The declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by guerrilla group the FARC -- and recent indications that a similar move might be on the cards for the smaller ELN -- could have far-reaching implications not just on Colombia's peace process, but on the country's organized crime dynamics as well.
The announcement of an indefinite unilateral ceasefire by the FARC's top leadership has been considered a breakthrough for peace talks with the Colombian government, according to El Tiempo. The FARC's ceasefire is conditional on the fact they would not be the subject of attacks by the Colombian security forces.
One of the organizations analyzing the conflict, CERAC, concluded on December 31 that neither the FARC nor the Colombian security forces had broken the conditions of the ceasefire. The FARC, however, maintain they were the subject of numerous attacks by the Colombian military in late December, according to El Colombiano.
Meanwhile, the top commander of Colombia's second-largest rebel group ELN (National Liberation Army) Nicolas Rodriguez, alias "Gabino," expressed on January 7 his willingness to discuss with the Colombian government the possibility of a ceasefire, reported Reuters. The ELN has been in preliminary peace talks with the government since June 2014.
InSight Crime Analysis
While the FARC's unilateral ceasefire is a positive sign the rebel group is serious about reaching a peace agreement with the Colombian government, it could also mean they are preparing for the day when they will no longer be able to conduct criminal activities in plain sight.
If the FARC come to terms with the government and convert into a legitimate political party, they can no longer count on revenue streams from drug trafficking, extortion, and kidnapping that have made them one of the richest organized crime groups in Latin America. The ceasefire may also be a tactical tool to allow them to maximize their criminal profits by deploying their resources and manpower in these illicit industries.
SEE ALSO: FARC News and Profile
One problem with this strategy is the increasing spotlight on the FARC's role in the drug trade, one of their principal sources of revenue. To avoid this unwanted attention, reports are emerging that suggest the FARC are delegating some of their responsibilities to outside criminal groups in areas such as Putumayo, where InSight Crime field research has found the FARC's 48th Front is deeply involved in the drug trade.
As for the ELN, it remains unclear when the rebel group will agree to a ceasefire or enter into formal negotiations with the government. Unlike the FARC, the ELN's main sources of income are extortion and kidnapping operations. As the cessation of kidnappings was a government precondition to beginning peace talks with the FARC, the ELN might have to have to cut off one of their principal revenue sources in order to enter into negotiations, a financial hit they may not be willing to take.
While it is as yet unknown how the recent steps towards peace by Colombia's guerrilla groups will reverberate in the country's criminal underworld, this will be a key topic to watch throughout 2015.