By Stephanie Rugolo*

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an armed Marxist guerilla group, has terrorized Colombia for fifty years. Until recently, FARC held tight control of an area of land the size of Switzerland, from which the group trafficked drugs, kidnapped people, used child soldiers, and extorted businesses without repercussion. FARC dominance was greatly reduced when former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe instituted a counter-insurgency strategy that provided  24/7 civilian security and upheld the rule of law.

This resulted in the deaths of several of FARC’s top leaders, a drastic reduction of its landholdings, and its ranks being cut in half. FARC entered into a second round of peace negotiations with the Colombian government on November 19, in Communist Cuba with Chile and FARC ally, Venezuela, as sponsors.

In these negotiations, FARC hopes to gain access to politics through amnesty and a transformation of primary state structures, while the Colombian government hopes to eradicate FARC in light of its weaknesses. Doing so may help current Colombian President Manuel Santos’ falling approval rating, while protecting increasingly important business interests and encouraging investment that FARC threatens. However, the negotiation terms are undemocratic and the outcome is unlikely to end the conflict. Instead of granting demands of FARC, the Colombian government should continue its defensive tactics and adopt policies that limit FARC’s funding sources.
These peace negotiations will probably not end FARC’s destructive practices. The government aims to stop FARC’s many illegal activities in exchange for concessions. However, there are several other armed groups not included in the negotiations that are likely to fill any power vacuum left by FARC, such as the National Liberation Army. This has already happened in Colombia in the past: new criminal gangs have taken over illegal operations of demobilized paramilitary groups. In addition, some experts argue that FARC is fracturing; if that is true, FARC’s factions will likely ignore any agreement that would amount to forfeiting immense drug profits they currently enjoy.

Furthermore, this proposal is undemocratic because FARC is demanding policy changes through violence rather than elections. FARC’s demands include agrarian reform that would allow for increased citizen access to land, a nationalization of natural resource industries, and an overturning of free trade agreements. FARC has also asked for amnesty for criminal acts, which would require Colombia to amend its law. While such major policy changes are usually realized through the electoral process, FARC is using its capacity to commit violence as leverage. This approach is especially undemocratic considering few Colombians still support FARC or its goals.

Moreover, many of FARC’s demands are already being realized. Some Congressmen are pushing a “Victims and Land Restitution Law.” This would allow individuals who lost land in this conflict rights to regain it and receive reparations. President Santos has also dismantled the intelligence agency that used to spy on civilians.  According to Steven Dudley of InSight Crime, a Colombian think tank, Colombia now has a stronger justice system and more accountability in the military and police.

In addition to the afore mentioned factors, these negotiations are especially troubling considering FARC’s close ties to the Venezuelan autocrat, Hugo Chavez. Chavez has allowed FARC to keep bases in Venezuela and admitted to having an influence over them. FARC is a member of Chavez’s Bolivarian Continental Coordinator, which works to integrate revolutionary organizations and violently defeat “Western imperialism”. If a peace deal allows FARC members to enter politics, Chavez is likely to fund them to office and push Colombia in the direction of Venezuela-style socialism.

A better solution is for the military to continue to defend the Colombian people against organized crime and to regain lost territory.  These tactics have already pushed FARC to remote rural hideouts, greatly reducing their strength. Colombian policy makers should correspondingly limit funding sources that guerillas derive from drug trafficking and illegal mining. This can be best achieved through working with international banks to prevent money laundering, land titling, and protection of private property.
Peace negotiations are desirable in many cases but not in the case of FARC. Although insurgencies rarely end through winning or losing a military campaign, FARC has consistently duped the Colombian government in prior peace deals. Even while the third phase of talks are about to begin, FARC is still terrorizing and murdering Colombians. By continuing on the current “peace” path, violence will not end, Colombians will not benefit, and democracy will suffer. Military pressure and policy reform has already greatly weakened FARC and is the only approach that is likely to ensure a real and lasting peace.

*Stephanie Rugolo is the editor of the “ Rugolo Report” and holds an M.A. from Syracuse University.

 

 

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