The news about the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels possibly taking up arms again shocked the international community. When Colombia’s economy is doing well, and there’s no reason to return to terrorism, why does the peace deal seem to be crumbling?
It’s not uncommon to see rebels, insurgents, and the like, return to their activities because of worsening economic conditions. After all, many start their activities largely because they are excluded from economic opportunities, or because they are unsatisfied with them.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and other left-wing insurgents in Colombia started their activities because of the country’s chosen path to development (Accelerated Economic Development). It promoted quick growth, but displaced and took away land from many individuals belonging to the lower classes.
The goals of the FARC and Colombia’s path to development have changed over the years. If the goals of FARC in the 21st century could be summarised as a fight for survival and a smaller fight for ideological goals, the extrajudicial killings of former members could have been a reason for some of its insurgents to take up arms again.
A large part of the problem lies in the peace deal and its conditions. Rationally, the peace deal couldn’t be written to fully give in to the demands of FARC, after decades of violence which also involved civilians.
Yet, the deal would have been stronger if it had a clear roadmap for the realisation of legal demands of FARC. The insurgents through almost six-decade campaign of attacks, fought for an eclectic mix of goals. Worker’s rights and a better life for the poor were some of the goals; financing of operations from drug trafficking was also one.
The original peace deal, which did not pass the referendum vote, was narrowly rejected by the Colombian society. The revised deal, which passed both chambers of the Congress, moves very slowly to the conditions that FARC negotiated for.
The deal didn’t account for the fact that a power vacuum, a poor security state and hard re-integration for former rebels would cause many to return to their previous activities.
The peace deal was, and still is, an important achievement worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize. Without addressing the root causes of why the FARC members continued their activities in the 21st century, the peace deal created another problem for the future.
Viewed through the lenses of history of peace deals between states and insurgents, Colombia’s deal is far less stable compared to Spain’s deal with ETA or Ireland’s with IRA.
In the case of FARC and Colombia, the country’s economic state seems to play not the largest role in this decision. Because of terrorism and political instability, it had to redirect funds to security measures, rather than to more beneficial projects. However, even before the peace deal was signed in 2016, Colombia’s economy has been coping quite well with the internal challenges.
Colombia’s political landscape has been moving to one that is stabler and more focused on the economy, rather than onto ideological issues over the years.
The member of the dissidents of FARC, Iván Márquez, which made the call to action isn’t a stereotypical insurgent. Allegedly responsible both for recruitment in tertiary education institutions and supervision of drug trade, one of the negotiators of the peace deal had to have an important reason to return to fighting with just a support of 2,000. Security seems to be the most likely one. The peace deal’s commitment to ensuring the security of decommissioned rebels is lacking.
The fact that less than a fifth of the former FARC rebels have decided to continue the fight, and that it is happening because of an easily solvable issue, shows that a larger conflict is unlikely.
The probability of the security state in Colombia worsening will depend far more on political rather than any economic factors. Although the long term pull to resuming the insurgency has been partially economic, political manoeuvring can prevent a sudden deterioration.
The current president of Colombia, and the Congress present a mixed ideological landscape. 45% of the seats in the House of Representatives are held by parties mostly supporting the peace deal. On the other side, the president of Colombia, Ivan Duque, and the rest of the seats belong to right-wing parties which do not fully support the deal.
The right-wing politicians are only doing their job when they do not support the conditions of the deal. Since they were elected on this platform, it is only practical that the politicians represent the views of their voters.
In the context of this decade long armed struggle, and the relief the peace deal brought, acquiescing on some of the more negative thoughts about the deal could help bring long-lasting peace. Yet, it could also betray the trust of the voters.
The decision of some FARC militants to take up arms again looks to be caused mostly by internal problems. However, there are also external factors at play.
From one side, the large incomes that come from drug trafficking and alleged foreign support are pushing the militants into ending the long-sought peace deal.
From another, the prosperity and growth the Colombian peace deal has brought, has partially come from increased foreign investments and tourism.
After almost 3 years since the peace deal passed, the economy of Colombia has been slowly picking up. While FDI inflows dropped by almost $3B in 2018, GDP growth remained stable.
Tourism in Colombia, after the long-sought peace was established, has grown by almost 10% from 2017. Before the peace deal, growth largely stagnated until 2014. Many tended to avoid Colombia because of a poor security state.
Tourism, as an external factor, is particularly important because it has brought growth and incomes to the regions associated with FARC. South and south-western regions like the coffee-growing region, the centre of the operations of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, have benefited substantially from peace.
The history of Bolivarian ideals and the missed economic opportunities because of late 20th-century growth reforms in Colombia still influences a part of the Colombian society.
Yet, the 2018 elections shows that this support has moved away from FARC. The party got just over 30,000 votes out of almost 18 million cast. The deal still could crumble fully if former insurgents will again feel as if they were excluded from a financially better life.