The day Colombia’s FARC guerrilla ceases to exist as an armed group
Army on patrol in areas where the conflict has forced people to flee their homes. © Mauricio Morales
On Tuesday 27 June 2017, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are handing over all their weapons to the UN.
It is a historic day: after over 50 years of involvement in the Colombian Armed Conflict, the group ceases to exist as an armed guerrilla – complying with the revised timetable established with the Colombian Government.
And yet, the ex-combatants in Urabá, one of the chosen areas for the camps set up by the Colombian government for handing over the weapons have mixed feelings, and serious fears, after parting from their weapons and starting the transition to civil life.
Members of FARC with a worker for a Spanish NGO (in the middle)
Living in fear
FARC commanders are afraid that once demobilized, they and their families could be killed. So far, at least three members of the FARC have been killed since the historic peace agreement was signed.
The FARC are also very concerned about the recent killings of social leaders and human rights defenders. They fear that if they are being killed, they too, could become a target, particularly by paramilitary groups – given their intentions to transform themselves into a political movement.
Their nervousness is also triggered by memories from the mid-1980 when a number of FARC members joined a political movement, Union Patriotica, which was almost completely wiped out by the army working together with right-wing paramilitary groups.
The failure by the Government to comply with the timetable sent a negative signal to Farc leaders about the political will of the Government. The Government should have established camps for the FARC to concentrate their troops months ago, but during even recently, they were far from being completed.
Community leaders expressed the same fear. With a peace process, one would think that security would improve for community leaders, but the exact opposite is happening.
Unfinished building where FARC members should have been living by now. Today, they live in improvised tents.
Filling the power vacuum
With the FARC out of the picture, paramilitaries have taken over control of many areas, while others are still under the control of the National Liberation Army (ELN) – another smaller insurgent group.
There is a humanitarian crisis in Urabá, the area we visited: when fighting between the two groups breaks out, communities are forced to flee and as a result.
The community leaders we spoke with do not advocate FARC should remain armed – they are strong supporters of the peace agreement, and have been closely involved in the peace process.
However, they denounce that some sectors of the local governmental armed forces directly collaborate with the paramilitaries.
Civil society organisations, regional bishops and the independent Ombudsman are also ringing alarm bells about this.
Yet, the Colombian government continues to downplay or ignore the existence of links between paramilitaries and the armed forces, despite numerous accounts by community leaders reporting that they have seen armed paramilitary very close to the army and in some cases even talking together. Without acknowledging this problem, it is difficult to take serious measures to investigate and prosecute corrupt members of the army.
The increased paramilitary presence was anticipated, together with its trickle down effect on communities, ex-FARC combatants, and the peace process. There are a number of preventive measures included in the peace agreement, including the establishment of a special and independent unit in the prosecutor’s office and a national security council chaired by the President.
Yet the government has made very little progress, seems to lack the will to address this issue seriously, and continues to deny the attacks are systematic.
As a commander of the FARC said: ‘It is only due to the international community’s support that the peace process has been sustained so far.’
The international community will be key to put pressure on the government to act and stand up for communities.
The future of the FARC remains uncertain. For the time being, an agreement has been made for them to remain in the camps.
Staying together might make them feel safer, even without their weapons.
Thomas Mortensen is Country Manager for Christian Aid in Colombia.