Key issues in the return of the FARC armed conflict

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Since the end of the Cold War, the usual means of ending internal armed conflicts around the world have largely been through dialogue and negotiated agreements, rather than unilateral military solutions. The case of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) is no different. In fact, as the Kroc Institute of the University of Notre Dame Recognized on several occasions, the Peace Agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government signed in 2016, taken as a whole, was one of the most ambitious and comprehensive agreements of the more than 30 conflicts concluded over the years. last two decades.

However, while achieving a successful dialogue is already complex, as was the case after more than half a century of armed conflict in Colombia, the peacebuilding process is even more so. It is an exercise that involves a guerrilla group, government, state and civil society that affects institutional, territorial and normative factors, and which almost always, in one way or another, ends up putting highlight the huge gap between expectations and reality. The late historian Francisco Muñoz underlined this contradiction when he forged his concept of imperfect peace.

The truth is that in Colombia, almost from the beginning, the myth of the Peace Agreement has surpassed any level of tangible reality. Without a doubt, the state was faced with a very ambitious compromise, with serious difficulties in its implementation. Both the institutional effort that the transformation required and the significant resistance that, within government,Uribista Iván Duque, continued.

There are several parties responsible for the return of the armed struggle announced by the leaders of the FARC-EP, “Iván Márquez” and “Jesús Santrich”, August 28. Duque’s management team never felt comfortable with the terms of the Peace Accord which, in particular, affected the command and hierarchy of the FARC. The level of implementation had significant flaws. The territorial development plans were vague on paper; As a result, investments and institutional interventions in the territories are nothing but a pipe dream. The financing of the demobilization of the guerrillas is conspicuous by its absence, favoring individual projects that avoid any feeling of collective reincorporation.

On the other hand, the political party born out of the guerrillas, the Force Révolutionnaire Alternative Commune, barely registered in the 2018 elections, and the National development plan did not include budget lines intended to finance the implementation of the Peace Agreement. The Colombian president himself tried to torpedo the creation of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

Likewise, the 2020 budget intended to finance the activities of the Truth Commission – and targeted actions to clarify the range of events that took place in the context of the internal armed conflict – appears to have been reduced. up to 30 percent. Added to its lack of support for clarity and some form of justice from the past are the unresolved cases of more than 150 ex-guerrillas and 600 social leaders killed in the past three years.

It is not the best environment to generate the confidence of a former guerrilla group, which despite everything, continues to comply and awaits the compromises and actions of a government which must understand that peace cannot be secured. by executives, but rather needs a comprehensive policy focused on the reconstruction of a social fabric bruised for decades. Anyway, in the eyes of the former FARC-EP, and those of Iván Márquez, Jesús Santrich, “El Paisa” or “Romaña”, the situation described above justifies the return of the armed struggle. A return, however, which should be treated with care.

The first two names, once the greatest representatives of the peace dialogue, were linked last year to cases of drug trafficking, which, if true, invalidates any demand for effective compliance with the commitments contained in the agreement for ex-combatants of FARC-EP. The other two, El Paisa and Romaña, are commanders who, marked by their violent past, would not have made it through the transnational justice process due to their involvement in two of the most combative and organized units of the FARC-EP. : the Southern Block and the Eastern Block.

It is no coincidence that it is this tougher and more belligerent faction, and not the political faction led by the former FARC-EP leader, Rodrigo Londoño “Tymoshenko”, which is returning to arms.

So what are the implications of the return to armed conflict of some prominent FARC-EP members?

First of all, it should be noted that there will always be defection and this is always to be expected in peace processes negotiated with armed groups. In the first years after a peace agreement, the return of 8 to 14% of former members of the armed struggle is common. Having said that, the first video released by this new version of FARC-EP attempts to highlight the continuation of the movement. That is, the intention of the dissident leaders is to show direct causality between the reaction of the original FARC-EP to the (non) fulfillment of the Peace Accord in a manner that seeks to hold the oligarchy and the Colombian elites directly responsible for this process. It’s worth stopping to appreciate the symbolism and attention to detail in the video’s production. The short clip evokes some of the most important figures of the FARC-EP, such as “Manuel Marulanda” Where “Jacobo Arena. ”

In any case, the consequences of this [resurgence] leaves a lot of doubts in the air. For example, what will be the organizational structure of these new FARC-EPs? Before its demobilization, the group numbered just over 7,000 combatants. Currently numbers vary between 900 and 1800 combatants who have resumed criminal activity, many of whom are new recruits. In addition, these fighters are dispersed in more than twenty atomized groups, so it will not be easy to organize and command them under the leadership of the four remobilized commanders.

A second question is: where will this new structure operate? Looking at where the greatest number of dissidents are based and where the greatest scenarios of the greatest political violence have been after the signing of the peace agreement, there could be two locations: the southwest and the northeast. eastern Colombia. These are two border territories – Ecuador and Venezuela – with a very strong presence of coca cultivation and illegal mining, and where the presence of FARC-EP has always been important, in large part, from the due to the lack of presence of the Colombian government in these areas. However, in the video posted by dissident leaders, there is talk of a new mode of operation, this time against the Colombian oligarchy opposed to the agreement. This would imply greater activity in urban centers and greater recourse to terrorism, compared to a conflict which in the past was widely contested in forgotten and peripheral places of the country’s geography. This will be an undeniable challenge for the government, but also for the FARC-EP which, with a few exceptions, have never developed an effective strategy in the main cities of Colombia.

Finally, a third question would be the role of the new FARC-EP in relation to the rest of the actors perpetuating violence in Colombia. “Iván Márquez” called for a possible coalition with what is today the largest guerrilla group in the country, with more than 2,000 members: the National Liberation Army (ELN). This was already attempted in the mid-1980s through the Guerrilla coordination Simon Bolivar, and ended in an absolute fiasco. Obviously, the times and the needs are different, but we must not forget that the FARC-EP enter with less force and very reduced operational capacities. This is something that would collide with the traditional and absolute control of the guerrillas at the local level – a change that will be accentuated if past clashes between the FARAC and the ELN resurface. Since the 1990s, and for a good part of the past decade, the FARC-EP have fought against the ELN in Colombian departments such as Arauca or Nariño, places which today would clearly be places of renewed coexistence in the return to the weapons of the old native guerrilla. south of Tolima.

All of the above puts Uribismo’s dream scenario on a set. The return of the FARC-EP was the greatest desire of Álvaro Uribe. In Uribe’s view, this development discredits the legacy of Juan Manuel Santos, nullifying all the supposed advantages of peace, eliminating all traces of dialogue with the ELN and confirming that the FARC command never believed in the need to overcome violence. Thus, the Duque government, which for more than two years had no clear direction, now finds its motive: the return to a strong state in which security must be the priority.

In this polarized political battle, we must not fall into the temptation of reductionist conclusions. There are more than 6,000 ex-combatants who are now in the process of reintegrating into civilian life. We must demand that the Colombian state comply with it and the more than eight million victims left by the conflict. Peace is a commitment of the state, not the government, and will only be effective and lasting as long as intervention is made on the structural and symbolic conditions that have sustained violence for decades. Importantly, even with the difficulties exposed, the trees should not prevent us from seeing the forest, the greater gains and benefits of perhaps “imperfect peace”.

Jerónimo Ríos Sierra is professor of international relations at the EAN University of Colombia and author of “Breve historia del conflicto armado en Colombia” (La Catarata, 2017). He holds a doctorate in political science from the Complutense University of Madrid.