Emails sent by commanders of Colombia's FARC guerrillas suggest that the rebels' largest bloc is facing a cash flow crisis, although this may have more to do with the weakening ties between the rebel fronts than a drop in criminal revenues.
The emails, which were obtained by Colombian newspaper El Espectador, offered a snapshot of the broad portfolio of financial interests managed by the Eastern Bloc of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
They detailed the FARC's holdings in everything from construction and farming machinery to properties, describing nearly $30 million of assets in land and livestock alone.
However, despite these riches, the emails also described the Bloc's problems with "economic cash reserves," and debts rung up in purchasing weaponry, supplies and in business deals.
As previously reported by InSight Crime, in one email, FARC leaders call for a broadening of extortion rackets on oil companies and the African palm and ranching sectors, so they can guarantee "an economic base that will at least give us enough to eat."
In another email, the Bloc commanders complain they are "eating up capital" and relying on cattle sales to survive -- which, they estimate, will give them just enough funds for a year.
The Eastern Bloc is the FARC's most powerful bloc in terms of territory and numbers, covering seven departments in eastern Colombia. According to El Espectador, the Bloc is made up of nearly 4,000 fighters in 37 fronts, three columns and 15 mobile companies, although other recent estimates have put the number of rebels at less than 3,500.
InSight Crime Analysis
Not only is the FARC's Eastern Bloc involved in the wide range of businesses detailed in the emails, it is also one of blocs most deeply involved in the drug trade.
The Bloc controls coca growing hotspots such as the department of Meta, and within the FARC, it was one of the pioneers in processing and exporting cocaine in bulk.
Given this rich vein of income, it is surprising that the Eastern Bloc's commanders are facing a financial crisis. One possible reason is they have begun to wind back their involvement in drug trafficking or other criminal activities. However, a more likely scenario is that the profits are still there -- it's just that the various fronts that make up the Eastern Bloc are not handing over the cash to the upper command.
SEE ALSO: FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization
As detailed in an InSight Crime investigation, the Eastern Bloc is increasingly fragmented and is one of the FARC factions that will most likely spawn breakaway criminal groups that remain involved in the drug trade, should the guerrillas demobilize. Sources consulted by InSight Crime for this report suggested that the commanders of individual fronts within the FARC -- who were unsure about the current peace process with the Colombian government -- were increasingly holding onto their profits instead of handing it over to the bloc commanders.