With the ratification of a peace deal late last year and their move to demobilization camps earlier this year, Colombia’s left-wing FARC rebels are well into their transition from Colombia’s biggest rebel group to legitimate citizens and political actors.
The shift from fugitives in their own country to normal Colombians has been fraught for FARC rebels and their leadership.
More than a half-century of violence is not easy to leave behind, and the shift to normal life will continue to present challenges.
An anecdote in a New Yorker profile of Carlos Antonio Lozada, a FARC member since 1978 who has been a main leader during the group’s peace talks with the government, underscores how the rebels’ long existence outside of Colombian society complicates their efforts to move back into it.
“Lozada said that a Colombian army general involved in the peace process had invited him to join LinkedIn. He had tried, but had been stymied by the online membership form,” Jon Lee Anderson writes.
“‘It asks for your ‘curriculum, professional contacts and qualifications, and references,’ Lozada exclaimed, erupting in a fit of laughter. ‘Job description — commander for the FARC! References — Timochenko!’ Lozada said, referring to the alias of another senior FARC commander.
According to Anderson’s profile, though FARC rebels have struggled with LinkedIn, they have taken to Facebook and WhatsApp, which they have used to reconnect with friends and loved ones they have long been separated from.
But other apps have proven vexing. Lozada and Timochenko appeared on a talk show in late November, a landmark event after their decades of war against the Colombian state. Interest was immediate.
“As people tuned in,” Anderson wrote, “the host, Maria Jimena Duzan, looked at Twitter on her phone and exclaimed, ‘We’re trending!’ Seeing her guests’ confusion, she chuckled and said, ‘That’s a good thing.'”
Since Colombia’s legislature approved a revised peace deal at the end of November (the original deal was narrowly defeated in a nationwide plebiscite in October) thousands of FARC rebels travelled across the country to UN-organised camps where they were set to begin demobilizing and disarming.
“The last march,” as it was called, got off to a rocky start, as FARC leaders complained that the camps were not ready — in some cases they found only barren clearings or fields filled with sacks of cement.
Despite those issues, the disarmament process, which has a May 31 deadline, has reportedly advanced quickly. Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the UN Security Council, said after an early May visit to Colombia that some 7,000 FARC members had already arrived to lay down their arms.
However, as UN officials warned after their visit, the risk of post-conflict violence and recidivism by demobilized FARC rebels remains high.
About 50 FARC units have spurned the peace process altogether, electing to remain in the countryside and maintain involvement in criminal enterprises. (A dissident FARC group is believed to have kidnapped a UN worker earlier this month.)
Criminal groups appear to be angling for territory and criminal activities vacated by FARC rebels, clashing with each other and forcing Colombians from their homes.
Turmoil in Colombia’s criminal underworld appears to be taking a toll on social activists, community leaders, and other leftists as well.
One estimate put the number of such people killed at 96 last year
. A UN report put the number killed through April this year at 41, though the government said only 14 killings appeared to be politically motivated.
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