September 03, 2019

A group of 20 formerly demobilized members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), most of whom were once high-level commanders of the guerrilla group, released a video announcing that they are once again taking up arms against the state. In the video, Luciano Marín Arango, also known as Iván Márquez, reads a lengthy statement in which he accuses the government of violating several provisions of the 2016 peace accord that led to the demobilization of the guerrillas and announces his decision to abandon the peace process and rearm. Marín Arango was the second-in-command of the guerrilla group prior to demobilization. 

The video is designed to show widespread discontent with the peace process among the guerrilla leadership, including those who were key in securing the peace accord. Standing next to Marin Arango in the video is Seuxis Paucias Hernández Solarte, also known as Jesús Santrich, who was formerly one of the FARC’s chief negotiators in the talks that lead to the accord. The two are flanked by two former commanders of the FARC’s powerful Eastern Bloc and the former commander of the Teófilo Forero Mobile Column, which served as the FARC’s special forces unit and which was entrusted to serve as the bodyguards of the guerrilla leadership. The video also included the former commander of the Libardo García Mobil Column and the commanders of the 5th, 43rd, 52nd, 53rd, and 55th fronts of the FARC. The presence of such high-ranking commanders may induce other demobilized guerrillas disillusioned with the peace process to likewise return to arms.


New FARC is Actively Recruiting 

The video portrays the rearmed commanders as the sole legitimate inheritors of the FARC as a means of inducing others to join the group. To advance this claim of legitimacy, the statement read by Marín Arango repeatedly refers to the newly rearmed guerrillas by the full formal name of the organization, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People’s Army, and presents a history of the group that culminates with the rearmament and remobilization of the formerly demobilized guerrillas. Notably, Enrique Marulanda, the son of the now-deceased founder of the FARC, appears with the rearmed guerrillas as a means of lending the group additional legitimacy.  


Potential for Inter-FARC Conflict 

While this implicit claim of being the sole legitimate FARC organization could bring additional recruits, it also serves as a challenge to the legitimacy of the dozens of small organizations of FARC members who refused to participate in the peace process and remain armed. Most of these factions are now devoted entirely to criminal enterprises such as drug-trafficking and make no pretenses of being political, but the 1st Front and 7th Front of the FARC, which refused to demobilize and continue to operate in the departments of Arauca, Caquetá, Guainía, Guaviare, Meta, Vaupés, and Vichada, continue to claim to be revolutionary Marxist organizations. Representatives of the 1st and 7th fronts were not in the video, which suggests they have not joined the newly rearmed group. If they oppose it, there could be a major inter-FARC conflict, particularly in Caquetá and Meta, where many of the guerrilla commanders in the recent video maintain significant ties. However, if various factions merge, the newly reformed FARC would exercise substantial influence over a broad swath of territory, although it would remain significantly smaller and weaker than the FARC at the time of demobilization.


New FARC Takes Aim at US 

The new FARC group will likely operate similarly to the FARC prior to demobilization, despite claims to the contrary in the video. While the recorded statement claims the FARC will not continue its previous practice of raising funds by kidnapping people for ransom, for example, the wording of the statement leaves open the possibility that the FARC will continue to kidnap people to extract political concessions from the government or to demand prisoner exchanges that free arrested FARC members. The statement additionally says that transnational corporations will be “taxed,” a reference to the FARC’s practice of extorting companies; the imposition of such “taxes” has long served as an excuse by the FARC to conduct kidnappings, which it frames as arrests for failure to pay taxes. Because the statement repeatedly blames the US government and US-based corporations for social ills in Latin America, US interests are at particular risk of FARC actions.


How New FARC will Affect Colombia and Venezuela Relations 

The video’s most immediate effect may be a further deterioration in relations between Colombia and Venezuela. The Colombian government quickly claimed that the video was shot in Venezuela and that the FARC counts on the support of the administration of Nicolas Maduro. Although the Colombian minister of defense said that Colombian troops would not cross into Venezuela to capture the guerrillas, Colombia previously conducted a drone strike in Ecuador to kill a high-ranking FARC commander, touching off a major diplomatic crisis. While Colombia is unlikely to attempt to replicate such an attack in Venezuela, further corrosion of the already-volatile relations between the two countries could result in border closures and the movement of troops to the border. 

The rearming of some of the FARC’s highest-ranking commanders has significant security implications in Colombia as well as regional geopolitical implications. While most former FARC members remain demobilized, if Colombia does not move to deepen the implementation of the peace accords to stave off further remobilization of fighters, it may find itself combating a strengthened insurgency at home while dealing with an international crisis abroad.   

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