The leader of Colombia's FARC guerrillas has ordered members to stop charging its "revolutionary tax," a symbolic end to the group's extortion practices that may prove difficult to enforce.
Timoleón Jiménez, alias "Timochenko," leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), made the announcement during an interview with Agencia de Prensa Rural. (See video below)
"I have just given the order to all FARC structures to stop the collection of taxes on all legal economic activity," Timochenko said.
Timochenko justified the past imposition of these "taxes," which were levied on ranchers and local businesses, as necessary to feed the FARC's thousands of fighters.
The FARC and Colombian government are nearing the conclusion of a historic peace deal, and recently agreed to a bilateral ceasefire. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos hopes to have a final peace agreement signed by July 20.
"We believe we're nearing the end. We can live off what we have until we reach a final deal," Timochenko explained as the reasoning for the order to cease charging fees.
Timochenko also told Prensa Rural the FARC stopped recruiting new members three months ago. He called on current members to study the peace accords agreed to thus far ahead of an internal FARC conference to discuss and approve the agreement.
InSight Crime Analysis
Timochenko's announcement that FARC members have been ordered to cease extorting local businesses and residents raises several questions.
One is if he considers coca production a "legal economic activity," and whether or not the FARC will continue collecting protection money from coca farmers and drug traffickers in areas it controls.
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Perhaps more importantly, however, is the dilemma of enforcing such a command. For instance, the FARC's militias -- estimated at 8,500, on top of the FARC's roughly 7,000 active fighters -- play a role in collecting the "war tax" from locals. Given their clandestine nature, there has been some concern over the full demobilization of such structures and their incorporation into agreed upon concentration zones for FARC fighters. As with drug trafficking, it is likely some dissident FARC elements will continue to seek profit by extorting local populaces after a final peace deal is signed.
Nonetheless, the symbolic significance of Timochenko announcing an end to the FARC's taxing of locals should not be understated. The extortion of ranchers in particular has played a key role in Colombia's cyclical violence, being a main motivator for the formation and growth of Colombia's right-wing paramilitaries.