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FARC Dissidents Growing Faster Than Colombia Can Count

Two Colombian intelligence reports, published three months apart, show contradictions in the number of ex-FARC Mafia and their rate of expansion, although they both agree these splinter groups are growing. According to an intelligence report seen by the newspaper El Tiempo this week, 1,749 ex-guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) can now be counted as dissident and have abandoned the peace process. The report, which has been presented to Congress by the Ministry of Defense, shows that the number of former fighters abandoning the peace process is growing. However, another intelligence report from October contradicts this report, stating that the FARC dissidents already number between 2,500 and 3,000 members across 10 departments. In comparison, the December report counts fewer dissidents but states they are spread across 19 departments.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of FARC Peace

The Colombia government appears to be unclear about how many ex-militants have abandoned the peace process and where they are located, given the glaring contradictions in these two reports. However, both intelligence reports reflect mounting concern about the growth of FARC dissidents. Of the more than 10,000 FARC soldiers who demobilized, thousands now once again represent a threat to national security. Furthermore, according to the same El Tiempo report, criminal groups recognized by the Colombian state now number more than 7,200 people in total, with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) the largest with 2,206 men.

InSight Crime Analysis

Discontent in the peace process and a lack of opportunities when returning to civilian life may be driving former FARC members to return to their criminal roots. On top of this, a number of conditions laid out in the Havana peace agreements have been breached or modified, including a lack of protection for those who have demobilized, some of whom have been prosecuted.       SEE ALSO: 50 years of the FARC Added to this, Venezuela is providing an all too tempting breeding ground for criminal activity and the country’s population, driven to leave in droves, are being recruited in large numbers. FARC dissidents may already have made alliances with other groups in Venezuela, as indicated by the recent meeting between some of its members and the ELN in Apure to define drug trafficking routes and reach collaboration agreements. The Colombian government is finding it difficult to accurately track the growth of these groups, in large part because it has proven next to impossible to follow their actions or their recruitment drives inside Venezuela due to the complex diplomatic relations between both countries and a total absence of bilateral cooperation.

Colombia Legal Changes Jeopardize Future of FARC Agreement

Controversy surrounding the extension and modifications of a crucial law in Colombia shows the continued risks facing the successful implementation of the government’s peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas. This could also jeopardize the already uncertain future of peace talks with the ELN, which is ramping up its criminal activities and forging alliances with dissident FARC members. Lawmakers in Colombia on December 12 approved the extension and some modifications to the country’s Public Order Law that established Strategic Zones of Comprehensive Intervention (Zonas Estratégicas de Intervención Integral — ZEII) in areas affected by violence, a Peace Cabinet that will coordinate the security strategies used in these regions, as well as a coordination center that will “pursue and dismantle” illicit goods and activities, among other things, according to an Interior Ministry press release. However, officials voted down a controversial article that would have allowed the administration of President Iván Duque to reactivate arrest warrants against former fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) who demobilized and are complying with the historic 2016 peace agreement.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez defended the new modifications. “I appreciate the … bill that has two purposes: to guarantee security and peace. Be sure that it will be used … for the benefit of the country,” she said. The adjustments come just after Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias “Timochenko” — the leader of the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común – FARC) political party — penned a December 11 letter to Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias “El Paisa” — a former FARC guerrilla commander — offering him security and urging him to present himself before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz – JEP), a system set up after the peace agreement to administer transitional justice. Prior to Timochenko’s plea, the JEP in October 2018 opened an inquiry into El Paisa’s possible non-compliance with the peace agreement in relation to the first proceedings involving kidnappings carried out by the FARC during the armed conflict. The extension of the modified law had priority in Congress because the current law expires December 17.

InSight Crime Analysis

The modifications to Colombia’s Public Order Law will likely further degrade the morale and trust that former FARC fighters have in the government and its implementation of the peace deal, which members of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) — Colombia’s last remaining guerrilla group — will likely take as a signal of what could come of their already shaky peace discussions with the government. For more than 13,000 demobilized former FARC fighters, the potential reactivation of arrest warrants against those complying with the agreement, despite this idea being voted down, sent a strong message that compounded the distrust and legal insecurity they already feel. The former rebels have good reason to be worried. In April 2018, Colombian authorities arrested one of the FARC’s foremost figures, Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias “Jesús Santrich,” on US drug charges. Santrich was at the center of the peace talks with the government in Havana, Cuba, and his arrest sparked uproar throughout the ranks of the FARC. This growing discontent, coupled with the lack of government protection for former FARC combatants, could fuel even more dissidence from the peace process. InSight Crime estimates that between 2,000 and 2,500 former fighters have now abandoned the process altogether, representing some 15 to 20 percent of the total number of FARC ex-combatants.

(Map of Colombia’s Ex-FARC Mafia)

What’s more, the changes raise further questions about the Colombian government’s ability to comply with the agreement. Among other things, the government has already failed to successfully implement a coca crop substitution program or secure funding to reincorporate demobilized fighters, who are stuck in limbo, back into society, all of which were original terms of the agreement. Among the most skeptical of the government’s commitment is the 1st Front Dissidence that formed in July 2016 after distancing itself from the peace process, as well as important former FARC commanders like El Paisa. Some 400 fighters make up the 1st Front Dissidence, which controls key drug trafficking routes in Guaviare, Vaupés, Meta and Vichada departments that reach the borders of Brazil and Venezuela. The modifications also question the continuity of another central pillar of the deal: territorial peace. These strategic zones of intervention, according to officials in the press release, must be implemented alongside the Territory-Focused Development Programs (Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial – PDET) originally agreed upon as part of the peace deal in areas where the two projects coincide, and will not use resources assigned for the PDETs.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of FARC Peace

However, the source of funding for the PDETs and the exact implementation of these specialized intervention zones remains unclear. If implemented in areas where coca eradication programs will also be carried out, this could further exacerbate tensions between community members and such programs. There appears to be two competing courses of action: one based on the fight against organized crime and one based on constructing peace from the local level up. This dichotomy further complicates the future of peace. Continued hiccups involving the implementation of the FARC’s peace agreement could all but seal the end of the already fragile peace talks with the ELN. Indeed, government officials in Ecuador refused to continue hosting the Colombian government’s peace talks with the guerrillas earlier this year over concerns regarding the FARC peace deal. The negotiations have continued to waver, and the ELN is expanding aggressively into Venezuela while potentially forging new alliances with FARC dissidents to further their criminal activities.

3 Obstacles for Transitional Justice in Colombia

A transitional justice system formed after the signing of a historic peace agreement with Colombia’s FARC rebels to try former fighters for crimes committed during the country’s decades-long armed conflict continues to face obstacles, further threatening the possibility of achieving lasting peace in the country. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz – JEP) was set up after the Colombian government and the now largely demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) signed a peace agreement in 2016.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of FARC Peace

The purpose of the JEP is to “administer transitional justice and make known the crimes committed in the framework of the armed conflict before December 1, 2016,” according to the institution. Below, InSight Crime looks at three obstacles that are hindering the JEP’s ability to move the peace process with the FARC rebels in Colombia forward.

1. Former FARC Fighters Continue to Commit Crimes

Under the peace agreement, only former FARC fighters who have not committed crimes after the 2016 deal was signed can benefit from the JEP. However, since it was established, there have been reports of high-profile former guerrilla members committing crimes while being included in the special jurisdiction’s list. The most emblematic case is that of Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias “Jesús Santrich,” who was a lead negotiator in the peace talks and was set to take a seat in Congress in April 2018. Colombian authorities arrested Santrich in early April 2018 after the United States charged him with drug trafficking crimes committed after the 2016 peace agreement, which could make him ineligible to face justice through the JEP. The JEP is still studying the case to reach a conclusion on his inclusion or exclusion from the peace process. More recently, US authorities sanctioned another former FARC fighter for his alleged ties to the drug trade following the peace agreement. On October 18, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against demobilized former FARC rebel Pedro Luis Zuleta Noscué, alias “El Inválido.” The agency alleges that Zuleta Noscué — who is participating in the peace process and is enlisted with the JEP — “continues to supply narcotics to criminal groups such as Colombia’s Oficina de Envigado.” US authorities allege that Zuleta Noscué has long controlled a drug trafficking corridor in southwest Cauca department where he supported the FARC’s drug trafficking activities. Cauca had the fourth-highest number of hectares used for coca cultivation in 2017, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

2. ELN Guerrillas on List of Demobilized FARC Fighters

Authorities in Colombia have in the past faced difficulties separating demobilizing FARC guerrillas from drug traffickers and other criminals trying to pass themselves off as FARC fighters in an effort to take advantage of the benefits awarded to the demobilized guerrillas as part of the peace agreement. These problems persist today. JEP President Patricia Linares recently admitted that there are members of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) — the country’s last remaining guerrilla group — on the list of demobilized former FARC fighters, El Tiempo reported. “I have information, which I myself have verified, that some of these people [ELN fighters] make up part of the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace’s lists [of FARC members] that were prepared by the previous administration,” Linares said.

3. Tension with Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office

A new legislative proposal in Colombia has generated concerns from the JEP about their ability to adequately do their job. The proposal would limit the JEP’s access to confidential information, such as military, state, intelligence and counterintelligence operations, that threatens to put the country’s national security at risk, Noticias Caracol reported. JEP President Linares said that the legislation is “openly unconstitutional because it affects the [JEP’s] assigned transitional function.”

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

The Attorney General’s Office and the JEP have also clashed over cases that don’t threaten national security, but rather raise questions about which institution has authority over the case — that is to say, whether ordinary justice or transitional justice is the proper route to take. The Attorney General’s Office, for example, recently refused to hand over to the JEP information pertaining to assets seized from the FARC army that could be used as part of reparations for victims of the armed conflict if they are turned over to the JEP. That said, relations between the two institutions appear to be improving. JEP President Linares recently met with Deputy Attorney General María Paulina Riveros. The two agreed to create a roundtable of sorts where the two entities can discuss solutions to the many issues that have stoked tensions between them, El Tiempo reported. “The government, Congress and judicial power are now working towards the same goals,” Colombia Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez said.

Colombia Seizes First Assets Linked to Ex-FARC Mafia

Authorities in Colombia have seized the first set of assets allegedly linked to a dissident ex-FARC mafia network, providing further insight into the economic standing of these dissident groups. Colombian authorities seized assets ranging from a supermarket to commercial properties allegedly belonging to the 28th Front dissidence of the now largely demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). The assets were located in the municipality of Paz de Ariporo in Casanare department, the Attorney General’s Office announced in a September 30 press release. Carlos Sánchez Meza, alias “Efrén,” and other leaders of the dissidence of the 28th Front — formerly of the FARC’s wealthy Eastern Bloc — allegedly put the properties in the names of third parties to avoid detection from authorities in Paz de Ariporo. The seizure was part of an investigation into drug trafficking, extortion and other criminal activities.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ex-FARC Mafia

Among the nine properties seized were the La Bonanza supermarket valued at 1.5 billion pesos (around $500,000), six commercial properties within the town of Paz de Ariporo and two other rural plots of land. The total value of the properties exceeded 4 billion pesos (around $1.3 million), according to authorities.

InSight Crime Analysis

These significant seizures offer some insight into the economic power of emergent ex-FARC mafia networks. Dissident guerrilla networks have garnered particular strength in the southern and eastern regions of Colombia, relying on million-dollar criminal economies such as drug trafficking and illegal mining to fund themselves. While the 28th Front’s assets may have been new acquisitions, dissidents in that region have also funded themselves with leftovers from the FARC’s historic insurgency. As InSight Crime previously detailed in a three-part series after the FARC declared their assets to the Colombian government in 2017, millions were apparently lost to dissident rebels who deserted the peace process. Among the assets that fell into the hands of dissidents were properties in the prized Eastern Plains region — a cocaine hub once controlled by the FARC’s Eastern Bloc — cattle worth tens of thousands of dollars, and stockpiles of weapons.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of FARC Peace

The use of supermarkets was one of many ways in which the FARC insurgency laundered its criminal proceeds. Indeed, in February this year, authorities seized 60 supermarkets and other assets tied to the FARC guerrilla group’s Eastern Bloc, and which had not been declared to the government. *This article was written with assistance from InSight Crime’s Colombian Organized Crime Observatory.

Is the FARC Political Experiment Dead in the Water?

The FARC political party appears in disarray as it celebrates its first birthday, and the internal fracture rocking the political movement one year after its inauguration could seriously damage the ongoing implementation of peace. Concern is growing over the absence of several top leaders of the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común – FARC), Colombia’s El País reported on September 3, a day after the political party, held its second-ever national congress. Dozens were absent from the three-day summit, but the no-show of the party’s second-in-command Luciano Marín Arango, who still goes by his nom de guerre “Iván Márquez”, and two emblematic figures of the former guerrilla group, Hernán Darío Velásquez, most commonly known as “El Paisa,” and Henry Castellanos, alias “Romaña”, were particularly noticed and could spell serious trouble for the FARC.

Where are the Missing FARC Leaders?

Following the arrest of his close ally Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias “Jesús Santrich,” in early April on drug trafficking charges, Iván Márquez left Bogotá for the Miravalle rural area of the southeastern Caquetá department where El Paísa was overseeing the reintegration process of some 150 demobilized guerrilla fighters. But the location of Márquez, one of the key negotiators of the peace agreement, is now unknown, as is that of El Paísa, and efforts by authorities to locate the two men have, so far, been unsuccessful. Authorities even suspect that the former guerrilla negotiator may have left for Venezuela, according to El Espectador. Romaña, meanwhile, a well-respected leader figure among former rebel ranks, has reportedly left the central Meta department where he coordinated the rehabilitation of 350 former fighters, according to El Tiempo.

Why the Radio Silence?

One explanation for Márquez falling off the radar is that the former FARC leader fears being arrested like Santrich and potentially extradited to the United States. This hypothesis stems largely from the fact that Márquez’s nephew, Marlon Marín, who is accused of being involved in Santrich’s alleged drug scheme, is now a protected witness for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). But the proximity of Márquez’s last known location with areas where FARC dissidents operate, and rumors of his possible flight to Venezuela where infamous dissident leader Géner García Molina, alias “Jhon 40,” is apparently hiding out, suggest the more concerning possibility. That is, that Márquez and El Paisa are in contact with the ex-FARC mafia — emerging but powerful criminal organizations formed by former FARC guerrillas — in the Eastern Plains or the Norte de Santander department bordering Venezuela, and are weighing out their options.

What are the Implications for the FARC Political Experiment?

The prolonged absence of these leading figures is a sign of the internal fracture within the FARC party that has grown since Santrich’s arrest. Although ideological differences between Márquez and the FARC President Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, known by his nom de guerre “Timochenko,” were clear from day one, Santrich’s capture has seemingly broadened the rift between the two men, with Márquez appearing at the helm of a politically more radical faction of the party. But Márquez’ absence from the national congress and his radio silence, just one month after refusing to take his senatorial seat in Congress in July, casts serious doubt as to the leader’s actual commitment to the party, and many fear that Márquez may already have abandoned ship to join the dissidence. Such a development would seriously weaken the FARC political party and further jeopardize its credibility among members to ensure the implementation of the peace agreement, at a time when many demobilized fighters are already afraid that newly-elected President Iván Duque will break his predecessor’s peace promises.

What are the Risks for the Peace Process?

If Márquez and other leaders were to join the ex-FARC mafia, there is a real risk that other demobilized fighters would follow their lead and swell the ranks of these groups. Without a united leadership, the party can hardly reassure demobilized fighters already critical of the government’s failures to comply with the accords, raising the question of how long a fragmented FARC party can hold its ranks together.

The FARC’s Turbulent First Steps Into Colombia’s Congress

While Colombia celebrated its Independence Day, key members of the new FARC political party abandoned their seats in Congress and contemplated their military options, adding to the country’s recent dramatic political turns. July 20 was set to be a momentous day for Colombia. Independence Day celebrations were to be coupled with the end of the old Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) and the beginning of the new Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común – FARC) political party. And as part of the peace agreement signed in 2016, after 50 years of war with the Colombian government, FARC congressional representatives were to take their seats. Instead, July 20 came to symbolize the profound crisis for Colombia as three FARC political leaders — among them one of the architects and main negotiators of the peace accords — did not appear in Congress and dissident groups loomed on the horizon.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

The absence was expected. Luciano Marín, alías “Iván Márquez” — second in command in the former guerrilla group, principal negotiator during the peace talks and one of the movement’s most important political leaders — had already announced that he would not be taking his seat in the Senate. His decision was in response to the arrest of another FARC party representative set to take his seat in Congress, Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias “Jesús Santrich.” Hernández is incarcerated at La Picota prison on drug trafficking charges. If Hernández does not appear in Congress within the next week, he will automatically lose his seat. Byron Yepes, the former commander of the powerful 27th Front, was the third party member who was absent. Yepes passed his seat on to Carlos Alberto Carreño due to health problems. The ramifications of Yepes’ absence go beyond Congress. He was the coordinator of one of the concentration zones in Colombia’s eastern plains, and his leadership has been a crucial part of the successful demobilization of many ex guerrillas in that zone, despite attempts by dissident groups to lure the former rebels into the illicit economy again. The ranks of the dissidents, meanwhile, continue to expand at lightning speed in other parts of the country. While not all groups are equal in size and power, and their relationships with each other are heavily dependent on illegal economies, they are undermining the peace agreement all the same. According to a July 14 report by Semana, at least some dissident guerrilla fighters are coalescing into something resembling a rebel organization again. “The expansion plan opened strong this year. During 2017, eastern dissidents actively engaged in combat, harassing public forces and [local] populations. But in 2018 they suspended part of their terrorist activities. They seem to have begun concentrating on military and financial consolidation, preparing for future offensive actions,” the article said.

InSight Crime Analysis

The absence of the FARC leaders from Congress and the increasing number of dissidents clearly illustrate how quickly confidence in the peace process is fading. And the future looks bleak, especially on the political front. This downhill trajectory became particularly evident in the May general elections. The victory of the political forces that campaigned against the peace process and the little support the FARC political party received during those elections left the latter at a disadvantage in its efforts to support implementation of the peace agreement. The FARC no-shows only bolstered this sentiment. And President-elect Iván Duque has already advanced proposals to change the agreement. “First and foremost, this peace we long for needs to be corrected,” Duque said in his first speech after winning Colombia’s presidential elections. “It will be corrected so the true victims are the center of the process, and we are guaranteed truth, justice and reparation, not repetition.” Specific points in the peace agreement, such as changes to the Special Peace Jurisdiction (Justicia Especial para la Paz – JEP), the central mechanism of transitional justice created by the accords, as well as amnesty for certain drug-related crimes, are among the more critical challenges the Duque administration will face. What’s more, other parts of the peace agreement have not been implemented quickly or efficiently. Economic projects have stalled for political and financial reasons. And the nearly $240 a month that demobilized FARC members receive from the government during their transition is small change compared to what dissidents are earning. As a result, more guerrillas are abandoning the peace process and swelling the ranks of the dissidents. Since the 1st Front’s July 2016 declaration rejecting the peace agreement, dissident groups have grown and reconfigured themselves, gaining control over strategic drug trafficking locations and developing into sophisticated criminal organizations. While most of the groups are not interested in creating a new political-insurgent force, they have been forming alliances around criminal activities. Monumental gains in these illegal economies are setting up to be a game changer for drug trafficking in Colombia. The cocaine trade is ever more prosperous, and coca crops have reached their highest levels in history with increasingly lucrative markets beckoning abroad. Another sign that dissident alliances will likely not yield a new centralized rebel army is that the groups are so different from each other. Their current configuration would best be described as an ex-FARC mafia criminal network. While there may be an effort by some to position themselves as revolutionary groups with a political objective, they are increasingly committing themselves to criminal activities like drug trafficking, extortion and illegal mining. Moreover, they have shown little to no interest in regulating conflicts between local residents or mediating community disputes, a trademark of the old guerrilla movement. In the end, Independence Day was not a complete loss. Ten members of the FARC political party were present in Congress, among them Pablo Catatumbo, Marco Carlacá and Carlos Lozada, three of the FARC’s most important and time-honored leaders. The hope that remains may rest with them.

Weekly InSight: The Ex-FARC Dilemma – Split Between Politics and (Another) War

In our July 19 Facebook Live session, Managing Editor Josefina Salomón and Senior Investigator Angela Olaya discussed the ex-guerrillas’ new political party’s shaky entrance into Colombian politics and the future of the country’s dissident fighters. Olaya spoke about the particular relevance of the Colombian Congress’ inauguration on July 20, the first time the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común – FARC) will actually have representation. This was a key negotiation point in the peace agreement signed in November 2016. She detailed the reasons why several leaders of the new party are not taking some of the ten seats in Congress — five in the House of Representatives and five in the Senate — that were granted to the demobilized rebel group, formerly known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). Among them are Luciano Marín Arango, alias “Iván Márquez,” the party’s second most powerful figure. He also served as the FARC’s main negotiator during peace talks with the Colombian government. Márquez decided to relinquish his seat following the arrest of former FARC commander Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias “Jesús Santrich.” Santrich is currently in prison on charges of drug trafficking. He cannot take his congressional seat until his case is resolved.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

Salomón and Olaya also talked about the many claims regarding the growing number of FARC dissidents. Olaya, an InSight Crime expert on Colombia, described the various FARC dissident groups active in Colombia, and explained that the relationships these groups are forming do not constitute a new revolutionary guerrilla group but rather alliances between criminal groups. She said that, while some of them are trying to position themselves as revolutionary groups with political objectives, they are becoming increasingly involved in illegal economies including drug trafficking, extortion and illegal mining. The conversation also touched on how the challenges facing implementation of the peace accords are impacting the Colombian government’s dialogues with the last remaining rebel group, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), as well as on the challenges new President-elect Iván Duque will face in guaranteeing security in the country. Watch the full conversation in Spanish below:

5 Organized Crime Challenges for Colombia President-Elect Duque

The election of conservative Iván Duque as Colombia’s next president has raised questions on how the country will tackle some of the many challenges it faces regarding new criminal dynamics, rising violence, and the shaky peace deal with the FARC.  Duque, from the Democratic Center (Centro Democrático) political party, secured nearly 54 percent of the vote in the second round while the former rebel Gustavo Petro took 41.8 percent. A little more than four percent of voters cast a blank vote. Here are five of the main challenges Duque will face when he takes office in August.

1. Increased Coca Cultivation

Estimates are that Colombia is now producing the most cocaine in the country’s history — with a 23 percent increase in the number of hectares under coca cultivation so far in 2018 in comparison to 2016, when the government signed a historic peace agreement with the now largely demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) guerrilla organization. As InSight Crime previously reported, this soaring cocaine production is fueling a new generation of criminals.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

In early 2017, Colombia outlined ambitious plans to eradicate 100,000 hectares of coca by the end of the year — half forcibly and the other half through a crop substitution program. But forced eradication has at times led to bloody confrontations with farmers and the crop substitution strategy has seen limited success as a result of significant logistical and political obstacles. Duque has vowed to continue with these two strategies. He has also pledged to reinstate the controversial aerial fumigation of drug crops. The United States has voiced its support for reviving this strategy, and Duque will likely want to strengthen Colombia’s strained relationship with Washington amid growing pressure from the United States concerning the implementation of the peace deal with the FARC.

2. Restoring Faith in the FARC Peace Deal

Confidence in Colombia’s peace deal with the FARC is at a critical low. Duque has vowed to make “structural changes” to the accords, which could have a negative impact on dissidence levels among former FARC fighters. Specifically, Duque has promised to alter the transitional justice system for the peace process known as the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz – JEP) and strengthen penalties handed down to former guerrillas. Colombia’s Congress recently postponed the vote to establish the rules and scope of the JEP. These delays are likely giving Duque the opportunity to wait for congress to turn in his favor in order for him to have a final say on what the future of the JEP will be. Duque has also promised to remove the amnesty the peace deal guaranteed former FARC fighters who engaged in drug trafficking during the conflict. Many former rebels were already worried following the recent arrest of former high-level FARC member Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias “Jesús Santrich,” for drug trafficking crimes allegedly committed after the signing of the peace deal.  In addition, a growing number of former combatants have been murdered since the implementation of the peace accord began, and the scale of FARC dissidence could increase further as efforts from the state to reintegrate them back into society have been marred by corruption allegations and criminal violence. Meanwhile, Colombia’s ex-FARC mafia groups are becoming a national threat as they grow in sophistication and strength. While the government maintains its same strategies, these newly formed criminal groups are thinking and acting differently, and may become an attractive alternative for former FARC fighters disheartened by the lack of progress in the peace accords.

3. Fragility of the ELN Peace Process

Duque has already voiced his opposition to the current peace talks with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), the country’s last formidable nationwide guerrilla army, and has given the group an ultimatum: either give up criminal activities and lay down your weapons or run the risk of being attacked by security forces. Growing concerns over the shaky implementation of the government’s peace deal with the FARC have undermined the ELN’s confidence it can have successful peace talks of its own. As faith in peace wavers, the ELN is waging a war against the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Popular – EPL) in Colombia’s Catatumbo region along the Colombia-Venezuela border in order to control a key cocaine trafficking corridor. As an ELN commander told InSight Crime in May, the rebels are “analyzing the intention of the government to see if [the peace talks are] genuine.”

4. Colombia’s New Face of Organized Crime

The departure of the FARC from Colombia’s criminal stage has ushered in a new generation of criminals that has adopted a low-profile and a less violent way of conducting illicit business.

SEE ALSO: The ‘Invisibles’: Colombia’s New Generation of Drug Traffickers

However, as the ELN has shown, those who are going to end up controlling the country’s most strategic areas to further their lucrative criminal activities will undoubtedly have to battle other contenders in the process. This could create a situation where those who are going to prevail during this transition will be the ones who use more “plata” than “plomo.”

5. Evolving Criminal Economies and Rising Violence

While Colombia’s criminal groups continue to battle it out for control over the country’s lucrative cocaine trade, other criminal economies are evolving alongside and contributing to concerning levels of violence across the country. In addition to battling for control over key regions for cocaine trafficking, the ELN may also be expanding its criminal portfolio into car theft along the Colombia-Venezuela border.  And as criminal groups expand and try to take advantage of new opportunities presented to them in the wake of the FARC’s absence, innocent victims are increasingly becoming caught in the crossfire. Indeed, social leaders in Colombia are being killed at an alarming rate — an average of 11 per month were killed between 2016 and February 2018 — amid the shake up of the country’s criminal world, and a reconfiguration of power on the local level around illicit industries and land tenure issues. This fighting is also leading to a new era of mass displacement effecting thousands of individuals and displacing them from areas strategic to lucrative criminal activities. FARC dissidents and other criminal actors may also be aligning themselves with local gangs in urban settings like the city of Medellín, which has seen a spike in violence in recent months. *This article was written with assistance from InSight Crime’s Colombia Investigative Team.

Former FARC Combatant Killings Could Fuel More Dissidence

Colombian officials have released new estimates of the number of former guerrillas murdered since peace accord implementation began, highlighting the government’s inability to address killings committed by a wide range of criminal actors, which could fuel more dissidence from the process. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos acknowledged on May 22 that at least 40 former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) have been killed since the guerilla group and the government signed a November 2016 peace agreement. According to Santos, none of the 40 ex-combatants whose murders are recognized by the government were receiving protection measures as part of the accord, which cover 200 former leaders and 4,000 ex-guerrillas in demobilization and reintegration zones. Santos emphasized that in past peace processes in Colombia, the number of former combatants killed was significantly higher, but said his government “recognizes that one is too many” is “doing everything in our power to prevent more cases from happening.”

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The official government report estimates that 58 ex-FARC combatants and 18 family members of former guerrillas have been killed since the signing of the accord, El Colombiano reported. However, estimates from the United Nations and civil society groups differ. The UN’s most recent verification mission report estimates 44 former FARC members and 18 family members have been murdered, and six ex-guerrillas have been forcibly disappeared, since the signing of the agreement. A report published earlier this month by a coalition of non-governmental organizations documented 62 former combatants and 17 family members killed, and six disappeared. The former guerrilla group’s political party, the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común – FARC), alleged earlier this month that the government is “not complying” with the accord’s “terms of protection, legal security and full reincorporation.” In response to “recent attacks and threats,” the FARC asked for support from the international community, and called on the government to “take effective and suitable measures against criminal structures” that they say are establishing themselves near reincorporation zones.

InSight Crime Analysis

Although Colombia’s government has so far been able to prevent the killings of ex-FARC combatants directly under protection measures, authorities’ inability to stop the murders of other former guerrillas could threaten the peace process and fuel dissidence, as ex-rebels face threats from a wide range of criminal groups. According to field research conducted across Colombia by InSight Crime, there are several reasons for former combatant killings. For example, some ex-FARC members with information on drug routes and other lucrative criminal activities are killed because criminal actors seeking to take over their former strongholds view them as a threat. Others are murdered because they have information on killings, massacres and drug trafficking activities that could implicate other ex-members in future trials. Some have gone back to criminality, while others demobilized from militias that were not obligated to go to reintegration zones, making them easier targets.

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Killings of former FARC combatants have been attributed to a wide range of criminal groups, including the the Urabeños, FARC dissident groups and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), based on shifting criminal dynamics in various parts of the country. The UN verification mission has repeatedly called for the Colombian government to extend security guarantees beyond concentration zones, and the mission’s top official, Jean Arnault, recently warned that “weakness in this effort can only increase the risk that some ex-combatants will be diverted to criminal groups.” Last year, InSight Crime estimated that approximately 1,000 to 1,500 dissidents have already abandoned the peace process for various reasons. A lack of protection guarantees for demobilized members could lead to even higher rates of desertion and dissidence. *This article was written with assistance from Sergio Saffon and Ángela Olaya.