The large size of Colombia’s potential rebel demobilization raises questions about how the government plans to determine who is a guerrilla soldier and who is not.
On September 25, the director of the Colombian Reintegration Agency (known by its Spanish acronym ACR), Joshua Mitrotti, told Caracol Radio that the peace process between the government and guerrilla groups could result in the demobilization of between 20,000 to 30,000 individuals, an estimate three times the reported number of insurgent soldiers.
Mitrotti was interviewed after the recent announcement of the fifth accord in a six-point agenda between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and further news of possible peace talks between the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
Mitrotti added that successful demobilization would require all members and supporting forces of the guerrilla structures to disarm and participate in “social, political and economic transition.” But Mitrotti did not clearly define what is meant by support for the guerrilla organizations, or who these supporters are.
Since 2003, according to Mitrotti, the ACR has assisted 48,000 demobilized individuals reenter civil society, most of whom were members of the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC), a right-wing proxy army that fought the guerrillas.
But Mitrotti’s estimation outnumbers the reported number of FARC and ELN members three to one. As EFE notes, official calculations suggest that the FARC has between 6,5000 and 8,500 members, while the ELN has between 2,000 and 4,000 members. InSight Crime has similar estimates.
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The vast difference in estimated soldiers and estimated demobilized members presents Colombians with various post-conflict questions. To begin with, how will the ACR determine who is a soldier or a supporter of the guerrillas?
The demobilized, for instance, may include militias, who perform roles as soldiers and as logistical support for guerrilla groups in mostly urban areas. InSight Crime estimates that there could be as many as 30,000 FARC militia members operating across Colombia.
But other individuals provide purely logistical or material support, including lodging and food, for guerrilla members. Will they be included in the demobilized and receive benefits? Should they be?
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Once the ACR has a clear criteria, then it would have to weed out those simply trying to take advantage of the government programs, something that proved difficult when the AUC demobilized.
Finally, the ACR has to provide enough incentives and strong programs to keep the bulk of the former soldiers from turning to illicit activities. Following the AUC demobilization, groups dubbed ‘Bandas criminales,’ or BACRIM, emerged in the AUC’s place, often drawing from the demobilized paramilitary groups to fill their ranks.
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