Once belonging to the demobilized FARC, certain criminal groups seek to reconquer surrendered assets, driving a wave of violence in southern and central Colombia.
According to figures from the Institute for Development and Peace Studies, from January to June 2021, at least five massacres were reported in the departments of Caquetá and Meta, according to figures from the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y Paz -Indepaz). While authorities have not released full details of these events, they appear to be linked to attempts by a range of dissident factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) to reclaim territory, assets and drug trafficking routes once controlled by the demobilized guerrilla force.
On July 6, four bodies were discovered in the municipality of Mesetas in Meta. Two of the victims were officials from Colombia's Land Restitution Unit (Unidad de Restitución de Tierras - URT), which is in charge of returning lands from the FARC to families. The other two were residents participating in this process after being driven away from their land by the FARC in 1999, according to El Espectador. Three former FARC fronts are active in Mesetas, Colombia's Ombudsman’s Office stated in 2020.
A week earlier, five people were killed in the village of La Sierra on the border of Meta and Caquetá. The Edison Cinco Mil Front of the ex-FARC's Eastern Bloc claimed responsibility for the massacre.
Previous attacks bore similar hallmarks. In April, three people were killed in Cartagena del Chairá, Caquetá, including two former FARC combatants. In April, three people were murdered in Cartagena del Chairá. One of them, identified as Wilmer Enrique Álvarez Medina, was in the reintegration process.
Similar killings happened throughout 2020, with former FARC fighters, local activists and families participating in land restitution projects all being targeted.
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Attempts by dissident FARC groups to recover territory the guerrilla group once held have been a major cause of violence in recent years.
Much of this violence is spurred by these groups fighting back against conditions laid down in the 2016 peace agreement between the FARC and the government. For example, the FARC was required to hand over a list of their assets used for victim reparations. But top dissident commanders, especially Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte,” whose group maintains a presence in Caquetá and Meta, have claimed these properties and lands.
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A field investigator for an international organization in Colombia, who preferred to omit his name for security reasons, told InSight Crime that the violence in Caquetá and Meta is due to a dispute between the two largest FARC dissident groups: that commanded by Gentil Duarte and their rivals, the Segunda Marquetalia, to take over lost assets.
The FARC list of assets to be surrendered included 247 properties in Meta and 65 in Caquetá.
“Last year was when [Comunes, the legitimate political party formed after the FARC demobilization] had to turn over the list of assets. At this time, there was a lot of tension... because dissidents said the assets were theirs," said the investigator.
That tension has been steadily rising. A March 2021 report published by the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia warned that, in recent years, Caquetá, Meta and the neighboring department of Guaviare had experienced a surge in armed conflict due to “the proliferation of illegal armed groups and criminal organizations fighting over illicit economies.”
Another issue has been the presence of demobilized FARC fighters in these departments. They have been repeatedly targeted by their former comrades, who see them as traitors for laying down their arms. After the 2016 peace agreement, one of the largest camps to help former FARC fighters reintegrate into society was the Mariana Páez camp in Meta. In 2017, it had 565 residents. By 2020, threats and killings of former fighters had reduced its population to 155. In another camp in Meta, La Guajira, at least two demobilized fighters have been killed inside the encampment itself.