A new report indicates Colombia’s largest guerrilla group the FARC has changed its operations, likely with an eye towards a post-conflict scenario and possible political participation.
Military actions by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dropped 40% in 2014, compared to the year before, according to a new report (pdf) from non-governmental organization Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Fundacion Paz y Reconciliacion).
The NGO mainly credited the decrease to a series of ceasefires declared in 2014 and the FARC’s reported growing concern for public opinion. The guerrilla group has been engaged in peace talks with the Colombian government for more than two years, and is increasingly looking to improve its public image. “The FARC is now considering public opinion for the first time in more than 10 years,” states the report.
As a result Colombia has seen a drop in kidnappings, forced displacements, civilian deaths and the lowest number of security forces killed in more than a decade. On the other hand, the FARC appear to have increased illegal activities like extortion and attacks on energy companies and large ranchers, the report said.
Meanwhile Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group, the ELN, increased its military operations in 2014 and even returned to areas where it had previously been pushed out by security forces.
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The FARC’s shift in operational focus is logical given their position at the peace table. If an agreement is reached, the deal must be voted on by the Colombian people, so gaining public favor is essential to the peace deal’s success. Additionally, if peace is reached, the FARC may be allowed to participate in formal politics, so improving their public image now could help the FARC pursue their left-wing political goals in the future.
The report had little to say about whether the guerrillas have increased or decreased their alleged narcotics operations. While being associated with drugs is undoubtedly bad for the FARC’s public image, drug trafficking is their largest source of funding and ending their participation in the trade would cause considerable financial pain. It could also inspire some of the guerrilla factions most heavily involved in the trade to split from the organization and criminalize.
Yet the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation report highlights the success with which ceasefires and the reduction of kidnapping have been implemented, suggesting the FARC’s central leadership retains command and would be able to avoid such splintering.