Colombia completed ratification of a landmark peace treaty with the FARC on 24 November 2016. A year later, the initial excitement has transformed into serious doubts about the deal’s success.
The historical absence of state institutions in Colombia’s rural areas has undermined the legitimacy of the peace process. Over the past decades, the guerrillas had managed to uphold a rebelocracy – a state within a state – and the forced and sudden change of regime was bound to encounter difficulties.
In the past year, the number of community leaders assassinated has increased dramatically. These figures include government officials, but also activists and civil society leaders who have no known ties with the guerrillas or organized crime groups. Indeed, some have been vocal critics of illegal activity.
This suggests that the disarmament process and transition of former revolutionaries into civil society have left power vacuums in areas of the country that were already experiencing a weak or non-existent presence of the state. Post-treaty, conditions have worsened for many impoverished rural communities.
In April 2017 in Tumaco, an area previously controlled by the guerrillas, coca farmers rallied to demand payment under the Substitution Plan – a policy designed to incentivize the transition from illicit into licit crops by means of cash payments. The police response was to shoot to kill.
Government officials justify such orders by claiming that renegades and drug cartels are using the peasants as human shields by paying them to assist rallies against the state. Reports suggest that two weeks prior to the protest, one police officer was shot dead and 17 more were kidnapped in the area. The task force responsible for the investigation alleges that it had reason to believe that organized crime groups were paying up to $35 to anyone willing to attend the protests.
A flawed process
By March 2017, a month prior to the protests in Tumaco, the guerrilleros were expected to start surrendering their arms and moving to safe spaces designed to guarantee a proper transition into a civilian life. This was to be supported by a number of bills passed to accelerate the process of amnesty as well as guaranteeing that individuals who were willing to give up the armed insurgency would be protected.
The United Nations has sent observers to verify that arms were being handed in and destroyed. But this does not account for those fighters who do not take part in the process. Hence, even assuming that it will get harder to smuggle arms into the country, the process leaves gaps whereby not all the weapons will be handed in.
Furthermore, provisions for the safe transition to legitimate livelihoods are jeopardized by the aforementioned fact that the presence of the state within and around the areas formerly controlled by the guerrillas is weak at best. Therefore, non-state armed groups are very likely to prevail.
Far from ending violence, the Peace Treaty has increased competition for the control of territory. Before the agreement, two major guerrilla groups controlled the market for drugs and violence in Colombia; after their dissolution, entry barriers have been torn down, hence new players will enter as long as it is profitable – similarly to what happened in Mexico after the fall of the Gulf Cartel.
The planting of illegal crops – mostly coca – will continue. Despite government incentives, in the long-run it still remains more profitable for farmers to produce illicit commodities. The restart of fumigation techniques that were banned in 2015 reflects this trend, which has seen a doubling in illegal crop production over the past four years.
Marc Hernando Santacana is an Analyst at Global Risk Insights. As originally appears at: http://globalriskinsights.com/2017/10/col/