Colombian Peace Process Threatened as Armed Groups Move into Former FARC Territories
Colombia is the only country in the world that has had 10 peace processes in the past 30 years. The recent agreements signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the oldest guerrilla group in Latin America and largest in Colombia, led to the group handing over all of its weapons on June 27th and ceasing to exist as a guerrilla group. However, as the FARC demobilizes, different armed groups are fighting for control over its old territories and threatening to keep Colombia in conflict.
The FARC’s armed conflict with Colombia has lasted for more than 50 years, leaving more than 60,000 people missing, more than 6.6 million people displaced (making Colombia the country with the most internally displaced people in the world), and more than 260,000 people killed. In its inception, the FARC was a rural, self-defense guerrilla group that sought agricultural reform. However, over the years, the organization began to use methods like kidnapping and drug trafficking to finance its activities, making it one of the main causes for violence and displacement in the country.
Due to the high profitability of drug trafficking, these resurgent armed groups view control over the drug trafficking routes in the country as essential, especially in the Colombian Pacific and the border with Venezuela. According to the UN Refugee Agency in Colombia, 7,371 people have had to flee their territories in the first five months this year due to these groups occupying lands to secure the drug trafficking routes.
The main groups pushing to destabilize the country are predominantly the National Liberation Army (ELN), criminal gangs (BACRIM), FARC dissidents, and other minor groups.
The ELN was created in 1964 by students and intellectuals influenced by the Cuban revolution. They seek a real independence from the country and are in opposition to the exploitation of Colombian oil by foreign companies. Their main sources of funding are extortion, kidnapping, illegal mining, and drug trafficking. They also are known for forced recruitment of new members and planting landmines. There are around 2,000 ELN militants and the group is negotiating with the Colombian government in Ecuador to reach a peace accord. Nevertheless, they kidnapped two Dutch journalists for almost a week in June; they bombed the Caño Limón Coveñas oil pipeline on June 20, and have increased their presence in territories once under FARC control.
Criminal gangs (BACRIM) make up another large source of opposition to government control. Inside this grouping are different sub-groups, the largest being the Gulf Clan, which has around 2,500 militants. The BACRIM are composed of former paramilitaries that either have never demobilized, demobilized and have taken up arms again, or former paramilitaries that have emerged recently. Some of these gangs have moved recently to former FARC and ELN territories and it is believed that it is these groups who are responsible for the crimes against left-wing social leaders in alliance with Colombian far-right politicians to avoid the return of lands or the establishment of the truth. Since last year, more than 150 social leaders have been assassinated in Colombia
A third group is made up of FARC dissidents who didn’t agree to the peace agreements and demobilization process; one of which is known as the First Front had kidnapped a UN representative in Colombia for more than two months. They operate mainly in the southwest of the country and are made up of around 300 militants.
Finally, there are other groups like the dissidents from the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), which was a guerrilla movement influenced by Mao’s revolution in China and almost totally demobilized themselves in 1991. Another is the Popular Revolutionary Movement (MRP), an extreme right-wing group with an urban presence that has executed three terrorist attacks in the country, including a bomb that exploded in June at a popular shopping mall in Bogota.
While it is disconcerting to see these various groups moving into former FARC territories and threatening stability, it is important to remember that the last two years have been the least violent the country has lived through in the past half century. Also, the rate of homicides is the lowest it has been in 40 years. Kidnapping, extortion, massacres, village occupations, and terrorism have gone in a freefall and while there was an average of 500 soldiers dying each year over the past decade, 113 died in 2016. These statistics reveal that the FARC were indeed the main factor of violence in Colombia and their disarmament means a great deal to the security of the country. Additionally, transitions from war to peace are always difficult and normally happen at the same time new types of violence emerge.
In total, Colombia has made gains with the enactment of the peace agreement with the FARC. However, the fact that drug trafficking is still profitable and the fact that various armed groups in the country wish to carry out their own agendas, Colombia still has a distance to go to achieve peace.
María Fernanda is Colombian, she works with Young Porfessionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP) -Bogotá as the Manager in Strategy and Thought Leadership and volunteers with the Foundation Niñas de Luz where she is a mentor. María holds a MA in International Relations from the Middlesex University in London and a BA in Government and International Relations from the Universidad Externado de Colombia in Bogotá. She has worked as an Intern for the INCODER (Colombian Institute for the Rural Developement) and for the UNHCR in their Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. She is a polyglot, fluent in Spanish, English, French and Portuguese and she is currently learning Mandarin. She has lived in 5 countries and visited 53 and you can connect with her through her e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or her LinkedIn: María Fernanda Escalante Guerrero.