Colombia’s largest and longest-living guerrilla group FARC may have left the battlefield, but some 800 former members have not and continue to pose a threat to the population, according to independent researchers.
The International Crisis Group (ICG), which has been monitoring desertion of FARC guerrillas since an initial peace deal was signed in September last year, estimates that some 14 dissident groups have consolidates, all in the coca-rich south of the country.
The ICG’s senior analyst, Kyle Johnson, said that “in total there could be between 700 and 800 fighters in the ranks of the FARC dissident factions” in an analysis written for website Razon Publica.
According to ICG data, the north of Colombia has been rid of significant FARC groups, while dissident guerrillas in the south of the country continue to exercise significant control.
Apart from the consolidated FARC dissident groups, an unknown number of individual guerrillas have deserted their ranks, but have been unable to either consolidate groups or have yet to carry out any registered activity.
In the southwest of Colombia, the dissident groups are mainly formed by urban FARC militia members, who have joined dissident members of the local Daniel Aldana column.
The main group, however, is active in and around the southern Guaviare and province where four FARC units abandoned the peace process.
The existence of 700 to 800 dissidents implies that between 90% and 95% of the members of the guerrilla groups have taken part in the disarmament process.
ICG senior analyst Kyle Johnson
If in fact less than 10% of the FARC’s guerrillas and militia members, this would be a major improvement compared to a similar process held between 2003 and 2006 under former President Alvaro Uribe when approximately 20% of paramilitary fighters dissented and formed new groups.
This process was so marred with corruption that the then-Peace Commissioner was forced to flee the country to evade criminal charges of fraud.
While the vast majority of FARC guerrillas may have taken part in the demobilization process, this does not mean they will stay in the process as the risk of recidivism is high, especially because some of the paramilitary groups Uribe claimed to have dismantled have warned they would assassinate any former guerrilla member.
Since the fiercely criticized AUC demobilization, some 2,200 of the AUC member groups’ demobilized members “died,” according to the country’s reintegration agency.
Ultimately, only 60 of the approximately 30,000 people who demobilized between 2003 and 2006 were sent to prison.
Whether Santos is able to prevent the FARC dissident groups from becoming an equally large threat to public security as the AUC dissident groups will largely depend on the response of the police and military authorities, said Johnson.
The government fears that the presence of so many groups creates the feeling that the peace process is going badly. Instead, it should acknowledge reality and the risks to create better strategies to deal with them, starting with occupying the territories where they operate.
ICG senior analyst Kyle Johnson
The military is currently in the process of a major reform and has created specialized units to target areas abandoned by the FARC that are now being disputed by the dissident groups, their paramilitary rivals and drug trafficking organizations.