged this mood perfectly His overwhelming support at the polls proved this. He won the