Colombia’s Former FARC Fighters Abandon Reincorporation Camps

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The relocation of entire communities of former FARC fighters and their families is becoming commonplace in Colombia, highlighting the government’s inability to protect them from continued criminal threats across the country.

On July 15, 94 people from the Román Ruiz Reincorporation Center in Ituango, Antioquia, packed up their belongings and moved to a new home in the region of Urabá, where the government had prepared a new area for them to live, the Associated Press reported. 11 residents from their village were killed in the last three years.

After the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — FARC), numerous guerrillas laid down their arms and moved into camps around the country, where they were supposed to receive protection and economic opportunities.

These are not the first departures from the Román Ruiz camp. Around 190 people had previously left Ituango in recent months, most of them relocating to Medellín, according to La Silla Vacía. Violent incidents such as the murder of Manuel Antonio Benítez, the son of the former leader of the FARC’s 18th Front who was gunned down just outside the camp in December 2019, have accelerated the exodus.

One week earlier, two other communities were relocated with demobilized FARC fighters asked to leave the villages of Monterredondo in northern Cauca, while 20 former guerrillas fled a camp at El Diamante in Meta.

Similar stories are told by those being displaced. “We’ve been uprooted,” Marco Urbano, a spokesman for those moving from Román Ruiz, told the Associated Press. “Most of the people here had been working for three years on farming projects and now they will have to start from scratch.”

Such displacements have been frequent across Colombia since the demobilization of the FARC in 2016 led to numerous other criminal gangs battling to control the territories they left behind. Between January and October 2019, Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office reported 58 mass displacements in the country, affecting more than 15,000 people.

InSight Crime Analysis

Most of the news concerning former FARC fighters has been dominated by the targeted assassinations of specific individuals and less on the risks facing entire communities of demobilized guerrillas. By mid-July, 218 demobilized guerrillas had been assassinated since the peace agreement in 2016, according to Semana.

However, the mass departure of families from the Román Ruiz Reincorporation Center has triggered more coverage of how the Colombian peace process has collapsed, to the point that the camps set up as safe harbors for those who laid down their arms are being abandoned.

The camp of La Elvira in Buenos Aires, Cauca, for example, welcomed 140 former guerrillas and their families in 2017. Today, just 43 remain as all the others have packed up and left, according to El Espectador. The threat of violence toward those staying behind is now so severe that government officials supervising the camp have departed and even United Nations staff dare not visit, the camp’s coordinator, Mario Rodríguez, told the newspaper.

Yet this has not been a slow process. The descent into violence of the Román Ruiz camp in Ituango has shown how the government has consistently failed to keep the former FARC fighters and their families safe. And on yet a more worrying level, this is further evidence of how the Colombian state has been unable to control regions like Ituango, which has high levels of drug trafficking and illegal mining.

In 2017, Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office had already identified the Ituango camp as being among the reincorporation zones that presented the highest risks to its inhabitants. This was due in large part to criminal groups like the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional — ELN) and Urabeños, which have targeted former FARC fighters.

One year later, this risk has only increased due to an alliance between the 18th and 36th Fronts of the ex-FARC Mafia to seize control of Ituango. These were the same fronts that those living in Ituango had left behind, making them potential targets for retribution by those who did not take part in the peace process.

Despite these repeated warnings, former guerrillas continue to be killed, families continue to leave and the camp is now closing. There can be few clearer signs of how the Colombian peace process has failed some of its most crucial participants.

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