Dissident Colombian Rebels Are Resuming Their Armed Struggle Against the Government. U.S. Policy Makers Should Be Alarmed.

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In the early hours of Aug. 29, Ivan Marquez and other
leaders of the demobilized terrorist group known as the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced they
resumed the armed conflict
against the Colombian government.

Marquez and other dissident FARC combatants invited another
terrorist group known as the National Liberation Army (ELN) and other rebel
groups to join the new era of armed conflict. This violates commitments FARC
made with the Colombian government during the 2016 peace accords.

Marquez was the FARC’s chief negotiator during the four-year-long peace talks between the government and the FARC. Colombia’s President Ivan Duque believes he is hiding in Venezuela, where the illegitimate regime of Nicolas Maduro has long given the terrorists safe haven. Marquez is also wanted by the U.S. government for allegedly running FARC’s international cocaine production and trafficking operations as well as the murder of hundreds of people.

To be clear, Marquez represents a minority faction of FARC
dissidents. His announcement does not invalidate the peace accords, but could
complicate the implementation for FARC combatants who genuinely want to
demobilize and reintegrate into society.

The leadership of the FARC’s political party claims that over 90% of
former combatants
do not support a return to the armed conflict. This means
that hundreds have not demobilized.

The key concern for policymakers is that the FARC dissident’s union with the ELN and other armed rebel groups could be the start of a guerilla war in Colombia.

In January, the ELN bombed a police academy in the capital city
of Bogota, killing
21 people
. It was the worst attack in Bogota in 16 years. The ELN did so to
force the government back to the negotiating table after peace talks fell apart.

These strong-arm tactics of the rebels are not new and were
used by the FARC during their peace talks with the government.

The FARC leader claims
his recent call to arms is due
to the Colombian government not providing
the guarantees they were promised by the previous administration and acts of
violence against demobilized FARC combatants.

 These criticisms do
not hold water.

Colombian state institutions are already overburdened providing for FARC victims, impoverished Colombians, and nearly 2 million Venezuelan refugees. The reported violence against demobilized FARC combatants is an unfortunate yet common consequence of internal post-conflict reintegration process.

The timing of these events and the potential for a guerilla war in Colombia should be alarming to the international community, mainly countries in Latin America, and U.S. policymakers. It should serve as a lesson about flaws within the peace agreement and their lasting consequences. One of which was in the realm of counternarcotics operations.

Then-President Juan Manuel Santos ended aerial eradication of coca crops at the behest of FARC in 2015, the most effective technique to eliminate coca plants.

FARC funded much of their efforts with the drug trade and a
2012 estimate placed earnings between $2.4
and $3.5 billion
.

In 2017, Colombia produced the highest recorded number of coca
crops with 209,000
hectares
compared to 112,000
in 2014
. More alarming is the cocaine production potential of these crops.

Without aerial spraying, the crops are hardier and able to replicate at a quicker rate. In 2014, production potential was at 324 metric tons in comparison to a drastic increase to 887 metric tons in 2018.

Dissident FARC and current ELN criminal activity is not
confined to the Colombian borders either.

These groups have a heavy presence in Venezuelan territory
as both countries share a 1,378-mile-long border. This new alliance raises
concerns that their conflict with Colombia could worsen tensions between
Colombia and Venezuela due to the Venezuelans’ decade’s long support of the
FARC and other regional criminal actors.

The challenge facing Colombia is how to continue
implementing the peace process and prevent future FARC defections.

Part of the strategy must now involve addressing the
dissident FARC members and their ELN allies.

As Colombia’s closest ally, the U.S. must support these efforts. American policymakers often think Colombia’s transformation means it has the capabilities to deal with internal threats. That is a dangerous assumption. They must not take peace in Colombia for granted.