FARC Call to Arms Threatens to Escalate Venezuelan Crisis
Regional destabilization likely to worsen conditions on the frontier
Cali, Colombia- Eight million, eight-hundred thousand people were victims of violence during the civil war Colombia Before the Paz, was signed in 2016. Another 7 million were displaced by violence and land-seizures.
The fighting killed over 220,000 people between 1958 and 2015.
Everyone here knows someone who was a victim of the conflict, whether from violence, kidnappings, being forced to flee their homes or actively fighting in the long-simmering conflict between FARC and ELN guerrilla forces and the Colombian government.
It’s often said here that every family in Colombia has been scarred.
August 29th, some ex-FARC leaders declared a return to arms after having laid down their weapons three years ago. In doing so they have reignited a controversial conversation over the increasingly strained peace-deal.
And many Colombians fear a return to war.
The Civil War in Colombia officially began in the 1960’s, but conflict between armed groups of leftists, claiming to represent the poor and oppressed, and informal paramilitaries fighting for conservative land-owners had already been raging for 40 years.
That is to say that unofficially, Colombia endured nearly 100 years of civil war. All sides committed grave atrocities during the long-simmering conflict including civilian massacres, massive narco-trafficking, and terrorism.
The Colombian people have been grievously damaged physically, economically and psychologically by nearly a century violence. Colombians have lived and breathed the war for the majority of their lives.
“The worst wound the we have suffered from the fighting is psychic,” said Oney Bedoya, an international security consultant and Colombian army veteran who participated in the conflict.
“Our entire culture suffers from post-traumatic stress. It causes an inability to trust, a lack of social cohesion and damaged people lashing out- generations who grew up in violence.”
“I cannot overstate how deep of a wound that is on Colombian society. We are all victims of trauma.” he added.
A Controversial Peace
The Peace remains controversial among Colombians. When it’s architect, former Colombian President Juan Miguel Santos, put the accord up for a popular vote in 2016, the measure narrowly failed, with %50.2 opposed to the deal.
He pushed it through anyway, and some Colombians are still bitter about what they view as a betrayal. The country is deeply polarized over the Paz, as it is called here.
In 2018, Ivan Duque, based his election strategy on attacking the peace accord and promising to charge ex-FARC leaders, who disarmed and joined the government in exchange for amnesty, with war crimes. His conservative party, El Partido Centro Democrático, have always been critics of the amnesty and reintegration aspects of the deal.
His strategy worked- he won the election. His attempts to use all the parliamentary procedures at his disposal to delay and dismantle the accord have been successful as well.
Filipe is an ex-FARC fighter who now works at Fundación Progresar- a human rights organization that provides information about the Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia. He asked that his last name not be used when he told me “The failure of the Peace is the result of errors on the part of Duque as well as the Machiavellian intentions of his party, Centro Democrático.”
Duque for his part declared on August 29th “We do not stand before the birth of a new war,” further stating that “Márquez and his band of narco-terrorists count on shelter and support from the dictator Nicolas Maduro”. He promised to continue with reintegration efforts for those ex-FARC members who remain in the agreement and whom have also called for peace.
In the video announcing his intentions, guerrilla leader Iván Márquez called on other FARC groups to join him in the coming battle.
They will likely wage their war from within Venezuela, using the border as a shield against Colombian forces and further destabilizing an already critical situation in both countries.
As they do so, experts widely expect the new group to cultivate alliances with other FARC dissident groups and ELN, who already operate in the lawless frontier region of Venezuela.
In July, Maduro invited the ex-FARC leaders to his country, calling them “leaders of peace.”
Colombia is already reeling from a shadow-war between ELN, narco-traffickers, Colombian paramilitary forces and Colectivos (Venezuelan militia loyal to Maduro) as the criminal groups battle over lucrative smuggling paths across the border.
In addition to criminal chaos spilling over the border from it’s collapsed neighbor, Colombia is the prime recipient of one of the biggest immigrant crisis’ in South American history- according to the latest U.N report over 4 million Venezuelans have fled their country.
Those fleeing are vulnerable to violence and forced recruitment by criminal groups. “As the new FARC dissidents look for allies and foot-soldiers, this recruitment of migrants fleeing extreme poverty is likely to increase.” said Bedoya.
“ Maduro and his Cuban advisers couldn’t be happier and will take full advantage to create mayhem in Colombia by giving dissidents safe haven on the Venezuelan side” stated Ambassador Moreno (Ret) who headed up US counter-narcotics efforts during Plan Colombia.
Furthermore, a return to civil war threatens a rapidly growing Colombian economy, which has benefited from increased foreign investment, considerable infrastructure developments and a massive boom in tourism since the peace accord.
Will cities such as Medellin, which transformed from one of the most dangerous cities in the world in a into a bastion of world tourism, revert to violence as well?
It is important to note that 90% of the FARC groups that joined the government remain committed to the Peace. For now, the accord seems to be holding.
But The destabilization threatens to inflame tensions with Venezuela. As the border becomes increasingly dangerous Colombian authorities may grow more aggressive towards the government of Maduro.
Juan Diego Posada, an analyst for Insight Crime, wrote of the development:
Any confirmation of ties, if not support between the renewed FARC-EP and the Venezuelan state would be taken seriously in Bogotá and could revive calls for foreign intervention.
The stakes are high and the situation complicated as Colombian leaders try to plan for an unpredictable and potentially dangerous escalation that could have global repercussions.
Joshua Collins is a freelance reporter covering the Venezuelan immigration from the border in Cucuta, Colombia. He is also the editor of Muros Invisibles.