Colombian artist Doris Salcedo lights thousands of candles in Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolivar as a memorial for those killed by FARC. Doris Salcedo, Acción de Duelo, 2007 / Photograph: nobara hayakawa
I am not an optimist, sadly. I wish this was not the case.
Whatever happens on October 2nd, when Colombians vote on a referendum on the result of an accord between the FARC and the Colombian government, Colombia will not –suddenly– be “at peace.”
Even with this accord, the core of the problem remains — state-building. Peace cannot be achieved without the rule of law, and the authorities of the Colombian government do not have the capacity to penetrate and maintain presence in the most isolated regions of the country. There are an ample number of illegal groups aching to occupy what was traditionally FARC territory in the departments of Putumayo, Chocó, Cauca, Nariño, and beyond.
A headteacher at a school, built by the FARC in the hamlet of Las Damas, Caqueta, told the Guardian: “.. for as long as I can remember, Las Damas has lived outside the state; peace will bring the state to this place for the first time, and for the first time, Las Damas will feel like part of Colombia.” Will it?
In July 2016, my countrymen celebrated the accord with festivities punctuated by fireworks and toasts with aguardiente. Today, the final accord will be signed in Cartagena and I imagine the greater magnitude of this bash. “Peace! Peace!” will be the drunken slurs shouted from the balconies of colonial Cartagena.
But I do not understand my countrymen’s elation with the accord. Colombia continues positioned in the cusp of “failed state.”
Here is why:
1. Drug trafficking.
Coca cultivation rose by 39 percent in 2015 to 96,084 hectares, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, more than double the nadir of 47,788 hectares registered in 2012.
The FARC may disarm, but it will leave a vacuum for other illegal groups to take over the production and distribution of drugs — which middle-ranked members of the FARC are likely to seize on as an opportunity.
2. The FARC Splinter Groups.
In June 2016, in Quebrada del Medio in Cordoba department, a FARC group carried out a census of the local population, and announced that it will continue to demand payments; but in the post-agreement world, the group will cease calling them “extortions,” re-branding them as a “voluntary quota.”
In July 2016, a faction of the FARC’s First Front, also known as the “Armando Ríos” Front in the southeastern jungles, said it would refuse to lay down its arms. And more recently, in September 2016, at least 40 members of the FARC’s First Front again declared themselves opposed to the peace process and are attempting to establish a presence in Yaigojé Apaporis national park near the border with Brazil.
Further, academics believe some FARC members will “officially demobilize,” but continue their operations in Venezuela. Many have already moved their properties and families to the Venezuelan side of the border.
3. The neo-paramilitary groups.
Also known as BACRIM (bandas criminales) or “third-paramilitary generation.”
Not so long ago, dozens of middle managers of the demobilized Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia took advantage of the power vacuum to continue committing crimes — drug trafficking, extortion, even human smuggling — resulting from their accumulated experience, according to Eduardo Pizarro, founder and researcher at the Institute of Political Studies and International Relations (IEPRI) of the National University of Colombia and President of the Victims Reparation Commission.
These drug gangs are now present in 339 municipalities where they exercise territorial control, co-opt local authorities, and build up their connections with international organized crime gangs, according to Sergio de Zubiría, from the University of Los Andes. The neo-paramilitary groups are made up of 5,000 to 6,000 members; and their actions lead to 300,000 people displaced annually. Over the years, they have worked side-by-side with FARC.
Human rights groups have warned that BACRIM have become the main source of human rights abuses. Regional power players who are opposed to a peace deal with guerrillas may hire them as private armies to oppose attempts to return stolen land to victims and oppose the future participation of demobilized FARC in politics.
The main neo-paramilitary group is the Úsuga clan, also known as Urabeños, or Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or Clan del Golfo. They use Uraba and Chocó region, with coastlines on both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, as corridors to move drugs from Putumayo, Valle del Cauca region, and the interior of the country.
In one of their training schools in Ungía, Chocó, authorities came upon documents stating, “By 2018, the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia will be an armed political actor looking to negotiate with the national government.” They mask themselves as political by indoctrinating with the works of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, who spoke against politicking and corruption. Authorities also uncovered significant amounts of their organizational material, including internal statutes, combat manuals, and discipline records. Authorities intercepted weapons, uniforms, and other equipment. (Does it not sound like they copied the FARC’s order of business?)
4. The ELN.
Though perceived as a minor guerrilla force, made up of up to 3,000 members, the ELN also acts like the FARC. However, the ELN’s decision-making is more horizontal — “democratic” in elena (from ELN) terminology –- than the FARC’s. They tended to disagree with the elitist character of the negotiations in Havana, where select negotiators have taken decisions affecting the whole country. For this reason, the ELN may absorb FARC members who are hard-core Marxists and hence disenchanted with the accords.
5. The Mexican Cartels.
In recent years, Mexican drug trafficking organizations have sought out alliances with the FARC to purchase coca paste, the raw material for cocaine, at the source, and so control the entire chain of distribution and a greater sum of its profits.
In December 2015, a computer confiscated from the FARC’s Southern Bloc commander Jose Benito Cabrera, alias ‘Fabian Ramirez,’ reportedly contained information speaking of the business alliance with the Mexicans.
Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel controls 35% of the cocaine exported from Colombia, reported El Tiempo in July 2015. Sinaloa’s second-in-command, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, reportedly directs the cartel’s Colombian business dealings through two Mexicans based in the country, “Jairo Ortiz” and “Montiel” — both aliases. There was a manhunt for three middle-men allegedly working for Sinaloa Cartel leader alias Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias ‘El Chapo,’ in Colombia.
6. Illegal mining.
The FARC and the Sinaloa Cartel worked together in the illegal exploitation of coltan in Colombia, according to Insight Crime. Coltan is a mineral from which tantalum is extracted, and is used in the creation of electronics such as cell phones and computer parts.
There will be little to prevent the Sinaloa Cartel from controlling the illegal mining.