A FARC guerrilla unit has announced that it will not demobilize as part of a peace deal with the Colombian government, foreshadowing the likely criminalization of more FARC factions across the nation.
The 1st Front (also known as the “Armando Ríos” Front) of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) announced it will refuse any eventual order to lay down its arms in a press release published by Caracol Radio on July 6. The front belongs to the FARC’s Eastern Bloc and is active in the remote eastern departments of Guaviare, Vaupés and Guainía.
“The Armando Ríos Front will not demobilize, due to its belief that the policies of the Colombian state and its allies only seek the disarmament and demobilization of guerrilla fighters,” the statement reads. “They [the Colombian government] intend to continue governing under the same economic model.
“We will continue fighting to seize power for the people. We respect the decision of those who give up the armed struggle … We do not consider them our enemies.”
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Regarding the “concentration zones” in which FARC fighters will gather to demobilize following a peace deal, the 1st Front states that these “are for defeated guerrilla fighters … Any Colombian knows that [the zones] are open jails.”
Two such areas are to be located in San José del Guaviare.
According to local media, this is the first case of dissidence within FARC ranks. Military intelligence sources cited by El Tiempo state that the unit has 100 armed men and a further 300 militia members.
The 1st Front is one of the oldest FARC units and is a “mother front” responsible for recruiting fighters for other FARC divisions, according to Ariel Ávila, deputy director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Fundación Paz y Reconciliación).
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ response was to give the FARC front an ultimatum: “This is the last opportunity you have to change your life,” he said during an event in Guaviare on July 6. “Otherwise you will end up, I assure you, in a grave or in a jail cell.”
Senator Iván Cepeda told Semana: “It is to be expected that a small portion of those who should be demobilizing … choose not to do so. This has happened in every peace process.”
The FARC leadership has yet to comment on the case.
Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office reported in December 2015 that members of the 1st Front had apparently violated the unilateral ceasefire declared by the FARC in December 2014 by abducting indigenous minors.
InSight Crime Analysis
While this may be the first explicit internal FARC opposition to an eventual demobilization, it may not be the last. Following months of field research in areas with a strong guerrilla presence, InSight Crime estimates that at least 30 percent of FARC fighters will choose to ignore an eventual peace deal in order to maintain lucrative criminal economies such as drug trafficking and illegal mining.
Although the 1st Front gives ideological justifications for staying in the field, there may well be financial reasons behind its decision. According to El Tiempo’s intelligence sources, the unit currently manages coca crop cultivations — which are abundant in the region — drug laboratories and strategic trafficking routes to Venezuela. Extortion and illegal coltan and gold mining are also mentioned as key revenue streams by other local media sources.
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Indeed, Conflict Analysis Resource Centre (CERAC) President Jorge Restrepo told Semana that the 1st Front has a significant financial income but no role in the political future envisioned by the FARC organization.
As well as wanting to hold on to illegal earnings, analysts suggest that there are other factors pushing FARC fronts towards possible resistance. These include social marginalization in FARC-controlled areas, and mid-level commanders that are detached from the ideological foundations of the 50-year-old insurgency.
This could be true of a number of other FARC factions. Along with the 1st Front, the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation has identified the 57th Front — on the Panamanian border — and the 16th Front — on the Venezuelan border — as being the most likely to resist a peace deal. These two are among the FARC’s most active drug trafficking units, and have links to transnational criminal actors.
Another guerrilla faction that has raised red flags is the Daniel Aldana Mobile Column in Nariño. This unit controls the drug trade in the department, has ties to the Sinaloa Cartel, and has recently clashed with other trafficking organizations seemingly looking to move in to its territory.
The 36th Front is equally problematic. One of the richest and most violent FARC units, it is led by a rebellious commander with little interest in politics, and it has consistently been the main violator of FARC ceasefires with the Colombian state.