The escape of the FARC‘s 27th Front commander is spurring concerns about desertion of demobilized commanders and combatants. How worried should Colombia be?
The country’s peace process partly depends on demobilized FARC members’ commitment to their disarmament and submission to justice, and “Rodrigo Cadete’s” escape highlights this is no given fact.
How big an issue this would be is at best an educated guess for anyone, even for the peace observers of the United Nations.
However, no party denies this is an important issue to keep an eye on; Desertions are common in any peace process and Colombia was never expected to be the exception to the rule.
After the country’s paramilitary umbrella group AUC demobilized, more than 20% of paramilitary fighters and mid-level commanders deserted.
The desertion that dampened the success of the demobilization of paramilitary groups is a similar threat to the success of Colombia’s current peace process.
However, FARC desertions seem to be no reason for alarm just yet.
The UN has reported the demobilization and disarmament of some 7,000 guerrillas and 4,000 militia members.
According to the International Crisis Group, which has been monitoring the peace process independently, at least 472 combatants have deserted the peace process since September last year while some 1,000 militia members are suspected of never having registered as demobilized.
Pressure on these former guerrillas does exist and incentives to abandon the peace process are offered by dissident guerrillas, illegal armed groups and even the National Army.
Whether these deserters have joined a rival armed group is impossible to say. According to the military, it has received 112 of the deserted guerrillas who wanted to demobilize without the benefits granted by the peace process.
Former guerrillas taking part in the process do so voluntarily. There are no walls or fences that prevent them from leaving the camps where they demobilized and disarmed.
For the vast majority of former FARC guerrillas the peace process continues to be the better option in spite of the external incentives and delays in their reintegration.
This could change in the future as incentives to abandon the process are expected.
The guerrillas are still waiting to enter their reintegration program, in spite the demobilization and disarmament process having ended weeks ago already.
Court proceedings against those suspected of war crimes are expected by the end of this year.
So far, however, the FARC’s demobilization appears to show better results than the process carried out with the AUC.