Colombia’s Defense Minister has voiced serious concerns that the FARC guerrilla group may break apart if the government does not work fast to reach a new peace accord — a politically charged process that looks set to be a slow one.
“I am immensely worried about the deterioration in the FARC’s unity as time passes,” Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said during a forum named “Peace is Possible” (“La paz es posible”) on October 24.
According to Villegas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) could potentially unravel due to a lack of authority and discipline within ranks, as well as pressure from their guerrilla cousins in the National Liberation Army (Ejército Nacional de Liberación – ELN), organized crime or other armed groups. These factors could generate dissidenting groups within the FARC or strengthen existing ones, he commented.
Colombia’s government and political opposition have come together in recent weeks to remodel a ceasefire and demobilization deal with the FARC guerilla group, the longest-running insurgency in the Americas. This comes after the Colombian public voted to reject a previous deal — an extensive agreement produced following four years of negotiations between the state and the FARC in Havana, Cuba.
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The ceasefire between the government and the FARC, which was made official on August 29, was extended to December 31 following the plebiscite.
“There are 6,000 FARC fighters abiding by a ceasefire in rural Colombia…but without a specific timeline,” Villegas added. “[FARC members] are waiting on the success of a political dialogue to proceed to lay down their weapons.”
Minister of the Interior Juan Fernando Cristo has also expressed his worries on the ceasefire holding:
“We want to advance speedily [with the re-negotiations]…because this ceasefire…is a fragile ceasefire, it’s a ceasefire that, without a definitive agreement, will be very difficult to sustain in time,” Cristo said recently.
Despite his concerns, Villegas also produced a positive assessment of the ceasefire, stating that between August 29 and October 24 there have been no related cases of homicides, massacres, kidnappings or extortion.
In the southern department of Putumayo, a pamphlet signed by the FARC’s Southern Bloc has been circulating. The text prohibits collaboration with criminal groups and imposes a curfew on the community, among other instructions.
Local government sources consulted by InSight Crime could not confirm the origin of the pamphlet — dated October 20 — or rule out the possibility it was created by a local criminal organization and FARC ally named the Constru.
According to COLPRENSA, some Putumayo inhabitants have claimed that the guerrillas are once again extorting businessmen, as well as encouraging them to plant coca crops. FARC Commander-in-Chief Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias “Timochenko,” ordered all guerrilla fronts to stop extorting in mid-2016.
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With the peace deal now stuck in a gridlock, elements of the FARC breaking away is inevitable. Renegotiations are slowly advancing, but accommodating demands by the political opposition — which has shown signs of division and susceptibility to political interests — will take time.
Meanwhile, Timochenko has publicly rejected the possibility of renegotiating the transitional justice agreement, further reducing any wiggle room surrounding one of the most contested parts of the deal. The FARC leader has been placed between a rock and a hard place, sensing the urgency of reassuring his troops that their needs will be met, while also trying to stop four years of taxing negotiations from evaporating into thin air.
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This juggling act will probably not hold for long. Evidence of guerrilla dissidence has been found in numerous cases of fronts defying Timochenko’s call to halt extortion, and at least one front has openly broken away from the demobilization process.
In the current limbo, FARC factions will need to sustain themselves financially, and many will inevitably return to their criminal economies. Such a move would only put another spanner in the works, as the political opposition has recently demanded that the FARC cease extortion and drug trafficking activities.