The Meaning of FARC’s Sort of Comeback

A group of Colombian guerrilla commanders just announced they are at war again. The Duque administration says they’re in Venezuela. What should we expect from this?

What is FARC?

Currently, the acronym FARC means two things. One, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – The People’s Army), the largest guerrilla organization in Latin America until two years ago. Two, a leftist political party, Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común (Common Alternative Revolutionary Force), born during the peace process in Colombia, where most of the 10,000 or so FARC fighters entered a demobilization agenda and agreed to stop being kidnappers, drug traffickers, and mass killers, and become peasants, ordinary workers or politicians. 

FARC, the guerrilla, was born in rural Colombia in the 1960s, after several years of chronic conflict for land. First, it was a peasant irregular army, which could attract some popular support in a country with severe inequality; but with the help of the Cuban regime and the Cold War logic of proxy wars, FARC grew into a well-armed guerrilla that declared war on the Colombian state and was looking to topple the government to install a communist regime. During the rest of the 20th century, Colombia suffered the longest internal conflict in the world. Since the 1980s, FARC, other guerrillas such as M-19 and ELN, mafia lords such as Pablo Escobar, and far-right paramilitary fought each other to compete for land to produce coca and drug trafficking routes to the U.S. The Colombian people endured terrorism in villages and cities, massive emigration and displacement, and all kinds of atrocities. 

FARC waited for more than half a century to talk seriously about peace. Why? Because of Colombia’s very low capacity to offer a safe, productive way of life to those who were used to making a living producing cocaine, extorting and kidnapping people. After the M-19 underwent a demobilization process in the 1990s, many of its former fighters and commanders who embraced life as civilians were murdered by the paramilitary. In the 2000s, during Álvaro Uribe’s presidency (whose father was killed by FARC), part of the paramilitary armies negotiated peace as well, in exchange for a pardon policy that left a good deal of unspeakable atrocities unpunished, but most of them just became gangs.  

After years of military pressure under the Uribe policy of  “democratic security” and the U.S.-funded Plan Colombia, FARC was weakened enough to consider peace as its best option. So President Juan Manuel Santos started a peace process, led by the same Norwegian negotiators that are now trying to broker a deal in Venezuela, with some assistance by the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes—given the close ties between Castro, Hugo Chávez and FARC. Unsurprisingly, the peace arrangement, while very difficult to achieve, left everybody unsatisfied: it can’t be easy to leave so much suffering behind. However, most of FARC units handed out their weapons, and the conflict was declared finished, though ELN had remained hostile so far. 

What happened last week exactly?

Some FARC commanders uploaded a video announcing that FARC was abandoning the peace process and going to war again, but without kidnapping (they have always denied the drug trafficking). This is the worst news since the peace arrangement has been in place. They argue the peace process is dead because the Colombian government didn’t do its part. Actually, the paramilitary have killed hundreds of grassroots activists, human rights defenders, and local politicians they think are linked to FARC, and several of the commitments made in terms of developing the economy of rural Colombia have failed. We must remember that the current president, Iván Duque, close to Uribe, was elected in part because of his very critic position about the peace agreement.

Is Colombia undergoing civil war again?

No. This is a small fraction of what FARC was and it doesn’t pose a risk to the stability of the Colombian state. Similar scenarios have happened in—always unstable—peace processes, such as in Central America or Peru: some insurgents prefer to take refuge and stay involved in illegal activities. But this won’t help at all in going forward with national reconciliation, the search for justice, and the huge problems caused by the human hunts of the paramilitary.  

Is the Maduro regime involved?

Yes. Maduro has publicly shared his support for the commanders who made the announcement. The Colombian government and our Political Risk Report sources think that these FARC dissidents are in Venezuelan territory. What we know is that the chavista regime, who had supported both FARC and ELN for 20 years in many ways, is now making an alliance with them to protect the southern border in the case of a Colombian or American invasion, in exchange for sanctuary and logistics to make and export drugs, a business in which several people in the Venezuelan state are deeply involved. 

How could this affect the Venezuelan migrant crisis?

This shows that the Colombian conflict hasn’t ended, which in practice means that there will be more violent competition for illegal industries, where human trafficking of Venezuelan youngsters is an increasingly common line of work. Venezuelan migrants are being recruited by Colombian guerrillas, Venezuelan colectivos, and paramilitaries at both sides of the border, they become sex slaves, fighters and victims at the hands of these groups.

Will there be war between Venezuela and Colombia?

Not for the moment. President Duque has no support for engaging in an open war against the chavista regime. A government that offers sanctuary to a drug trafficking guerrilla, however, does generate a lot of pressure over Colombia and the US to see regime change in Venezuela. How this will evolve, it remains to be seen.