FARC’s Call to Arms Is Bad News for Colombians

Two FARC dissident rebels in 2018, on patrol in Colombia. Credit Federico Rios for The New York Times
Two FARC dissident rebels in 2018, on patrol in Colombia. Credit Federico Rios for The New York Times

In a video released on Wednesday, a former top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia issued a new call to arms. Luciano Marín, who is known by the alias Iván Márquez and was the lead negotiator during the peace talks, stood before a group of 20 ex-FARC guerrillas dressed in fatigues and explained why he and his dissident band of insurgents were heading back to the mountains and jungles. He spoke of the corrupt oligarchy and cited the Colombian government’s betrayal of the 2016 peace agreement.

This is bad news for Colombians.

A return to violence would be the culmination of many factors, chiefly a lack of political support in Washington and Bogotá for the 2016 peace accord since Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States in 2017, and Iván Duque came to power as Colombia’s president in 2018. Both leaders, through acts and omissions, have undermined the pact’s prospects for success.

Mr. Duque, the chosen political heir of the influential right-wing former President Álvaro Uribe, has done little to curb a wave of assassinations of social leaders and demobilized guerrillas and allowed many reforms written into the peace agreement to go unfunded or underfunded.

Mr. Trump, for his part, appears to be indifferent to the unraveling of the accord. One of his first decisions on the issue of Colombia after the peace accord was to recall the seasoned United States diplomat Bernard Aronson, who had been working to support negotiations that led to the agreement and to get it set up.

With the FARC’s leadership officially split, the future looks bleak. The newly armed faction led by Iván Márquez announced that it would seek to unite FARC dissident groups that have sprung up since the signing of the accord and forge an alliance with the National Liberation Army, ELN, a Marxist insurgency that has grown stronger since the FARC’s demobilization.

Recent reports have found that the ELN, which is particularly active along the Venezuelan border, has been swelling its ranks with destitute Venezuelan migrants fleeing the economic free fall and political chaos in their country at staggering rates. Colombia’s porous borders along Venezuela and Brazil are already vulnerable to the illicit trafficking of drugs, petrol and coltan, a key ingredient in electronic devices. Factor in the fires raging in Bolivia and Brazil and Washington’s isolationism and lack of articulated policy toward the region (beyond its desire to remove Nicolás Maduro from power in Venezuela), and conditions are ripe for regional instability.

In short, the remobilization of part of the FARC is occurring as political, economic and environmental challenges that easily cross borders are confounding one another. Colombia’s geography has always been a boon to guerrilla groups that have risen from the ashes of failed peacemaking efforts. The country’s history is littered with idealistic agreements that have been unable to contain horrific violence, including amnesties for guerrilla fighters that are not adhered to and ambitious development plans for rural areas that crumble beneath the tenuous state infrastructure outside major cities.

The signing of the Colombian peace accord on Nov. 30, 2016, gave the world hope that big, intractable political conflicts could still be resolved through dialogue. It would be reckless for the Trump administration to allow that lesson to be disproved, especially when northern South America is experiencing acute turmoil on so many other fronts.

Alexander L. Fattal is an anthropologist, assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego and the author of Guerrilla Marketing: Counterinsurgency and Capitalism in Colombia.

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