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Colombia: Heading Back Towards Jungles and Mountains

Helmut Sorge | Posted : November 26, 2019


Beyond the verbal anarchy celebrated by President Donald Trump, or the annihilation of abandoned Kurdish allies of the United States, the never ending destruction of Yemen, the threatening warfare against Iran, a massacre by Iraqi forces to intimidate protesters against a failing government, more gas and ammunition fired in Hong Kong to oppress untamable activist fearing their loss of freedom, Britain crashing out of the European Union, abandoning common sense and democratic dignity… Yes, beyond these headlines, another drama is slowly placing its news onto the front pages—the civil war in Colombia. Three years after the signature of a celebrated Nobel prize honored peace treaty. A historic battle, half a century in the making, killing between 1958 and 2013, 220 000 people, more than five million civilians were forced from their homes (1985 to 2012) generating the world’s second largest population of internally displaced persons, among them 2.3 million children. And 45 000 kids paid for the insanity with their lives.

Another chapter of war was just opened up, somewhere in the eastern jungles of the Colombian Amazon rainforest. There he was, the top peace negotiator from three years ago, Luciano Marin, also known as Ivan Marquez, accompanied by a dozen veterans dressed in olive green, camouflaged fatigues and heavily armed, explaining why he and his companeros had united to abide the call of arms, again destabilizing the nation. The Marxist guerilla leader was not facing journalists, but spoke into a video camera, publishing the declaration of war on YouTube: “When we signed the accords in Havana, we did so with the conviction that it was possible to change the life of the most humble and dispossessed. But the state hasn’ t fulfilled its most important obligation, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons.” Hundreds of leftists activists and 150 rebels, Marquez claimed, were murdered by death squads, supported by the regime and its President Ivan Duqne- now was the time to return the fire. FARC was heading back towards the mountains and jungles, trying to recruit thousands of dissident Marxist fighters, which were unwilling to accept the UN sponsored demobilization process, abandoning their weapons, guaranteed a mild or no punishment at all, and a small pension on top. They continued to roam the unsettled jungles and rainforests

Hopes to Replicate Fidel Castro’s Revolution

Under the peace accord in 2016, 13049 guerillas demobilized.2 ½ years later, according to official data compiled by Bogota’s “Ideas for Peace”-Foundation only 1052 are unaccounted for. Many of them have probably taken up arms again. They now join the perhaps 12 000 members of organized, armed or criminal groups, still operating in the 50 million nation Colombia, scattered across smaller leftist guerilla groups like the “National Liberation Army” (ELN), paramilitary and drug trafficking militias and some “dissident” bands, composed of, or led by former FARC members. The FARC, analyzed the “Council of Foreign Relations” in their “Colombia’s Civil Conflict” report, was composed of militant communists and peasant defense groups, why the ELN ranks were dominated by students, Catholic radicals, and left wing intellectuals who hoped to replicate Fidel Castro’s communist revolution”.

“FARC’s call to arms is bad news for Colombians” read a headline in the New York Times. And Alexander Fattal, assistant professor at the University of California in San Diego and author of “Guerilla Marketing: Counterinsurgency and Capitalism in Colombia , stated in his article : Mr Duqne, the chosen political heir of the influential right wing former President Alvaro Uribe “has done little to curb a wave of assassinations of social leaders and demobilized guerillas and allowed many reforms written into the peace agreement to go unfunded, or underfunded”. Promised reintegration assistance has been slow to arrive. Most ex FARC foot soldiers have built new lives, started families and few are anxious to go back being shot at. The overwhelming majority will likely remain demobilized. Still, warns author Adam Isacson, “we should not underestimate the danger. If Colombia’s government fails to get the peace accord on track-specially to bring a stronger government presence to a long abandoned countryside- Mr. Marquez group could grow into a force with a few thousand members. The emergence of a new guerilla group of that size would undermine the very reason Colombia chose to negotiate with the FARC.”

Rising from the Ashes of Failed Revolutions

The newly armed faction of Marquez will seek to unite FARC dissident groups, that have sprung up since the signing of the peace treaty and also forge an alliance with the “National Liberations Army (ELN), a Marxist insurgency that has grown stronger since the FARC’s demobilization. Recent reports, writes Alexander Fattal in the NYT, have found that the ELN, which is particularly active along the Venezuelan border, has been swelling its ranks with destitute Venezuelan migrants, feeling the economic free fall and political chaos in their country at staggering rates. Colombia’ s porous borders along Venezuela and Brazil are already vulnerable to the illicit trafficking of drugs, petrol and Colton, a key ingredient in electronic devices. Colombia’s geography has always been “a boon to guerilla groups that have risen from the ashes of failed peace keeping efforts” ,states Colombia expert and anthropologue, Fattal “the countries history is littered with idealistic agreements that have been unable to contain horrific violence, including amnesties for guerilla fighters”. Colombia , has witnessed the assassination of politicians, the glorification of drug czars like Paolo Escobar or the Medellin cartel, 25 000 kidnappings by FARC and ELN and extortions, the unpunished activities of paramilitary death squads, some financed and supported by the US, other battling for cocaine deals and drug cultures hidden in the jungles or rainforests. 50 years of violence, and no end in sight despite the nations expenditure for its security- Bogota spends a much greater percentage in defense and security then other South American nations.

In the early 2000’s, Columbia supplied as much as 90 percent of the world’s cocaine, and the production, taxation, and trafficking of illicit narcotics provided the FARC with much of its revenue, researched the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2009, the US government reported that the FARC was responsible for 60 percent of Colombian cocaine exported to the United States, and the US Treasury Department froze the assets of several FARC members it identified as significant narcotics traffickers.” Estimates of the income the FARC derives from the sale of narcotics vary. Insight Crime, an online publication that specializes in organized crime in Latin America and the Carribean, estimated the figure between 150 and 500 million a year. In 2012, Colombia’s defense minister, Juan Carlos Pinzon, said it could be as high as 3.5 billion dollars. The Marxist ELN, after shunning drug trafficking for many years as “antirevolutionary “, reported the “Council on Foreign Affairs” in their Colombia study, recently turned to the trade. In late 2015, authorities found a massive cocaine processing complex run by the rebel group in western Colombia. Rebel groups have also reportedly turned to illegal resource extraction, including gold mining, for additional income.”

Human Trafficking in Catatumbo

“Human Rights Watch” just published a six-page report that illegal armed groups forced about 40000 people to flee their homes as they fight for control of drug trafficking routes in Colombia’s Catatumbo region bordering Venezuela. In its report, “The war in Catatumbo” Human Rights mentions three armed groups fighting over drug routes and coca plantations abandoned by FARC rebels in the region, including the Popular Liberation Army, the National Liberation Army and a small group of former FARC fighters. The armed groups expelled thousands of rural dwellers from their homes, murdered community leaders and forcibly recruited children into their ranks, according to the report, which also includes interviews with children, reported the “Guardian” “who have been forced to work harvesting coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine”.

“The 2016 peace accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia presented a landmark opportunity to halt the serious abuses and atrocities associated with a decades long armed conflict”, the report said, ’yet in practice the government does not excise effective control over all territory in particular area claimed from the FARC.”Human Rights watch accuses Colombia’s government of “not meeting its obligations” to protect civilians in the area, which include an estimated 25 000 Venezuelan migrants. The organization claims migrants fleeing economic hardship in Venezuela have been forced into sex work in Catatumbo and are also harvesting coca leaves in a desperate bid to feed their families.

Colombia’s President announced an offensive against the FARC rebels led by the former top peace negotiator Ivan Marquez and Jesus Santrich, the former ideologue of the group, who is wanted for his drug exports into the US. The Colombian leader accused the rebels of being supported by Nicolas Maduro, the contested president of neighboring Venezuela. President Ivan Duque ordered the creation of a special unit to combat the old/new rebels. The nation, he assured his people, was not facing another guerilla war, but rather “combating a group of narco- terrorists”. For the capture of Ivan Marquez, the head of state offered one million dollars.

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