The arrest of a powerful FARC dissident in Colombia illustrates how intensifying criminalization of ex-guerrilla may prevent the government from fully implementing the 2016 peace accords it signed with the group.
In a joint operation, the Colombian National Police and Attorney General’s Office arrested Luis Eduardo Carvajal Pérez, alias “Rambo,” in the town of Puerto Rico in the southwestern department of Caquetá, El Tiempo reported on July 4. The news outlet did not mention the date of the arrest, and there has been no official announcement about it.
The government plans to extradite the former member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) to the United States, based on accsations that he continued involvement in drug trafficking after the signing of the peace agreement.
As a commander in the Western Bloc (Bloque Occidental) for more than 15 years, Rambo headed the the Daniel Aldana Mobile Column, the FARC’s most active military and financial structure in southern Colombia. In January 2017, he and 300 other guerrilla fighters demobilized and moved to a United Nations-supervised concentration zone in the southwestern department of Nariño.
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At the time of his arrest, Rambo allegedly controlled the important Nariño port city of Tumaco as well as territory along the border with Ecuador and the main cocaine exit points from Colombia’s Pacific coast.
Half of the coca produced in Colombia is grown in the region where Rambo allegedly operated. In just the first half of this year, authorities have seized 65 metric tons of coca, 45 of which was linked to a dissident group led by Walter Arizala Vernaza, alias “Guacho,” a close associate of Rambo.
By 2015, US authorities identified Rambo as one of Nariño’s foremost drug traffickers. He allegedly collected a “tax” on coca production in addition to overseing his own production and processing laboratories and managing trafficking routes to Central America.
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Rambo’s presumed knowledge about drug trafficking routes and his contacts within international criminal groups mean his arrest could be a blow to criminality in southern Colombia. The arrest also highlights fears that FARC members with past involvement in drug trafficking are at risk of falling back into the game.
The Colombian government’s implementation — or lack thereof — of the peace accords has always served as a starting point when discussing the criminalization of demobilized FARC members. Rambo himself pointed this out at the beginning of the disarmament process.
In an interview conducted by InSight Crime at the beginning of 2017 at an encampment for demobilized FARC members, Rambo expressed doubts regarding fulfilment of the promises made to the guerrilla group by the Colombian government.
“They always say they’re coming, that in eight days they’re going to have everything ready. But those eight days go by and nothing. So, you really realize what this system is actually like. The policy is based on lies, and then these people get used to that,” he said.
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Rambo also said that coca and everything its profits finance would continue to cause tension in the process, while maintaining that coca traders should pay taxes.
“The farmers aren’t taxed. Everywhere you go it’s declared that those working directly with the business have to pay,” he said.
At the time of the interview, Rambo denied involvement in other criminal activities such as drug production and trafficking. However, he added that rural communities would reject crop eradication, a mainstay of the government’s counter-narcotic strategy.
“The people took the peace agreement seriously. That’s why they are rejecting eradication by the government,” Rambo told InSight Crime.
The implementation of the peace agreement failed to take into account how the demobilization and reincorporation processes might need to differentiate between various types of FARC members. Given their positions within the guerrilla organization and involvement with drug trafficking, demobilizing members sought not only compliance with the agreement, but also a balance with regard to their ability to make a living in a civilian setting.
Rambo’s risk of criminalization was extremely high. He allegedly returned quickly to criminal activities well-armed with strategic knowledge about contacts, modus operandi and drug trafficking routes. But this time he seems to have sought more benefits for himself.
Rambo’s presumed return to the criminal world illustrates the risk the Colombian government takes when its implementation of the peace agreement with the FARC is perceived as inconsistent. Defections could increase, further filling the ranks of the dissidents and strengthening their connections. This could then lead to more disputes with other criminal groups for control over drug trafficking routes, especially when the downfall of a person like Rambo leaves a power vacuum.