MS Risk Blog

Dissident FARC fighters call to arms

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Some three years after the peace accord between the Colombian government and the leftist guerrilla movement the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC after their Spanish initials, a group of former FARC fighters announced that they will be taking up arms again and launch a new offensive. This is a serious threat to the already highly fragile peace process and could have the possibility of overturning the peace accord if not managed properly by President Ivan Duque and his government. If they act decisively, they might be able to stop the unrest in its tracks. However, it could also trigger a violence escalation and worsen the situation. If they, on the other hand, decide to focus on dialogue, there might be a possibility of reaching an understanding. However, the window of opportunity for dialogue might already have passed.

The peace accord of 2016 was considered a landmark agreement, and the whole world was watching as President Juan Manuel Santos shook hands with the FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, AKA Timochenko. After some debate, the agreement was ratified in November 2016. FARC was founded in 1964 on the basis of a Marxist-Leninist ideology and were formed to fight huge levels of inequality in Colombia. After having been hit hard by Colombian security forces over the years prior to the peace accord, some analysts speculate that FARC could not sustain its mission anymore, whilst FARC themselves insist that they have always wanted peace. The deal that was struck in 2016 included rural reform and development, ensured the political participation of FARC, substitution of illicit crops and the establishment of a truth commission and a commitment to victims’ rights. In return, FARC would disarm, declare all their assets and hand them over and the rebels would provide intelligence on any drug trafficking the may have been involved in.

However, the implementation of the accord has been bumpy and inconsistent, with a surge of violence against social leaders, struggles to adequately reintegrate and protect ex-FARC combatants and concerns regarding the promised rural development and coca crops replacements. Further, after FARC disbanded, the power vacuum left was quickly seized and embattled between criminal groups and other guerrilla movements, most notably perhaps the National Liberation Army (ELN). Dissidents from FARC, who never abided to the peace accord, have been active as well. The August 2018 inauguration of the new government, spearheaded by Ivan Duque, meant substantial modifications of the peace deal. Some progress was made, but the tone and rhetoric seemingly turned colder. Some analysts mean that Duque’s administration’s half-hearted attitude towards the peace process risks putting it in jeopardy.

In a video posted on social media on 29 August 2019, a group of FARC dissidents, led by the group’s former second-in-command Luciano Marin, AKA Ivan Marquez, announced that they will initiate a new offensive, and declared a “new chapter” in FARC’s armed struggles. He said that the Colombian state had abandoned the peace agreement, and thus, FARC would take up arms once again. Marquez was accompanied by the former FARC commander known as Jesus Santrich, who has been in and out of Colombian jail the past couple of months, before he managed to escape, and Hernan Dario Velasquez, AKA El Paisa, who commanded FARC’s strongest military wing. The figures in the video are considered popular and does command respect amongst former FARC fighters. They have allegedly for a year tried to coordinate dissident FARC units, with varying degrees of success. One main point of conflict between FARC units is the role of drugs in a potential new uprising, and some analysts claim that this disagreement can lead to in-fighting. While FARC’s main motivation has always been political, drug trade has been a reliable way to fund their operations.

Even though most of ex-FARC members have abided to the peace agreement, it is estimated that the post-FARC movement is numbering around 2,500 fighters, both former FARC members and new recruits. The Colombian Organized Crime Observatory claims that there are 37 FARC groups spread across the country. There are also urban militias, previously supporters of FARC, that can possibly support a new uprising.

The new call to arms by Ivan Marquez and his rather influential group of FARC dissidents is arguably the single most critical development since the implementation of the peace accord in 2016. The threat of this neo-FARC movement cannot, however, be considered as grave as the threat posed by FARC in its prime. Its fragmentary nature, with considerable risks of in-fighting, and the rise of new armed groups in the vacuum of FARC’s demobilisation makes for a complex situation that will be difficult to navigate. However, if the call to arms catches tailwind and Marquez and his people manages to unite former fighters and new recruits motivated by disappointment of the government’s questionable implementation of the peace process, this could be the initial spark of a highly problematic situation. Not only for the government, but for ordinary citizens as well, who certainly suffers under the threat of renewed turmoil in the country.