Dissidents of Colombia's FARC guerrilla group have suffered their most significant blow to date in a military operation that lead to the death of a guerrilla commander who refused to demobilize under last year's peace agreement. But while a militarized approach to fighting dissidents may yield limited results, the government's best weapon against FARC desertion remains the swift and full implementation of reintegration measures for demobilized fighters.
On September 27, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the death of Luis Alfonso Lizcano Gualdrón, alias "Euclides Mora," in the central department of Guaviare.
The president's tweet also contained a clear message for dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC): "Surrender, or all that awaits you is a prison cell or a tomb."
FF.AA. abatieron a Euclides, disidente de Farc, en Guaviare. Mensaje es claro: entréguense, de lo contrario les espera la cárcel o la tumba
— Juan Manuel Santos (@JuanManSantos) 27 septembre 2017
Mora, who led the FARC's 62nd Front, was among five commanders expelled from the now-demobilized guerrilla group in December 2016 for rejecting the peace agreement. All of the dissident commanders operated in the Eastern Plains, one of Colombia's most lucrative cocaine hubs.
Mora was less influential than some of his similarly expelled counterparts, such as Miguel Botache Santanilla, alias "Gentil Duarte," and Géner García Molina, alias "John 40" or "Jhon 40." Nevertheless, he had more than three decades of experience within the rebels, according to La Silla Vacía.
After having gone through various rebel units, the ranking guerrilla officer was sent along with other commanders to quell a possible dissidence within the 1st Front. Ironically, that unit would eventually take leadership of the revolt against the peace deal within the FARC.
On the same day as the announcement of Mora's death, Vice President Óscar Naranjo visited Guaviare, where the dissident 1st Front operates under Gentil Duarte's leadership. Just a few hours before Santos' tweet, Naranjo said the president gave orders to "intensify operations without restraint" against FARC dissidents, reported El Tiempo.
The FARC have not yet commented on Mora's killing. But earlier this week, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias "Timochenko," signed an open letter to President Santos asking the Colombian government to fulfill its obligations under the peace deal.
The former guerrilla commander-in-chief and newly-appointed president of the FARC political party demanded that authorities come through with socioeconomic measures to reintegrate demobilized guerrilla fighters as stipulated by the peace accords.
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While there have been confrontations in recent months between Colombia's military and guerrilla fighters refusing to demobilize, the killing of Euclides Mora is the biggest blow delivered to FARC dissidents so far.
The Colombian government considers it necessary to attempt to eliminate dissident FARC structures because their existence harms the legitimacy of the peace process. Many dissidents have deserted the peace process to join criminal networks that remain deeply involved in lucrative illegal activities. Their continued involvement in criminality, for instance in the cocaine trade, fuels domestic and foreign criticism of the peace accords, and finances armed groups that constitute an obstacle to establishing a legitimate state presence in certain areas of the country.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the FARC Peace
However, the continuation of the fight against FARC dissidents may also serve another purpose; it provides a reason not to curb military spending in the post-conflict scenario.
Indeed, not only has the FARC handed over their weapons and officially demobilized, but the government has also signed a bilateral ceasefire as part of ongoing peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army (Ejército Nacional de Liberación - ELN), now the country's largest active guerrilla group.
And although the government scaled up the military's involvement in a major, ongoing effort to target Colombia's most powerful criminal group, the Urabeños, civilian law enforcement maintains command of the operation. Moreover, Urabeños leader Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias "Otoniel," recently offered to negotiate the group's surrender with Colombian authorities.
As is the case with the FARC, the eventual demobilization of the ELN or surrender of the Urabeños would undoubtedly come with a similar problem of dissidence. From an institutional perspective, it is important for the military to demonstrate success in fighting the FARC dissidence if it hopes to have a role in similar future situations involving defectors from the ELN or the Urabeños.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the ELN Peace
Nevertheless, militarized intervention will not be the key to lasting peace in post-conflict Colombia. The government's best weapon for curtailing desertion resides in swiftly and fully complying with the provisions of the peace agreement aimed at reintegrating guerrilla fighters into society.
At the same time, the implementation of many important aspects of the peace process has moved painstakingly slowly. And as Timochenko's recent letter argues, concerns among FARC ranks as to whether authorities will come through on crucial aspects of promised reintegration measures will only increase the risk of dissidence.
* InSight Crime's Colombia Investigative Team contributed to this report and provided the research for the graphics.