Why Former FARC Fighters are Abandoning Colombia’s Reintegration Camps

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The ETCR at Ituango was closed down in August 2020

As part of the 2016 peace deal between Colombia’s government and the FARC, which ended decades of war, thousands of demobilized guerrillas entered reintegration camps to help them transition to civilian life.

But the camps have been consistently beset by violence, promised economic opportunities have never fully materialized and government protection has been uncertain. This has left thousands of ex-fighters and their families feeling unprotected, with over 220 former guerrillas having been killed since the peace agreement.

Of the 13,193 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) that have taken part in the peace process, about 3.000 of them live in camps known as Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation (Espacios Territoriales de Capacitación y Reincorporación – ETCR). These 24 sites were designed to provide a space for demobilized fighters to live with their families and learn skills like cattle ranching or farming through development projects

The camps — always meant to be temporary — were set to shut down in August 2019. But the government of President Iván Duque extended them for another year. Their current status is unclear and the camps’ safety is far from assured. Frequent threats, attacks and killings have left many of the demobilized fighters and their families disillusioned with the peace process and fearing for their lives.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

Below, InSight Crime examines the security situation of eight severely affected ETCRs.

Santa Lucía, Ituango, Antioquia

At least 12 ex-fighters at the Román Ruiz Reincorporation Center have been killed between 2017 and 2020 and its residents have also faced numerous threats. For this reason, in mid-July, some ninety former FARC and their families at the camp took off on buses for Urabá, where the government had rented them space to live. The new camp is in Mutatá, a municipality in the northern Antioquia department.

The Román Ruiz Reincorporation Center had been located in Ituango, a rural area north of Medellín. Active in the region are the Urabeños, a paramilitary drug trafficking group, and an ex-FARC criminal cell known as the 18th Front. Both groups are vying for control of the drug trafficking route between the Paramillo Massif, just west of Ituango, and the Gulf of Urabá on the Pacific coast, a source on the ground told InSight Crime.

Prior to the camp’s official relocation, fear of violence had forced several demobilized fighters and other residents near the camp to flee. 

Carrizal, Remedios, Antioquia

The Carrizal ETCR, in northeastern Antioquia, is being relocated because it sits in a forestry reserve. Additionally, it is difficult to reach, four hours by car from the town of Remedios, according to La Silla Vacía.

The security situation at the ETCR is also tenable. in January 2019, security forces protecting the perimeter of the camp came under attack by fighters with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), El Tiempo reported. In August of this year, the young niece of a demobilized fighter was stabbed to death. 

Both the ELN and the Urabeños maintain a presence in the region, fighting for control over criminal enterprises that include illegal gold mining, extortion rackets and small-scale drug trafficking

La Pradera, Puerto Asís, Putumayo

Nine demobilized guerrilla fighters who settled at the La Pradera camp have been killed, El Espectador reported

During a trip to the ETCR conducted in May 2019, InSight Crime investigators found very few residents. Many had left in search of other sources of income, or had gone on to live with their families. Others had been recruited by ex-FARC Mafia groups in the region. The ex-FARC Mafia are loosely connected criminal groups, made up of former FARC guerrillas, who refused to demobilize after the 2016 peace process. 

The ETCR is located in southwestern Colombia in Putumayo department, a key drug trafficking corridor to Ecuador. There, the 48th Front of the ex-FARC Mafia has formed an alliance with La Constru, a major criminal group in Putumayo that emerged in 2006 after the demobilization of the United Self Defenses of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia-AUC).

La Elvira, Buenos Aires, Cauca

Confrontations among armed groups are common in the areas surrounding the La Elvira ETCR, where public security forces are apparently scarce. The firefights have left officials tasked with overseeing the reintegration process — including the Reincorporation and Normalization Agency (Agencia para la Reincorporación y Normalización – ARN) and the United Nations — unable to enter the zone, according to El Espectador.

About 100 demobilized fighters and their families have had to leave the ETCR due to constant threats. In December of last year, demobilized fighter Manuel Santos Yatacué was murdered in the vicinity of the camp. 

The ETCR is located in Buenos Aires, a municipality in the Naya region, in Colombia’s southwestern Cauca department. The region is a strategic corridor for drugs heading to the Pacific, where there are coca crops and cocaine processing sites. The ex-FARC group Jaime Martínez controls the route, according to InSight Crime sources on the ground who asked for anonymity for security purposes. 

Monterredondo, Miranda, Cauca

The Monterredondo ETCR was not initially included within the government’s relocation plans, despite growing threats. In June, however, the ARN agreed to relocate the camp’s remaining demobilized fighters, though many have already abandoned the space because of insecurity, according to a local source. 

On May 25, the Communal Action Committee (Junta de Acción Comunal) in Monterredondo was passed a message to warn the demobilized fighters in the camp that they had a month to pack up and leave. The ultimatum from an unnamed armed group came with the threat that a pipe bomb attack a year ago had been “a warning to the community to not keep supporting the reintegration process.” 

According to army officials, the ex-FARC Dagoberto Ramos Column is behind the threats to the Monterredondo camp, which is located in Miranda, a municipality in Cauca department. The Dagoberto Ramos Column controls the production of marijuana and coca crops in the northeastern region of the department, El Tiempo reports. The FARC political party has also denounced the threats against residents at this reincorporation space.

La Variante, Tumaco, Nariño

Though the main reason for relocating the La Variante ETCR is the government’s inability to acquire a land title, threats received by the demobilized fighters at the camp should not be overlooked. 

In 2019, two men registered as ex-combatants at the ETCR were murdered. 

Carlos Ortiz, an advisor to demobilized fighters in Nariño, spoke of threats received at La Variante from Los Contadores, a drug trafficking group operating in the Pacific municipality of Tumaco in Nariño, an area rich in coca crops. The group also has presence in Triángulo de Telembí, a region made up of the municipalities of Roberto Payán, Magüí Payán and Barbacoas.

SEE ALSO: Uncertainty in Reintegration Camps, Another Challenge for Peace in Colombia

Tumaco is the municipality with the second greatness number of coca crops in Colombia, according to the most recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). It is also a shipment point for drugs headed to Ecuador and the Pacific. For this reason, several ex-FARC Mafia and drug trafficking groups have set up there. 

Caño Indio, Tibú, Norte de Santander

Two dozed demobilized fighters registered at the Caño Indio have been killed, and more than 30 have received threats. Of the 600 demobilized fighters that initially arrived at the camp, few remain, as the grand majority have been transferred to other parts of Tibú, or to nearby municipalities, an on-the-ground source who spoke on the condition of anonymity told InSight Crime. The demobilized fighters that remain face recruitment by the 33rd Front of the ex-FARC Mafia that operates in the region of Catatumbo. 

Tibú, a municipality in the northeastern department of Norte de Santander on the Colombia-Venezuela border, sits in a region where a plethora of armed groups roam, including the ELN, the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL) and the Rastrojos, a criminal gang dedicated to drug trafficking. Tibú also has an abundance of coca crops. The combination makes for a difficult situation for demobilized guerrillas. 

La Guajira, Mesetas, Meta

Despite not being among the government’s priorities, the La Guajira ETCR faces a difficult security situation. In October 2019, Alexander Parra was murdered within the ETCR. He was the first ex-combatant killed within a reincorporation space. In June, another demobilized fighter, Bairon Eliécer Gómez, was killed within the encampment, as well as the son of a female ex-combatant that works with the Unit for the Search of Disappeared Persons (Unidad de Búsqueda de Personas Dadas por Desaparecidas – UBPD).

Likewise, members have received constant threats from armed groups that operate to the south of the central Meta department. Several former combatants have been forced to abandon the camp due to a lack of security guarantees. 

In an alert, the Ombudsman’s Office listed the demobilized ex-combatants at this space as an at-risk population, due to the presence of several factions of ex-FARC cells under the command of alias Gentil Duarte. 

This post was originally posted on InSight Crime – View Original Article

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