BOGOTÁ, Colombia – The last active unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has arrived in one of the many Transition Zones, or demobilization camps, established throughout the country where they will turn over their weapons and begin the transition to civilian life.
The unit, comprised of some 300 rebels, arrived at the demobilization camp, one of 26 nationwide, near the town of La Montañita in the lush Caquetá Department in the south of the country.
Nearly 7,000 rebels have arrived at the demobilization camps in recent weeks where they are expected to stay until June 1 when the next phase of the process begins. They have arrived in groups by boat, bus and on foot from their encampments in the lush jungles of Colombia in treks that lasted several days.
Once they arrived, they were expected to have found common spaces constructed by the national government that included areas for cooking and eating, cleaning and health services. Furthermore, they were to find waiting for them the materials and tools needed to construct beds and dormitories.
In reality, the FARC units arrived to find the vast majority of the camps either in the process of being constructed or completely empty.
Jean Arnault, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission in Colombia who has been in the South American nation for several years working on the peace process, said that “the majority of the FARC demobilization camps are not ready nor are they even delimited with precision.”
In a letter to his team that was filtered out to the press and published by Spanish news agency EFE, Arnault wrote that “according to our information, the process of constructing the camps, including the sites monitored by the UN Mission where the armaments will eventually be stored, will not be completed until the end of March.”
In this vein, Arnault included in his letter a proposal to hold a meeting in order to see if changes to the planned schedule are required, including possibly postponing the end of the reception of weapons handed over by the rebels.
The government, meanwhile, acknowledges delays in the construction of the camps but outlined the fact that infrastructure in the regions of the demobilization camps is severely lacking. The areas in which the camps are located are remote, both in terms of topographical features and population centers, and were the scenes of warfare for decades so reaching the areas is difficult, especially with machinery and building materials.
According to the government, this last weekend saw the delivery of supplies on a massive scale: “600 4×4 trucks, 260 allterrain vehicles, 180 cargo trucks, 150 buses, 120 chivas (rural buses), 100 boats, 60 dump trucks, 35 mules, 20 ambulances, 10 tractors and some 25,000 rations of food for the rebels.”
The national authorities also encountered issues with the land; the remote, rural and unwelcoming jungle landscape has made it difficult to exactly demarcate where one property begins and another starts, and many of the ‘campesinos,’ or rural dwellers, did not possess the official ownership papers and other documents. Thus, when it was time to rent the land for the camps, government officials encountered many setbacks and delays.
Organized criminal groups and right-wing paramilitary groups, taking advantage of the lack of armed conflict in the region now, are smuggling cocaine and other contraband from Bolivia and Peru through the dense Colombian jungles where the demobilization camps are located in departments like Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo and Valle del Cauca, bringing more difficulty to the camp settlement process.
Meanwhile, the FARC rebels are keeping calm and busy at the camps by reading, playing sports, listening to music and taking in lessons taught by certain members with backgrounds in teaching certain subjects. At the time, government instructors meant to provide job training and give lessons on political and civic society have not yet arrived.
Furthermore, the continued silent extermination of social leaders in rural areas (93 in 2016 alone, 15 this year so far) where the rebels were previously active has gone unsolved, making it a highly sensitive issue for the FARC: the rebels were social leaders and peasant organizers prior to militarizing as a response to a similar (but much more widespread) government crackdown on such organizations.
Special laws designed to “fast track” the implementation of the legal aspects of the peace process, including land reforms sought by the FARC for decades and the rebels’ future political participation among others, have been languishing in Congress despite their special categorization. Of the “avalanche” of 30 legal projects promised by the government, only five have been even presented before legislators.
All of these factors could lead to uncertainty in a process that has been marked by such sentiments, especially given that the rebels have fulfilled all of their promises but the government has yet to do the same.
Nearly three months ago, Congress ratified the agreement reached between the FARC and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.
The peace talks in question between the FARC, Latin America’s oldest insurgency group, and the Colombian government, started in October of 2012 initially in Oslo, Norway and then continued in Havana, Cuba with the hopes of ending a conflict that has lasted over half a century.
In reaction to a ultraviolent crackdown on peasant organizations, the FARC militarized in 1964. As the primary guerrilla force, the FARC rebels have been engaged in war with the Colombian government since then, a war that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and displaced nearly seven million more.
Agreements on land reform have been achieved during the peace talks, along with the group’s future political participation and the topic of the illicit drug trade. The last point that was agreed upon, which was transitional justice, carried with it the sub-point of suspect and victim recognition and reparation, the most sensitive subject given that it concerned all those affected by the conflict.