FARC Front Commander Talks Peace Talks, Drugs

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Local Colombian newspaper El Colombiano has obtained privileged access to the FARC’s 18th Front, a sign of how the rebel group is reopening its doors to the media as the deadline for the peace talks with the government draws near.

El Colombiano produced a series of informative videos and articles after spending time with the 18th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), including an interview with a member of the front’s leadership, Élmer Arrieta, alias “El Flaco.” 

The 18th Front is allegedly known for its aggressiveness and is mainly located in the northern part of Antioquia state. This area has been hard-hit by the conflict, with a high rate of displacement, landmines, and drug production and trafficking. 

On the topic of the peace process with the Colombian government, Arrieta stated, “All of our members support peace. We believe in peace.”

The insurgents do not merely follow their leaders blindly, the commander clarified. Rather, they can identify with the developments in Havana, Cuba, because they receive updates “daily.” One video following the daily lives of the front members depicts them watching recordings emitted from Cuba explaining the developments of the peace talks.

When asked about the main fear that guerrillas have regarding the peace talks, Arrieta replied, “The most concrete problem is paramilitarism. Guerrillas are fearful of all the massacres that happened in the past. Now [the paramilitaries] are threatening civilians, guerrilla members and their families in various areas.”

SEE ALSO: FARC News and Profile

The commander added that the 18th Front — along with all of the FARC’s blocs — is strictly loyal to the superior command. Currently, the orders from above are to reduce the intensity of the conflict, stop buying weapons and ammunition and halt military training. Arrieta affirmed that skirmishes between the security forces and the front have reduced significantly.

Arrieta reiterated the FARC’s declarations that the group’s involvement in the national drug trade is very much hands-off. “For us it’s banned to buy coca, be moving coca … We’ve always lived off the fees, a voluntary fee from a farmer, a shop owner.”

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Infographic by El Colombiano

InSight Crime Analysis

The interview with Arrieta draws attention to certain issues that have long been plaguing the ongoing peace talks between the rebel group and the government.

One major concern is that taking the FARC out of the picture will not properly deal with the other actors in the Colombia’s armed conflict, including other guerrilla groups and “criminal bands” (“bandas criminals” – BACRIM). These descendants of right-wing paramilitary groups are thought to be a threat to the security of disarmed former guerrillas and civilians loyal to the group, and with reason. In his comments, Arrieta was probably making a reference to the “massacre” of the Patriotic Union (Union Patriótica – UP) political party, which was set up by the FARC in 1985. Around 4,000 candidates, members, and supporters of the party were murdered by paramilitaries and their allies in the security forces.

SEE ALSO:  Colombia News and Profiles

This dark history seems to be repeating itself with the Marcha Patriótica (Patriotic March – MP), a left-wing party potentially supported by the FARC which by 2014 had seen 48 of its members killed over two years.

While Arrieta clearly sticks to the FARC’s public rhetoric when speaking of the front’s commitment to the peace talks, in reality there is a far greater likelihood that certain dissident guerrilla factions will refuse to lay down their arms should a peace deal be reached. A number of fronts who are known to be involved in highly lucrative activities, especially drug trafficking, may well choose to criminalize in order to keep a grip on their networks.

El Colombiano’s access to this typically “silent” front is a sign of increasing openness towards the media by the rebel group after years of relative seclusion. Different FARC fronts have recently welcomed reporters from The New York Times and the Associated Press into their camps.

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