BOGOTA – The Colombian peace process suffered on Thursday its hardest blow with the announcement by the FARC guerrilla’s former chief negotiator at the helm of a group of dissidents that they were taking up arms again in response to what they described as the state’s betrayal of the Havana agreement that saw the movement’s apparent disarmament.
Luciano Marin, aka “Ivan Marquez,” conveyed the chilling message in a 32-minute video that, in practice, threw the past 1,008 days since the peace deal was signed on Nov. 24, 2016, completely overboard.
These thousand days harken back to Colombia’s last civil war of the 19th century, which razed the country to the ground and marked its entry into the 20th century in such a dramatic fashion that it became a mainstay in the oeuvre of the nation’s most famous writer, Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Although there were fears of a break in the peace process after Marquez went into hiding and criticized the FARC’s “mistake” of laying down their weapons, these fresh winds of war took Colombians by surprise early in the morning and represented a heavy blow to the hopes of an end to the decades-long conflict between the government, paramilitaries, drug cartels and the communist guerrilla.
Until now, some 1,800 dissidents within the FARC had been scattered in small groups throughout the country, lacking the group’s previous monolithic structure and a clear leader – a situation that could change in light of Marquez’s initiative.
When the deal was signed, more than 7,000 FARC fighters laid down their arms, while a similar number of “milicianos” (urban collaborators) and combatants were imprisoned.
If discontent with the peace agreement continues to grow, the number of dissidents will likely also increase.
In fact, a report released on Wednesday by the Peace and Reconciliation Commission said that out of the 1,800 dissidents, 1,400 were ex-fighters and some 400 had been enlisted in new recruitment campaigns.
“This insurgency is not rising from the ashes like a phoenix to continue operating from the depths of the remote jungle,” Marquez said in his manifesto, adding that the new targets were neither soldiers nor police officers “who respect the people’s interests” but rather “that exclusionary and corrupt, mafioso and violent oligarchy that believes it can keep on blocking the gate to a country’s future.”
This shift in strategy from the guerrilla warfare the FARC waged against the state for over half a century to a more tactical armed struggle that avoids direct confrontation – similar to the modus operandi of the National Liberation Army (ELN) – could make the Colombian armed forces’ job more difficult when it comes to fighting back against the rebels.
Marquez also called on the South American nation’s social and political movements to reach a new agreement that would include creating a constituent assembly, forming a new government and starting a new round of peace talks in order to reach a more comprehensive deal and “lift this Republic from the ruins.”
While the government attributes the growth in dissidents to the seductive power of the “easy money” offered by drug trafficking, Marquez said they would only collect a “tax” from the “illegal economies and the multinational corporations that are looting our riches.”
Despite the many euphemisms and – at times – diplomatic wording, the dissidents’ move has been condemned by virtually the entire country, ranging from President Ivan Duque – who called them a “band of narco-terrorists who are hosted and supported by the dictatorship of (Venezuela’s incumbent) Nicolas Maduro” to most of their old FARC comrades.
“Proclaiming an armed struggle in today’s Colombia represents a delirious mistake,” said the president of the peaceful FARC party, Rodrigo Londoño.
This might be a sign that the nation – or at least, a significant portion of it – does not want to return to a past of blood and death.