A group of guerrillas in Colombia who have deserted the country's ongoing peace process are reportedly seeking control over lucrative criminal economies, illustrating a number of challenges associated with the expected criminalization of rebels as the demobilization process moves forward.
Paulo Estrada, a human rights official in the Colombian state of Amazonas, recently told Agence France-Presse that at least 40 members of the First Front, also known as the "Armando Ríos" Front, of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) had declared themselves opposed to the peace process and are attempting to establish a presence in Yaigojé Apaporis national park near the border with Brazil.
According to Estrada, the dissident guerrillas have set up temporary camps on the bank of the Apaporis River, and a delegation of militants recently met with representatives of local indigenous communities near the town of La Pedrera and pressured them to refuse to cooperate with government efforts related to the peace process. (See InSight Crime's map below)
An expert consulted by the news agency said that the region has important deposits of gold, and that there is also speculation about the existence of other natural resources in the area like petroleum and uranium. Illegal mining is an important source of revenue for criminal groups across Colombia.
A section of the 1st Front issued a statement in July saying that the unit, which reportedly counts around 100 armed troops and another 300 militia members, would not demobilize in the event of a peace deal with the government. In response, the FARC's national leadership expelled the dissenters from the rebel army.
InSight Crime recently spoke with a 1st Front fighter who said he and a handful of other loyalists fled a dissenting camp and walked for several days in order to join up with another 1st Front unit that is participating in the peace process.
InSight Crime Analysis
After nearly four years of negotiations, representatives of the FARC and the Colombian government reached a final peace agreement in August. The FARC is widely expected to approve the deal at its 10th Conference taking place this week. And a nationwide referendum scheduled for October 2, appears likely to result in the ratification of the agreement by the Colombian public.
However, the possibility that certain FARC elements may continue or return to criminal activities despite the peace process has long concerned analysts and officials. InSight Crime has previously described the criminalization of at least some FARC members as "inevitable," and estimates that up to 30 percent of the rebels could defect from the peace process. The lure of the potential profits to be earned from illicit activities like illegal mining and the drug trade is one of the main factors that could spur certain militants to bolt from the peace process.
As the example of the 1st Front illustrates, disagreement about the peace process exists not only among FARC units, but also within them. Recent reports suggest that FARC members in other regions have also begun to establish new criminal structures. As the peace process moves forward, it will be important for the Colombian government to keep these dynamics in mind in order to mitigate the threats posed by criminal structures composed of dissident militants.