Delays in the demobilization of the FARC rebel group stem from an opaque contracting process, in which the Colombian government hired unqualified companies to construct UN-observed camps, RED+ reported on Monday.
According to the news website, the five companies contracted to prepare the facilities inside the 26 camps for demobilizing guerrillas had little to no experience in public works or construction.
The headaches of peace
After signing a peace deal in November that put an end to decades of war, the Colombian government had agreed to the creation of 26 demobilization zones for the FARC, the country’s largest guerrilla movement. The government had agreed to provide access to running water, basic sanitation, and electricity in the camps where guerrillas would live for the next few months.
Peace Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo originally blamed the delays on the narrow victory by the “No” campaign in October’s referendum on the initial peace agreement. The referendum result restricted the government from spending additional funds on peace negotiations with the FARC, but only partially explains the issues surrounding the peace process since then.
Hiring livestock firms for construction jobs
According to RED+, documents filed with local Chambers of Commerce indicated that the government hired private firms with activities ranging from livestock trading, hardware production, and the sale of food. None seemed to have the adequate licenses for construction.
In a document dated December 13, 2016, Maria Ines Restrepo, who has been managing the finances of peace initiatives since 1997 and the current director of the Peace Fund, personally suggested to hire five companies to lead the development of the demobilization camps. In the same document, she claimed that the companies “technically have experience” in the provision of services and delivery of emergency care supplies. By December 14, five contracts worth a total of $18.2 million had been signed by Restrepo.
According to newspaper El Colombiano, information regarding payment for the works was redacted. The contracts also stipulated a December 31 deadline for the construction of the camps.
The FARC is constructing its own camps
Since early December, the FARC has repeatedly voiced concerns regarding delays in the development of transitional zones, which have stalled the rebel group’s demobilization timeline.
The FARC has even offered its 6,900 demobilized guerrillas to work on constructing the camps themselves. Faced by the private firms’ inability to comply with their contracts and increased risks of fragmentation within the guerrilla group, President Juan Manuel Santos ultimately accepted the FARC’s offer.
President Santos told members of the press in January that such delays and difficulties in preparing the camps were “normal in a process as complex as this.” He said that eight of the 26 were ready to receive demobilized guerrillas. But media reports from earlier this month indicated that only two camps were fully prepared to receive the FARC.
In a recently leaked United Nations letter to the FARC and the Colombian government, Jean Arnault, the head of the UN mission to Colombia, asked for further delays to the demobilization timetable. He said that there were no containers to safely store surrendered weapons in the camps as previously agreed in the peace deal.
The FARC demobilization process was intended to last 180 days, but that timeline is now likely to be extended.