On Tuesday US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, revoked the designation of the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) rebel group as a "foreign terrorist organisation" but proscribed two splinter organisations of FARC, "FARC-EP and Segunda Marquetalia".
The decision follows a resurgence of violence in the rural regions of Colombia where FARC had previously held control. The International Crisis Group has pointed towards the dire economic conditions that are pervasive in Columbia to explain this uptake in arms however Columbia's army has accused the Venezuelan regime of arming and providing a safe haven to militants.
In explaining the decision a statement from the State Department maintained that FARC "no longer exists as a unified organization that engages in terrorism or terrorist activity or has the capability or intent to do so". It maintained however that decision "does not change the posture with regards to any charges or potential charges in the United States against former leaders of the FARC". The statement further adds that the designation of FARC-EP and Segunda Marquetalia is "directed at those who refused to demobilize and those who are engaged in terrorist activity".
On Twitter Blinken stated:
Today’s revocation of FARC’s terrorist designations is a credit to the 2016 Peace Accord with the Colombian government. Our new designations of two new terrorist groups will continue to isolate those who engage in terrorism at the expense of the Colombian people.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) November 30, 2021
A fragile peace accord
The December peace accords brought to a close over 50 years of violent conflict between the Columbian government, back by the army and right-wing militias, and left-wing insurgents. The agreement was achieved premised on the following principles:
- The future political participation of FARC members,
- rebels’ reintegration into civilian life,
- illegal crop eradication,
- transitional justice and reparations, and
- rebel disarmament and implementation of the peace deal.
The Santo's administration further pledged to invest billions of dollars in rural areas with experts hoping that this would amount to between $80 and $90 billion over the next ten years which would provide an alternative to the drug trade.
The peace accords themselves were contentious having only been secured after massive military defeats for the insurgents which were overseen by a ruthless military campaign by Columbia's army. In mid-2016 a ceasefire was agreed upon but the initial peace accords were rejected in a popular referendum. Following further amendments, the agreement was adopted in December without being put to a referendum and with certain militant groups refusing to sign on to the accords.
Crackdown on former cadres
Critics however maintain that this has not been achieved with the federal government failing to provide sufficient protection not only to former cadres but also to rural human rights leaders, who often face death threats from local criminal groups they oppose. Since 2016, over 400 of such leaders have been killed. An estimated 137 former fighters have also been assassinated since the agreement. In one case a demobilised guerrilla member was murdered alongside their seven-month-old baby.
Responding to this violence, former FARC guerrilla Hugo Fernando Ramírez, told reporters:
“There aren’t any guarantees for what awaits us. What are we waiting for? A bullet in the head? Years in prison? Who knows.”
Writing in Foreign Policy, Catherine Osborn highlights concerns that the "government resources are disproportionately spent on pursuing high-profile targets such as Otoniel rather than the peace deal’s pledges to ordinary rural Colombians".
"In other words, an offensive war on criminal groups supersedes the framework for peace" she notes.
The Biden administration has responded to the criticism over the failure to implement the peace accords on Monday by pledging the US commitment to ensuring its full implementation.
Responding to the deproscription of FARC, Sergio Guzman, a Bogota-based political analyst, maintained that whilst welcome "it will also not change the political reality for Comunes".
"The political party formed by ex-FARC members, which is guaranteed five seats in the Senate and five seats in the House under the 2016 peace agreement [...] Beyond that their ability to capture votes elsewhere is practically nil,” he noted.
He further highlighted that it would not change many restrictions ex-members of the group continue to face, including on international travel or charges at the JEP.
Arlene Tickner, a professor of political science at Bogota’s Rosario University, welcomed the decision highlighting how it enabled former cadres "access to the financial system, availability for US assistance and interlocution with diverse US actors and institutions – all of which were severely restricted while the terrorist designation was in place”.
Al Jazeera highlights that under the designation many former FARC members had struggled to set up bank accounts which made it difficult to "establish farming projects to formalise those programmes and build sustainable livelihoods".
Renewed calls for discussion
In 2019 several former FARC cadres, including Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich who had participated in the 2016 peace accords, called on the Columbian government to reengage with all insurgent groups.
"We want a government that will go all out for peace, that resumes talks with the ELN, that opens a new chapter of dialogue with all the insurgent groups,” Márquez said
Responding to this video and the rearmament of militants, Columbian President Duque announced a specialised military force in search of the rebels and offered 3 billion pesos, or $882,000, the reward for the capture of those in the video.
Duque decried Márquez as “a criminal, a terrorist, a narco-terrorist”.
“Peace for bandits like him is either to capture them or kill them, and the only thing that awaits him is the same fate as his counterpart Otoniel,” Duque further added, referring to Dario Antonio Usuga, one of the country’s most notorious drug traffickers, who was captured in late October.