Former Colombia president Juan Manuel Santos said that the peace process with the FARC is “irreversible.” He may yet be proven wrong.
“This process remains irreversible,” stated the former president as he promoted his book, ‘The Battle for Peace’ (La batalla por la paz), in Madrid. But are there any conditions under which the peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) could still fail?
There is a growing FARC dissidence that InSight Crime has called the ex-FARC Mafia. This is made up not only of the official recognized dissidents under Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte,” but also other criminal groups with FARC roots (FARCRIM), and thousands of rebels that never demobilized under the peace accord and continue managing illegal economies. According to the government, which describes these groups as Residual Organized Crime Groups (grupos armados organizados residuales), they number some 3,000.
InSight believes the number is higher as the "hidden FARC,” which remained outside the agreement, buried arms and still earn money from criminal economies, have not revealed themselves. And may never do so.
But still, 3,000 guerrillas out of around 11,000 that entered the peace process, represents a desertion rate of just over 25 percent. Less than 3,000 remain in the Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation (Espacios Territoriales de Capacitación y Reincorporación), and that number is likely to keep falling, even as desertions increase.
The government's perceived lack of commitment in fully implementing the peace accords, and challenges to the agreement’s judicial framework, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz- JEP), have undermined faith in the process for many former guerrillas, who are returning to what they know.
Previous demobilizations, like those of the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL) and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC) saw around 20 percent of their fighters either become dissidents or join different criminal groups.
Nobody accused those peace processes of failing. For me, unless the number of FARC dissidents exceeds 50 percent of all those that entered the peace process, the agreement cannot fail on desertion alone.
Violence is increasing again after several years of steady descent, not only in terms of homicides but also massacres and displacement.
Again, this happened after the EPL and AUC peace agreements, as different criminal groups vied with the state to take over territory once controlled by the departing actors. This in itself is also no reason to question the validity of the peace process.
Far more serious is the issue of a political façade or ideology, that might prompt the ex-FARC Mafia to present itself once again an insurgent force, rather than a purely criminal structure. The key figure in this dynamic is Luciano Marin Arango, alias “Iván Márquez.” A former congressman, member of the FARC’s ruling Secretariat and the chief rebel negotiator in Havana, Márquez is arguably the most respected commander by the guerrilla rank and file. Many have told me that they believe he should have succeeded Guillermo Leon Saenz Vargas, alias “Alfonso Cano,” after the FARC commander-in-chief was killed in 2011, rather than Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias “Timochenko.”
Márquez’s whereabouts are currently unknown. He has yet to appear before the JEP as stipulated by the peace agreement. We had reports of him in Apure, Venezuela, but these were late last year. He is not the only other FARC commander in the wind. Other notorious absentees are Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias “El Paisa,” the feared former commander of the Teófilo Forero Mobile Column, and Henry Castellanos, alias “Romaña.”
Perhaps even more important is Elmer Mata Caviedes, alias “Albeiro Cordoba,” the son of FARC founding member, Noel Matta Matta-Guzman, alias “Efrain Guzman.” InSight Crime has identified another five key middle-ranking commanders that are unaccounted for.
If all of them leave the peace process under Márquez’s leadership, they will likely bring up to 1,000 more fighters with them, bringing the total to over 4,000 FARC dissidents. But more importantly, if they unite again and perhaps even ally with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), Colombia could again face a significant national security threat.
At this point, the peace process could be accurately described as a failure.