Note as of June 5: Kyle Johnson at the International Crisis Group reminds me that several hundred of the FARC dissidents never demobilized in the first place: they “went dissident” even before the peace accord was signed. So although this is all very inexact, my estimate here should probably be closer to 10 percent of demobilized FARC who have rearmed.
A very good New York Times analysis by Nick Casey, which ran on May 17, looked at the Colombian government’s failures to honor commitments made in the 2016 FARC peace accord. It included this troubling finding:
Experts estimate that as many as 3,000 militants have taken up arms again — a figure equal to more than 40 percent of those who initially demobilized. It includes new recruits.
That’s correct, as written. However, more than one reader probably saw that and came away with the notion that “40% of the FARC have already rearmed.”
Some rearmament happens after nearly all peace accords, as dissident or residual groups form. But a recidivism rate of 40 percent would be disastrous. It would make it very hard to defend the notion that the government should honor its accord commitments.
Colombia’s past demobilizations saw much recidivism—but not 40 percent. Between 2002 and 2013, about 55,000 guerrillas and paramilitaries demobilized. About 20 percent went on to commit crimes, according to the official estimate.
How does the FARC process compare so far?
- Let’s accept that figure of 3,000 members of FARC dissident groups, large and small, scattered around the country. That sounds right, even though the commander of Colombia’s army reported 2,000 members in March. The dissidences are growing fast, attracting some disillusioned fighters and recruiting from a large pool of underemployed rural youth.
- Let’s say that 2,000 of them were once FARC members who demobilized. I think this estimate is a bit high, but we have no way to know: it’s impossible to do a survey of dissident fighters.
- 6,804 FARC fighters reported to demobilization sites in 2017, where they turned in a larger number of weapons to a UN mission, and remained for several months.
- But that is not the entire universe of demobilized FARC fighters. One must add FARC members who were released from prison, and FARC militia members: part time, mostly urban guerrillas who had only to report to the demobilization zones for a few days.
- That yields an entire universe of 13,061 former FARC members, the number that had been accredited by Colombia’s Office of the High Commissioner for Peace as of late March, according to the UN Verification Mission.
2,000 recidivist fighters out of a universe of 13,061 would be 15 percent of all who demobilized. That’s bad, but not unusually high for a peace process, especially one in which the accord has been implemented so slowly and partially.
Because of that slow, partial implementation, and the evident lack of political support the accord has from Colombia’s current government, this percentage is bound to get worse. Every day right now, ex-guerrillas, tired of uncertainty and poor economic prospects, may be accepting the dissidents’ offers.