“Fewer than three years after Colombia’s oldest guerrilla group signed a peace agreement with the government, the terror leaders have said never mind,” reads today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal’s influential and ultraconservative editorial page. For the Journal, the defection of former chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez and a handful of other ex-leaders means that the peace accord is over: “[T]he country’s war on terrorism is back on. But the truth is that it was never off. The sooner everyone admits that the better.”
There are three things wrong with this analysis. (You can read my analysis of Márquez’s August 29 defection in the September 3 New York Times.) They are:
1. Assuming that today’s FARC is a monolith. The Journal doesn’t distinguish between re-armed “dissidents” like Márquez, and the 90-plus percent of ex-guerrillas and leaders who remain committed to the peace process. It’s hard to conclude otherwise from a paragraph like this:
It’s doubtful there was ever a FARC commitment to peace. A better read is that the guerrillas took a deal that included amnesty and 10 unelected FARC seats in Congress, but that they had no intention of giving up the lucrative cocaine business or their dream of bringing down Colombia’s democracy.
In fact, maximum leader Rodrigo Londoño and other FARC political party members have been outspokenly critical of Márquez and other dissidents. In Spain’s El País the other day, Londoño called them “a handful of deluded compañeros who, with a proclamation of armed struggle outdated in time and space, want to hide their own mistakes.” (Londoño seems to be more engaged these days going to spiritual reconciliation retreats with ex-paramilitaries and top recording artists.) Meanwhile, preliminary reports indicate that rank-and-file ex-guerrillas, who have long since begun new lives at peace, aren’t being tempted by Márquez’s call to arms. “Everyone saw the video [of Márquez’s August 29 announcement], nobody talked about it, not even the slightest comment. There were activities already scheduled and everyone went out to do their work, and that was it,” an ex-combatant told El Espectador. “I don’t know if they really thought we’d just throw everything aside.”
2. Assuming that Márquez’s group has huge convening power. “Mr. Márquez’s paramilitary will pull together thousands of FARC who abandoned the demobilization process,” the Journal warns. That’s not impossible, but it’s not likely.
After nearly three years, about 1,050 ex-guerrillas who demobilized, out of 13,000, are “whereabouts unknown.” Some of them are probably members of over 20 rearmed “dissident” groups around the country. Another 800 or so never demobilized in the first place, they’ve been dissident from the start. These dissidents have probably recruited several hundred more people with no FARC background.
Where does Márquez’s group—whose inaugural video showed only about 20 people, no more—fit in with them? If you’re one of the main dissident leaders, like “Gentil Duarte” or “Iván Mordisco,” it’s not clear what benefit you’d gain from an alliance with high-profile figures like Márquez, “El Paisa,” or “Romaña,” other than adding several commanders with long combat experience. Would you have to share resources with them? Would they challenge your command and your decisions? Would they compete with you internally?
While the FARC dissident phenomenon is a growing security challenge for Colombia (and Venezuela, and Ecuador, and Guyana, and Suriname), they are far from unified, and it’s far from clear that Márquez’s rearmed faction will be their center of gravity.
3. Assuming that “post-accord” really meant “post-conflict.” A sentence like “the country’s war on terrorism is back on” tells us that the Journal‘s editorial-writers haven’t been paying close attention. Violence indicators have been rising in many former conflict zones since at least early 2018. A social leader is killed about every two and a half days. The government failed to fill the vacuum of authority in formerly FARC-influenced territories. Instead, other groups have rushed in: the ELN, FARC dissidents, the Gulf Clan post-paramilitary network, and regional organized-crime militias (“La Constru”, the “Caparros,” the EPL, the “Puntilleros,” “La Empresa,” and many others).
The International Committee of the Red Cross identifies five distinct armed conflicts going on in post-accord Colombia. Of 281 municipalities (counties, of which Colombia has about 1,100) that the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation prioritized for post-conflict analysis, “there are 123 in which the FARC had previously operated and have since been taken over by illegal armed groups and criminal organizations.”
It is normal for an immediate post-accord period to be more violent than the last years of a conflict, as violent competition continues in ungoverned territories. But that’s where the problem lies: the Colombian government is not doing enough to fill the vacuum in these territories.
The Journal misses that completely. Its editorial-writers apparently have an axe to grind about Colombia’s peace accord, and are keen to declare it prematurely dead. But that analysis not only misses the greater security challenges Colombia faces today: it’s based on some glaring analytical flaws. Good policy will not be based on analyses like these.