While most eyes are on the FARC, three other illegal armed groups and dozens of smaller drug trafficking organizations that were already scrambling over soon-to-be abandoned FARC territory could use the current chaos and uncertainty about the future for violent territorial expansions.
Military and police authorities were only just moving into these areas in some cases after decades of absence and no knowledge of the environment.
The only stability in Colombia’s armed conflict is the bilateral ceasefire between the military and the FARC. This means that neither the FARC nor the military should expect attacks from that counter party. And until now, both parties have proven to respect their ceasefires.
However, only weeks ago, FARC leader “Timochenko” ordered an end to “war taxes” that are used to feed the troops. If guerrilla unit start running out of food supplies, they could return to extorting civilians.
But more importantly, the FARC isn’t Colombia’s only rebel group and it is certainly not the most violent.
The ELN reportedly has already been recruiting dissident FARC members and moving into traditional FARC territory. Now that FARC guerrillas are all but certain about their future, it is not unlikely the ELN ranks will swell with scared FARC members.
While having had friendly relations with the ELN for years, the FARC has had to fend off territorial attacks from paramilitary successor group AGC, who have used the peace process to expand their territorial control and increasingly profile itself as a politically-motivated organization.
Unless the FARC is able to maintain order within the units on the front line with the AGC, the group could take advantage and make further violent incursions.
The regions most at risk are the ones where combat between these three groups is ongoing, primarily the north of the Antioquia province and the Pacific region where the AGC has not just been attacking guerrillas, but has also been assassinating policemen and rights defenders, and causing mass displacement.
In central Colombia, the situation is equally explosive. The FARC’s dissident First Front audaciously attacked a polling station on Sunday, effectively attacking the peace process.
In Guaviare, where the attack took place, the FARC’s former First Front is not the only problem. Paramilitary successor group Libertadores de Vichada, a coalition between the AGC and the Meta Bloc and the FIAC are vying for control over the coca-rich province.
In the eastern Vichada province, the FARC faces the Libertadores, who have strengthened their control in the east and violence has already been reported this year.
The northeastern Catatumbo region and the Arauca province have been submerged in ELN violence for months.
In southern Colombia, along the Ecuadorean border, the situation is more complicated. The Amazon region is mainly FARC-controlled. However, a series of smaller drug trafficking groups here used to pay protection tax to the FARC, a tax they were no longer going to pay.
The sudden change of direction of the peace process has upset not just Colombia’s politics or the FARC guerrillas, it has upset a fragile balance of criminal powers with a long history of extreme violence.