Contrary to original plans for the guerrillas to build new lives in their demobilization zones, former members of the FARC are abandoning their government camps at a high rate, according to local media.
As part of a peace process to end a half-century long civil conflict, the FARC and government agreed to create 26 demobilization zones where the guerrillas would hand in their weapons and then settle down to build new lives as civilians.
Following the end of their disarmament in August, FARC members transitioned to a social reincorporation processes, but this has been significantly delayed, leading to a mass exodus of former fighters with nothing to do in their camps.
In Antioquia, where five of these “training and reintegration spaces,” or ETRCs, are located, local media claim former members of the FARC are leaving the zones in high numbers, challenging both the government and FARC’s original belief that former guerrillas would stay in the areas previously under their control.
A report released Wednesday by the Global Observatory group claimed the majority of FARC members are still in the ETRCs, but the lack of “a strategic plan to reincorporate the guerilla members” into society through job training, economic support, and education has caused many members to leave the camps in search of better opportunity.
An overly complicated and extended bureaucracy has led to competition over resources and competencies, often stagnating processes and implementation. At the same time, a difficult transition that has put at risk the FARC’s cohesion has kept its Secretariat addressing immediate crises rather than planning strategically for the future…Some observers argue that, after the armed group ceased to exist, the Colombian establishment doesn’t have much interest in really reforming the status quo.
The Global Observatory
According to Colombia’s Agency for Reincorporation and Normalization via newspaper El Colombiano, in at least three of Antioquia’s five ECTRs, the FARC’s population is down almost 50%.
In Vigia del Fuerte it’s down 45%, in Ituango 34%, and in Remedios 52%.
While the former guerrillas’ exodus could reduce the success of the peace process, Kyle Johnson, a senior Colombia analyst at the International Crisis Group said, “We can’t classify every FARC member that leaves their zone as a deserter.”
“They are legally allowed to move wherever they want,” he added.
Amid ongoing uncertainty about projects that would help demobilized FARC guerrillas reintegrate in society, many have left the camps either to return to their families or seek better economic opportunities. Some may be joining up with other illegal armed groups.
On Friday, Colombia’s Prosecutor General, Nestor Humberto Martinez, revealed that in the Cauca department, between 500 and 700 former members of the FARC have deserted the peace process to join illegal armed groups.
RedMas news further reported Friday that the Governor of the Antioquia believes that in his department 500 members of the FARC have deserted the peace process.
But Johnson said it’s difficult to get actual numbers on those who have joined illegal armed groups, and “the numbers are likely much smaller” than reported estimates.
The original plan was for FARC members to stay in government-built communities strategically placed in zones where the FARC has traditionally maintained a strong presence.
“The FARC has insisted on a collective reincorporation, which is pivotal for the group’s cohesion and survival in the short-term, rather than the individual reintegration that has traditionally been used in Colombia,” said the Global Observatory report.
To facilitate their “collective reincorporation” members of the FARC are meant to invest in collective business ventures based out of the former demobilization zones using government-provided economic support.
Our goal is for the vast majority [of excombatants] to stay in these zones and even bring their families to live here, because of the collective economic projects we will generate.
FARC leader Carlos Lozada via AFP
But according to the Global Observatory, “the situation in some of the zones has become so dire that FARC members were forced to negotiate with the army to guarantee the continuation of food deliveries, which had stopped after the disarmament process ended.”
And in many of the ECTRs, the government is still building basic housing infrastructure for the guerrillas, which was supposed to be completed in the early spring of this year.
Many of these zones are located in areas where the government will launch crucial rural investment programs as part of the peace process, as well as where 16 additional seats for the House of Representatives will be added for the next two congressional sessions as part of the peace deal. Although the FARC’s new political party is not allowed to post candidates for the seats, it is expected they will try to use their political power to influence the elections.
“While the numbers of FARC members who have left the zones…remains unclear,” said the Global Observatory, “a continued delayed in reincorporation programs in the zones will only increase the number of FARC members leaving.”
“We need the FARC to be as internally cohesive as possible in the next few months,” said Johnson, in order to secure “the largest transition possible in terms of the number of combatants from war to peace.”
“That cohesion could be eroding with all the people leaving the camps,” he added.