The ongoing demobilization of the FARC is “going well,” Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos said Thursday, in spite of an abundance of evidence and claims the process couldn’t possibly be more chaotic.
While the guerrillas should have been demobilized by December 31 already, this has still not happened as the government seems unable to construct the camps where the rebels will be staying while disarming and going through their initial judicial procedures.
The majority of the transition zones where Colombia’s FARC guerrillas are expected to demobilize and disarm will now be ready by March 1, according to the government. They should have been ready in early December already.
Transition zone manager Carlos Cordoba said that 23 of the 26 zones will be ready by the new date in a television interview earlier this week.
The delay is just the latest in what has become a tired reality of the landmark peace deal’s implementation thus far.
FARC members were initially supposed to begin moving their troops from provisional pre-grouping areas to the transition zones on December 6, and be fully demobilized by December 31.
But, a crucial amnesty law was not yet in place, and the camps were not yet in adequate condition.
The demobilization date was consequently pushed back to January 31.
Even with another month in hand, the government was unable to follow through with readying the camps, despite reassurances from Cordoba along the way.
“The national government has been complying with the equipment, has been complying with the construction of the camps…and we offer all the collaboration [needed] to comply with the January 31 target for the FARC to be in the [transition] zones,” Cordoba told local media late last month.
According to the Bogota-based Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation, upon consulting with local authorities and guerrilla leaders, in the days leading up to and including January 31 it was apparent that the government had met just 25% of their commitments, and not a single camp was 100% ready.
In addition, just three of the 26 camps were significantly advanced by February 2. Many were in just the early stages of being built.
“There is a certain uncertainty that results in desertions and mistrust among the guerrilla troops,” Foundation director Leon Valencia told local media.
FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, a.k.a. “Timochenko” has taken to Twitter regularly in recent weeks to provide updates, often with photos, of how ill-prepared the transition zones are.
— Rodrigo Londoño (@TimoFARC) February 5, 2017
“In the transition zone in La Carmelita, Putumayo, just one house with 4 rooms has been built, where 400 guerrillas arrived,” he tweeted on February 5, five days after the already once-delayed January 31 deadline was set.
Amid the constant speculation surrounding the camps, Cordoba has pointed to the remoteness of their locations as a primary factor in the delays.
“We are building infrastructure for more than 7,500 men in 26 remote points of the national geography, with all the problems that entails,” he told Blu Radio on January 26.
“80% of the camps are located in harsh areas and in difficult terrains, all these elements become problems to resolve,” he continued.
While perhaps true, the difficult conditions should not have come as a surprise to Cordoba. At least not this late in the process, just as the government was expected to follow through on their commitments to comply with a strict 180-day demobilization and disarmament schedule.
And more worrisome yet, as Valencia mentions in an editorial for the Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation, what does this signal for the decidedly more complicated process that follows, of reintegrating FARC guerrillas into Colombian society?
The FARC’s 180-day demobilization and disarmament process is part of a major, 10-year national peace process that seeks to end more than 52 years of violence that has left more than 8 million victims.
The first deadline for the effective disarmament of 30% of the FARC’s members is on March 1, 90 days after the peace deal came into force on December 1.
The guerrillas should be fully disarmed and their explosives removed from jungle caches by April 30. However, the peace agreement allows a 30-day extension in the case this is deemed necessary.
The FARC’s full demobilization, disarmament and reintegration should be completed by May 30, the day the United Nations’ role as observer of the process should end.