Is the FARC Political Experiment Dead in the Water?

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The FARC political party appears in disarray as it celebrates its first birthday, and the internal fracture rocking the political movement one year after its inauguration could seriously damage the ongoing implementation of peace.

Concern is growing over the absence of several top leaders of the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común – FARC), Colombia’s El País reported on September 3, a day after the political party, held its second-ever national congress.

Dozens were absent from the three-day summit, but the no-show of the party’s second-in-command Luciano Marín Arango, who still goes by his nom de guerre “Iván Márquez”, and two emblematic figures of the former guerrilla group, Hernán Darío Velásquez, most commonly known as “El Paisa,” and Henry Castellanos, alias “Romaña”, were particularly noticed and could spell serious trouble for the FARC.

Where are the Missing FARC Leaders?

Following the arrest of his close ally Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias “Jesús Santrich,” in early April on drug trafficking charges, Iván Márquez left Bogotá for the Miravalle rural area of the southeastern Caquetá department where El Paísa was overseeing the reintegration process of some 150 demobilized guerrilla fighters.

But the location of Márquez, one of the key negotiators of the peace agreement, is now unknown, as is that of El Paísa, and efforts by authorities to locate the two men have, so far, been unsuccessful. Authorities even suspect that the former guerrilla negotiator may have left for Venezuela, according to El Espectador.

Romaña, meanwhile, a well-respected leader figure among former rebel ranks, has reportedly left the central Meta department where he coordinated the rehabilitation of 350 former fighters, according to El Tiempo.

Why the Radio Silence?

One explanation for Márquez falling off the radar is that the former FARC leader fears being arrested like Santrich and potentially extradited to the United States. This hypothesis stems largely from the fact that Márquez’s nephew, Marlon Marín, who is accused of being involved in Santrich’s alleged drug scheme, is now a protected witness for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

But the proximity of Márquez’s last known location with areas where FARC dissidents operate, and rumors of his possible flight to Venezuela where infamous dissident leader Géner García Molina, alias “Jhon 40,” is apparently hiding out, suggest the more concerning possibility. That is, that Márquez and El Paisa are in contact with the ex-FARC mafia — emerging but powerful criminal organizations formed by former FARC guerrillas — in the Eastern Plains or the Norte de Santander department bordering Venezuela, and are weighing out their options.

What are the Implications for the FARC Political Experiment?

The prolonged absence of these leading figures is a sign of the internal fracture within the FARC party that has grown since Santrich’s arrest. Although ideological differences between Márquez and the FARC President Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, known by his nom de guerre “Timochenko,” were clear from day one, Santrich’s capture has seemingly broadened the rift between the two men, with Márquez appearing at the helm of a politically more radical faction of the party.

But Márquez’ absence from the national congress and his radio silence, just one month after refusing to take his senatorial seat in Congress in July, casts serious doubt as to the leader’s actual commitment to the party, and many fear that Márquez may already have abandoned ship to join the dissidence.

Such a development would seriously weaken the FARC political party and further jeopardize its credibility among members to ensure the implementation of the peace agreement, at a time when many demobilized fighters are already afraid that newly-elected President Iván Duque will break his predecessor’s peace promises.

What are the Risks for the Peace Process?

If Márquez and other leaders were to join the ex-FARC mafia, there is a real risk that other demobilized fighters would follow their lead and swell the ranks of these groups.

Without a united leadership, the party can hardly reassure demobilized fighters already critical of the government’s failures to comply with the accords, raising the question of how long a fragmented FARC party can hold its ranks together.

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