Experts at the National Defense University said Wednesday that Colombia may not be able to adequately fund reintegration programs and transitional justice in an eventual peace deal with the FARC rebels.
The speakers at the forum were: Dr. David Spencer, Professor of Practice from the Perry Center; Ms. Christine Balling, President of Fundación ECCO in Tolima, Colombia; and Dr. Adam Isacson, Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy at the Washington Office on Latin America.
The forum offered a platform for US security officials and military officers from Southern Command to voice their opinions and ask questions on the current peace talks between President Juan Manuel Santos‘s administration and Colombia’s largest rebel group, FARC.
All three experts articulated their concerns over the large financial burden effective FARC demobilization and reintegration programs would have on Colombia.
According to them, Colombia has the most experience out of any country in the world in demobilizing insurgent groups; however, this does not mean they have performed any more successfully.
Financing reintegration programs and transitional justice
Strengthening reintegration programs
Of 54,839 guerrillas and paramilitaries to demobilize:
56% were still in reintegration programs
19% had abandoned reintegration
15% never entered reintegration programs
3% were under investigation for committing crimes
2% lost reintegration benefits for committing crimes
1% had family receiving benefits
The most recent massive demobilization program of the AUC paramilitary group showed some of the obstacles Colombia will face in programs adjusted for the FARC.
Keeping track and accompanying demobilized fighters is most likely Colombia’s largest obstacle. Unlike the paramilitaries that demobilized in 2006, the FARC operate in rural regions that traditionally have little government presence. A demobilized fighter in the southern states of Putumayo or Nariño for example, would be much more difficult to track than a person in an urban center like Bogota.
Dr. Isacson stated that during the paramilitary demobilization in 2006, programs that were meant to provide therapy, job support, and job training were virtually non-existent due to lack of financing, infrastructure, and personnel.
The ECCO foundation president, who works with demobilized FARC women combatants, stated the importance of providing proper support to demobilized women and children in particular, whom are victims just as much as they have been victimizers.
Colombia must invest heavily into these programs in a decentralize manner if the government wants demobilized FARC soldiers to integrate themselves into Colombian society, according to the experts.
A post-conflict Colombia will have to work hand in hand with the private sector to help finance some programs, but most importantly, get companies to hire demobilized fighters. According to Isacson, demobilized fighter have a very hard time of getting employment because of their past. Most turn to informal or illegal employment and with only a few managing to start their own business.
Job programs and technical training are costly and require commitment to make sure demobilized fighters can make a decent living if they decide to demobilize.
According to Mr. Isacson, Colombia will need to develop infrastructure in areas that have little government presence such as the southern and and coastal states, which will take a lot of money.
Christine Balling recommended using the army to build infrastructure, such as roads, in a post-conflict scenario as a way to make use of resources already at the disposal of the Colombian government.
Of 31,849 paramilitaries to demobilize under Uribe’s administration:
4,237 faced human right abuse charges
19 have been convicted since 2006 receiving five to eight year sentences
268 will be released this year after waiting eight years for a verdict
30 have been extradited to the US
The experts all believed that Colombia will have to invest in making Colombia’s bureaucracy and judicial system more efficient. The slow bureaucratic nature of Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office could be a severe limiting factor in implementing transitional justice.
Compared on data from the problem-riddled paramilitary demobilization in 1996 under the government of former President Alvaro Uribe, Colombia must do better to provide a holistic reintegration program for demobilized fighters.
The importance of getting mid-level commanders involved in a robust reintegration program was also highlighted at the forum. The neglect of mid-level FARC commanders, such as the ones in charge of finance and of certain fronts, could result in the creation of “FARCRIM” groups. Similar to the process that resulted in the creation of BACRIM groups which evolved from demobilized paramilitary organizations.
Making Ends Meet
Colombia’s reintegration agency, ACR, is led by Alejandro Eder. The agency currently has 32 offices around the country, which the forum experts say is not enough to properly handle a mass demobilization in an eventual peace deal with the FARC.
Alejandro Eder is currently appealing to the international community for funding. According to Dr. Spencer, in a post-conflict scenario, ACR will most likely be able to finance 50% of its own operations.
Dr. Isacson believes the agency has the capacity to demobilize 1,000 to 2,000 fighters a year. The FARC are estimated to have around 8,000 soldiers.
Dr. Spencer said he has a source close to the FARC that informed him that around 60% of the FARC would demobilize under a peace deal. Even if only half of the FARC demobilized, ARC would not be able to cope with its current budget and staff.
“[America] is obliged to help. Our consumption of drugs are fueling their war,” remarked Dr. Spencer. It was also noted that the United States has a bad habit of throwing money at a problem and then abandoning their commitments. The forum was in agreement that the same thing that happened in Iraq cannot happen in the event that a peace deal with the FARC rebel group is signed in Colombia.
Dr. Isacson believed the US should give $500 to $600 million a year to Colombia for the first three years after a peace agreement. An amount similar to what was given during the height of the military assistance package known as Plan Colombia, but this time to support peace.
Another major obstacle in financing an eventual peace deal is the fact that it has to go through Colombia’s congress where opposition party, Democratic Center, is the second most powerful party.
The leader of Democratic Center, former president and senator-elect, Alvaro Uribe, along with his chosen successor and former presidential candidate, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, have criticized the peace process since it’s beginning.
Financing of reintegration programs will eventually be in the hands of congress, and the Democratic Center has it well within their power to sabotage a peace accord by limiting its budget.
- June 25, 2014 forum at the National Defense University, Washington DC
- The Human Rights Landscape in Colombia (WOLA)