How to Keep the FARC Guerrillas Out of the Fight

The process has been slow. The camps for the rebels during the transition were not ready on time. Fast-track procedures to approve legislation in Congress were struck down by the constitutional court, stalling laws for land reform, political participation and a truth commission. There has also been obstruction by the political opposition, which feel the agreement stints on justice and punishment for the former rebels. They have mobilized protests and political support against the agreement in Congress. Polls show a majority of Colombians feel the process is on the wrong track.


A rebel of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, waves a white peace flag during an event to commemorate the completion of their disarmament process in Buenavista, Colombia, in June.

Fernando Vergara/Associated Press.

Meanwhile, another rebel group, the National Liberation Army, is still active, though engaged in its own peace talks. Social leaders and activists calling for land restitution and human rights have been the targets of violence by neo-paramilitary criminal bands. This worrying trend revives memories of FARC’s previous attempt to transition to politics, in the 1980s and 1990s, when thousands of members of the associated leftist Patriotic Union party were assassinated.

FARC’s disarmament shows that the government and rebels are committed to the peace deal. The United Nations recently approved a mission to monitor reintegration, and Colombia’s Reincorporation and Normalization Agency helps the newly demobilized fighters ease back into civilian life. Although the prospective caseload may seem substantial, it is small relative to the more than 50,000 fighters the agency reintegrated over the past 14 years. Under the accord, FARC will also have the option of becoming a political party.

Still, there has already been dissidence among six FARC “fronts” or units in coca-growing regions, and some fighters have renounced the peace deal. Just a few weeks ago, one of the rogue fronts bombed a military patrol, injuring two soldiers and four civilians. If past is prologue, estimates from Colombia’s previous armed group demobilizations portend a 15 percent to 20 percent recidivism rate over five years.

Our research on the reintegration of Colombia’s former guerrilla and paramilitary combatants provides guidance. We analyzed survey data and arrest…

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