Four years after FARC peace deal, Colombia grapples with violence

Activists and experts say that the security situation continues to deteriorate in some parts of the country.

Former fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) participate in a protest demanding security guarantees and compliance with the peace agreements [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

Bogota, Colombia – Hector Mariano Carabali has been unable to keep count of the number of death threats he has received in recent years.

The Afro-Colombian human rights defender from the southwestern Cauca region, which continues to be mired in insecurity, has been left disillusioned by the peace deal struck between the previous government of Juan Manuel Santos and the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in November 2016.

“Signing a peace agreement doesn’t mean peace for a country. It takes a lot more than that,” Carabali, who has taken it upon himself to try and uphold the peace deal in his region, told Al Jazeera. “The government is not implementing it.”

Carabali said the current government “ripped the peace deal to shreds” when they came to power in 2018 and that nothing has changed in his region, where “the situation is really complicated,” he says.

The deal was meant to put an end to a bloody 50-year armed conflict which killed more than 260,000 and displaced millions. But while some gains have been made, Colombians in many parts of the country continue to live with insecurity.

“In terms of security, there are areas in post-conflict, some that have improved and others that have deteriorated substantially. There’s around 130 areas with very delicate security situations,” Ariel Avila, a Bogota-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera.

“The country has improved a lot in many political and social areas, but there has been a huge deterioration of security in the last two years. We’ve had over 70 massacres and a rise in killings and illegal economies in various areas.”

Continuing violence

Violence continues to devastate rural areas. Demobilised fighters and human rights defenders have been systematically killed, threatened, or attacked and dissident groups and other armed actors have moved into areas the FARC left behind.

These groups vie for control of valuable coca crops or illegal mining territory, which has caused the continued forced displacement of local communities. In some areas, armed groups have imposed controls on the locals’ movement in and out of communities.

One rebel group, the Marxist National Liberation Army (ELN), continues to operate with approximately 3,000 active fighters. The administration of President Ivan Duque has refused to initiate any peace talks with the group until it releases all hostages and ends kidnappings and attacks.

Colombia’s President Ivan Duque says he will not entertain peace talks with the ELN until the group releases hostages [File: Courtesy of Colombian Presidency via Reuters]

Arlene Tickner, director of political research at Rosario University in Bogota, says talks with the ELN are not “even a remote possibility” under the Duque administration.

The researcher highlighted a number of positive changes since the signing of the peace accord such as the demobilisation of 13,000 FARC combatants and the consequent reduction of combat-related deaths, as well as the implementation of the transitional justice system in which victims of the conflict occupy centre stage.

“Nevertheless, it would be a stretch to say that there is peace in Colombia,” Tickner told Al Jazeera.

“A considerable number of violent non-state actors, including FARC dissidents, ELN guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug-trafficking groups, continue to operate throughout the national territory and to threaten local civilian populations.  Killings of social leaders, human rights activists and ex-combatants, not to mention massacres, are at horrific highs,” she said.

A new, right-wing government led by President Duque came to power in 2018, two years after the agreement. The Democratic Centre political party, to which Duque is affiliated, was staunchly against many aspects of the peace agreement from the beginning, especially in relation to lighter sentences for crimes committed by the FARC during times of conflict.

Peace deal ‘not working as intended’

The promise of tougher measures towards the demobilised FARC was one of Duque’s main election promises to his voters which has continued into his presidency, and the implementation of the peace agreement continues to be one of the most contentious issues among Colombians.

“Looking at the peace agreement and how the government has implemented it, I think it’s obvious that it’s not working as intended,” said Sergio Guzman, director of Colombia Risk Analysis.

“The government wants to show the international community that it´s fulfilling an agreement, and on the other side, before the Colombian Congress and in particular the ruling party, the government wants to defend that it is in fact not doing that,” he said.

The think-tank INDEPAZ says 56 FARC ex-combatants have been killed in 2020 [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

Bogota-based think-tank the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ) has registered the killings of 256 human rights and community activists in 2020 so far. Official government statistics are much more conservative, with 49 registered deaths. In 2020, INDEPAZ says 56 FARC ex-combatants have been killed.

Lags in government funding for ex-combatants to implement economic projects in their civilian lives is another issue. Only a small percentage of the funds have arrived, meaning many demobilised fighters have not been able to economically integrate into society.

“The government has not compiled with supporting the economic projects of ex-combatants in the reintegration zones,” said Carabali, the Cauca-based human rights activist.  “Nor have they guaranteed their security and we’ve seen a rise in dissidence groups emerge.”

The projects were meant to ensure former fighters did not return to growing coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine.

Other elements of the accord that have faced delays include the complex land reform disputes, which, Tickner says, are at the root of the conflict and violence in the Andean nation. Coca substitution and alternative development, political participation and representation of ex-combatants and the victims of the conflict are other elements that have yet to be adequately addressed.

For Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, Andes director for US-based advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the four-year anniversary of the signing of the deal is “bittersweet”.

“While the architecture of the accord has advanced, it’s lacking implementation on the ground. The lack of decisive political and financial backing from the government is leading to a resurgence of massacres, displacements and killings of social leaders and former FARC combatants,” she said.

“Beyond promises, peace has not reached indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities whose leaders are killed and under threat and youth massacred by illegal groups. Unless Duque and his government turn this around quickly we will see the loss of a historical opportunity to change Colombia into a rights-respecting real democracy.”

For many from rural communities racked by violence, the hopes for peace have quickly faded.

Carabali says he has a folder full of police reports from the death threats he has received.

“I think it’s in the thousands now. I’ve had family members murdered,” he said.

“In spite of all these difficulties and adversities, we have to keep fighting for social reforms in the country, and not lose hope.”

Source: Al Jazeera