Roadblocks in FARC’s Demilitarization Process

Colombian military officers discovered a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) weapons stockpile on April 20, fueling fears that the group is not following the demilitarization agreement. Last year’s peace accord included provisions for the FARC to forfeit weapons to the United Nations. When the Colombian Congress approved the revised peace agreement in November 2016, it was widely lauded as end to the conflict that had engulfed Colombia for decades. The civil conflict took the lives of upwards of 200,000 people and left another five million displaced, but diminishing tensions paved the way for a peace accord. The deal outlined a 180-day-long process for disarming the remaining FARC chapters, with the eventual goal of reintegrating the rebels into society. However, as this new weapons discovery shows, practical progress is uncertain.

The discovery of weapons has divided analysts and reports. Fox News reported on the story, claiming that intelligence analysts believe that the FARC is concealing anti-aircraft weapons. These claims are difficult to verify, however, as the three-pronged monitoring and verification effort made up of the FARC, the Colombian government, and the UN, has created significant confusion. So far, the UN has yet to confirm or deny whether or not the FARC reported these weapons during searches.

There are a variety of factors that may be limiting the FARC’s willingness to abide by the demilitarization process, according to Colombia Reports. Even though the FARC themselves helped write the peace accord with the government, the FARC has several different subdivisions, which may not have all initially been in agreement to lay down their arms. Another potential issue is that the FARC do not feel safe giving up their weapons and integrating into society given the polarized climate regarding the deal.

On April 20, Luis Alberto Ortiz Cabezas was murdered by unknown assailants just two weeks after being released from jail as a condition of the peace deal. The FARC leaders claim that this killing is part of a broader effort to intimidate members. In an official statement, the FARC went as far as to argue that the murder “undermine[s] the guarantees offered about public security, and the protection of individuals, which ultimately is a responsibility of the state.” This fear may be driving divisions to keep some weapons in case the problems expand, Washington Post reported.

FARC members may also be keeping their weapons for personal gain. As experienced fighters who already have weapons, FARC members have been in high demand for illegal groups elsewhere on the continent. Specifically, Brazil-based drug trafficking group First Capital Command (PCC) has been known to be in contact with the FARC in order to obtain heavy arms and capable personnel. Therefore, FARC demilitarization may be hindered by a portion of members who want to maintain weapons for economic reasons.

The peace process between the FARC and the Colombian government has been widely successful. Outright fighting has stopped, and the UN reports over 7,000 weapons have already been given up. However, the discovery of illegal stockpiles and clear incentives for the FARC to maintain weapons show that the process is far from finished.