A new report on the main successes and shortcomings of Colombia’s historic peace process with the FARC guerrilla group shows that rural violence and politics continue to be major obstacles to a deal that could either reform and improve Colombia’s countryside or precipitate a new era of criminal chaos.
The latest update from Colombia’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Fundación Paz y Reconciliaciónon) on the peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) highlights both achievements and stumbling blocks in this landmark process, now in its eighth month.
There are several facts that point to concrete advances in the process. Notably, the guerrillas have turned over a larger number of weapons than the number of fighters disarming, something that has never happened in any previous peace process across the world, according to the foundation.
Still, while murders, kidnappings and extortion have fallen in many places where the FARC used to operate, these “post-FARC” regions have been plunged into unknown and often violent forms of criminal governance. Five main scenarios resulting from the FARC vacuum are described in the report:
- Areas are occupied by the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), the second biggest guerrilla force in Colombia. This has been detected in 12 municipalities.
- Areas are occupied by the BACRIM, criminal organizations largely consisting of demobilized right-wing paramilitaries. This has been detected in 74 municipalities, 18 of which were a result of BACRIM expansion.
- FARC dissidents are present. This has been detected in 16 municipalities.
- Criminal anarchy, areas where no criminal group has taken over, causing a rise in petty crime (but not necessarily in violence).
- State forces move in to take control.
The fifth scenario is currently in progress, with the army already setting up over 1,000 bases across Colombia manned by around 300,000 troops. The police have deployed 172,000 agents to nearly 5,000 divisions in eight of Colombia’s 32 departments. Twelve thousand more have been sent to the FARC’s demobilization zones, and an elite force of 1,000 agents has been created to combat organized crime.
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But while the state rolls out its new security strategy, the 90 percent of the peace deal that focuses on improving life for the Colombian population is being stalled by politics. One of the compromises made following the rejection of the original deal in a public referendum last October was that congress would have to vote on the individual points of the agreement, slowing its implementation. Of the many laws included in the signed peace accords, those that have been passed so far have largely favored armed actors. Those surrounding agricultural innovation, land usage and congressional seats for particularly conflict-ridden communities, have yet to be passed.
However, a recent court ruling means that these laws will be subject to more debate and therefore work their way more slowly through congress. This potentially opens the door for the bills to be sabotaged by Colombia’s political opposition, which has vehemently resisted the peace deal.
InSight Crime Analysis
Even with the FARC disarmed, this new report offers further evidence that the peace deal is now facing at least two major obstacles: violence in vulnerable rural communities, and legal delays.
As InSight Crime has noted in the past, many populations that previously lived under the yoke of the FARC now find themselves defenseless against petty crime or new armed groups. This has caused murder rates to skyrocket in municipalities such as Olaya Herrera, west Colombia, where InSight Crime researchers were told that homicides had reached a rate of 375 per 100,000 citizens.
At the same time, there have been more targeted attacks on social leaders as groups attempt to eliminate local resistance to their authority. Since the peace deal was signed in November 2016, an average of one social leader has been killed every four days, according to the report.
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While the security force deployment will hopefully counter mounting insecurity, the government must also start bringing other state institutions to remote rural areas that will help locals improve their quality of life.
However, there has been dissatisfaction surrounding the government’s handling of the process so far. Hold-ups in the promised release of FARC prisoners have driven over 1,500 guerrillas to go on hunger strike, while the FARC have constantly and loudly admonished the government for not constructing their demobilization zones on time.
Both the outbreaks of violence and the government’s delays risk seeing Colombian citizens — and the FARC — lose trust in the peace process, hindering cooperation between local communities and state actors implementing the peace deal’s new rural programs.