Authorities in Colombia have filtered out more than two dozen drug capos attempting to pass themselves off as FARC guerrillas in order to take advantage of judicial benefits offered to demobilizing rebels under the terms of a 2016 peace agreement. The incident is another sign of the obstacles the country's thriving drug trade poses to the peace process.
According to an investigation by El Tiempo, at least 25 drug traffickers appear on the list of names of more than 3,800 prisoners submitted to the government by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). Under the terms of the peace deal signed last year, confirmed FARC members on the list are to be released in order to join the demobilization process.
The High Commission for Peace (Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz) confirmed El Tiempo's findings in a September 10 press release, underscoring that none of the 25 criminals would obtain judicial benefits.
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The two dozen traffickers represent the diversity of Colombia's underworld. Five foreigners, including a Mexican national who served as a broker for the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas, two Italian nationals who worked as intermediaries for the 'Ndrangheta, and the Ecuadorean "Pablo Escobar" Washington Prado Álava all appeared on the list, in addition to high-ranking members of various domestic groups including the Rastrojos, the Constru and the Urabeños.
It is not yet clear exactly how these capos ended up on the FARC's census of incarcerated guerrilla members. According to a separate El Tiempo article, several non-governmental organizations were charged with the inital survey of political prisoners, which they passed on to the FARC, which in turn produced the final list.
At the same time, two lawyers have been accused of scouting imprisoned traffickers willing to pay 5 billion pesos ($1.7 million) for their name to be slipped into the list, although it is uncertain whether colluding guerrilla members were involved. The FARC have not yet responded to the revelations.
"FARC members involved in criminal negotiations to slip through drug traffickers or individuals who do not belong to the organization will lose all their benefits" under the peace accords, High Commissioner for Peace Rodrigo Rivera warned in comments reported by El Tiempo.
Out of a previous FARC list of 14,000 demobilizing members, authorities confirmed around 11,300 as guerrilla fighters. Another 350 names of alleged demobilized fighters, militia men and incarcerated members are still under revision.
InSight Crime Analysis
As InSight Crime has previously pointed out, the issue of traffickers seeking to pass themselves off as FARC members speaks to the inextricable links between the guerrilla conflict and the drug trade. The two aforementioned Italian nationals, for instance, had brokered drug deals with the FARC in the past.
Additionally, the government's weeding out of capos attempting to obtain preferential treatment under the peace accords is a positive sign of its intent to avoid the mistakes of past demobilization agreements, such as the one signed a decade ago with right-wing paramilitaries that saw many crime bosses take advantage of the deal.
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The process could serve as a valuable lesson for potential future peace processes, given the recent bilateral ceasefire with Colombia's largest active guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN), and the possibility of some sort of negotiations between the government and the Urabeños criminal group.