Formerly the Western Hemisphere’s largest guerrilla organization, Colombia’s FARC has compiled a full inventory of their wealth following half a century of conflict and entrenchment in criminal activities. A front-by-front breakdown offers a remarkably detailed insight into the riches amassed by certain units and, perhaps more disturbingly, how much may be in the hands of increasingly powerful criminalized breakaways. Moreover, the inventory proves that the FARC leadership lacks full control over the group’s vast wealth, raising questions over possibly undeclared assets, and making the former guerrillas more vulnerable to judicial prosecution as they shape their political future.
As part of a peace agreement with the Colombian state, the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) have delivered an inventory of more than $330 million worth of guerrilla-owned assets to the government, which was recently made public by Semana magazine. (Links to the files can be found below.)
These documents reveal that the richest FARC bloc by far is the Eastern Bloc, which held sway over the vast plains bordering Brazil and Venezuela. In total, this bloc owns over $120 million, around 38 percent of the FARC’s total declared wealth — 95 percent of it in real estate, and just over 3 percent in cattle. The Southern Bloc comes a distant second, accounting for less than 10 percent of the FARC’s total assets.
The FARC’s richest individual unit is the Eastern Bloc’s 40th Front with $25 million in assets, more than many other blocs combined.
However, many of the Eastern Bloc’s wealthiest fronts appeared on the general inventory list with the note: “Assets in the hands of dissidents,” referring to the rebels who deserted the peace process. It is unclear what proportion of the assets this represents.
A similar note has been added to the Southern Bloc’s fronts. Most of their inventory is distributed between real estate and cattle, in some cases followed by text that reads, “The dissidents are taking away the cattle.”
The comparative wealth of each front is largely, but not fully, consistent with the FARC units identified by InSight Crime as having traditionally profited the most from illegal activities like drug trafficking and illegal mining.
(The total value of assets per bloc and per front does not include the value of social investment, goods confiscated from other groups, weapons, roads built, dollars or gold, although these are included in the organization’s overall total. If these are added up, the blocs appear far wealthier; the Eastern Bloc’s assets grow the most, by more than 60 percent.)
But as InSight Crime has previously discussed, much of the FARC’s true wealth is likely to be missing from their inventory, either because it is overseas, owned by civilian frontmen or in the hands of guerrilla dissenters. Nevertheless, when examined in this context, the FARC inventory offers some key takeaways about the finances of the fromer rebel group.
Dissidents Getting Rich
Perhaps the most worrying revelation is the fact that many assets are apparently in the hands of increasingly powerful dissident groups.
InSight Crime recently traveled to the turbulent Eastern Plains, where FARC-owned or controlled land has traditionally been used to grow and process vast quantities of cocaine, much of which was trafficked into Venezuela. This is where the largest FARC dissident groups, including elements of the richest fronts listed in the inventory, have split from the peace process to continue running criminal activities.
A closer look at the inventory shows that deserters have stolen a sizable portion of the Eastern Bloc’s cattle, worth tens of thousands of dollars, as well as an undisclosed number of properties. All of the bloc’s real estate totals over 170,000 hectares. Dissidents have also stolen at least one explosives stockpile worth thousands of dollars.
In the FARC’s traditional jungle bastion in southern Colombia, dissidents have made away with nearly $1.5 million in cash and rifles.
With these stolen resources and possibly thousands of hectares of drug trafficking real estate now under their control, the criminalized rebel factions are gaining power and turf, threatening to become a national and potentially a regional security threat.
Where’s the Shortfall?
Some of the fronts reported surprisingly little wealth given what is known about their criminal activities. The 57th Front appeared in the poorer half of the list with $640,000, despite it being one of the FARC’s main drug trafficking fronts due to its presence on the Panamanian border, an important transnational gateway. The front’s own records from 2013, discovered during a raid, registered a net income of $900,000 in the course of just eight months.
A likely explanation for the seeming underreporting is that some of the group has gone rogue to maintain its role in the drug trade in alliance with other criminal organizations. And with a history of business dealings in the financial hub of Panama City, the front’s riches may well be stashed in overseas bank accounts.
SEE ALSO: FARC 57th Front in Panama Profile
Another possible shortfall in declared wealth can be seen with the Western Bloc, the third richest. During InSight Crime’s field research in the western department of Nariño, where the 29th and Daniel Aldana Fronts were active, we learned that the FARC essentially held a monopoly over most aspects of the cocaine trade before the closing stages of the peace process. The best available evidence suggests the rebel group charged a “tax” on illegal drugs passing through their turf, a generalized practice the FARC leadership itself acknowledges.
Taking into account differing figures on cocaine production, up to 350 metric tons of cocaine possibly passed through Nariño in 2016. If the 29th and Daniel Aldana Fronts taxed the trade at a rate of $35 per kilogram of coca base (the precursor to cocaine) — a figure given us by locals — they could have made over $12 million that year.
Considering that in several places the FARC were also involved in actually buying the coca base, processing it to white powder, taxing cocaine laboratories, and transporting cargos towards the United States with the alleged collaboration of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, their true profits from drug trafficking alone would likely have been much higher.
This casts doubt on the accuracy of the $7 million figure offered by the bloc, which not only dominated in Nariño, but also in other key drug cultivation and trafficking regions along the Pacific coast. Again, a high rate of dissidence in Nariño may be at least partly to blame.
FARC’s Slipping Control
What these dynamics ultimately show is that the FARC organization does not have total control over its own assets. In addition, various inventory items are unverified, incomplete, were seized by state forces or were potentially stolen by “paramilitaries.”
Given this, it would not be surprising if the FARC were unable to deliver the entirety of their assets to the satisfaction of the Colombian government, a condition required by the peace process. Failure to do so would open the former rebels up to judicial prosecution with no benefits. This may obligate the Attorney General’s Office — with which the FARC have an ongoing feud — to be more lenient in its punishment for not declaring assets. Otherwise, former fighters who have signed up for peace may be thrown behind bars, deterring others from pursuing the program. This is especially true if prosecutors hold the FARC leadership responsible for the concealed riches of their subordinates, dampening the morale of the group as it transitions into its new political identity.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of FARC Peace
Colombia’s closest precedent to the FARC deal, the demobilization agreement with United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC) that ended over a decade ago, has still only obtained a disproportionately low amount of funds from former paramilitary assets. Only a quarter of the AUC assets under investigation were voluntarily handed over by the paramilitaries, while the rest were discovered by judicial authorities, according to reports. While the FARC’s peace process has been much better-conceived, more transparent and more ambitious, it will take a significant commitment from the former rebels, and probably some judicial gymnastics, to ensure that history does not repeat itself.
InSight Crime’s Colombia Investigative Team contributed to this report and provided the research for the graphics.
This is the second of a series of articles that InSight Crime is publishing on the FARC’s wealth and criminal economies. See the first article here.
The following links to the FARC inventory were provided by Semana magazine:
3. Real estate
9. Annex 1
10. Annex 2
11 Annex 3
12. Annex 4
13. Annex 5