Ongoing Paramilitary Violence in the aftermath of the Colombian Peace Deals

November 9, 2018

For more than half a century, Colombians have been caught in the midst of violence between “La Violencia”, guerilla groups, and drug lords. After one conflict ended, another began, and when there seemed to be a lull in the violence and a chance for peace, a presidential candidate would be assassinated, or a guerilla bomb would leave the country’s infrastructure devastated. In 2016, the Colombian Peace Deal between then-president Juan Manuel Santos and the (write out the acronym) FARC guerilla group seemed to be the first real sign that Colombia was emerging from its decades of violence. The deal called for the demilitarization of FARC guerilla soldiers in exchange for political representation as well as the allotting of resources for reintegration among the FARC members. Despite the deal’s controversy and the disapproval of many Colombians, the Peace Deal won Manuel Santos the Nobel Peace Prize and effectively saw the disarmament of thousands of FARC soldiers. However, as Manuel Santos left office earlier this year, the Colombian climate was far from peaceful. To this day, Colombians continue to suffer from violence that the Peace Deal was supposed to eradicate.
In the wake of the FARC’s demilitarization, new paramilitary groups formed to fill the power vacuum left behind by the guerillas. These paramilitary groups are often called “bandas criminals” (criminal bands), or for short— BACRIM. The term BACRIM was created to describe the paramilitary and drug-trafficking organizations created following the demilitarization of the AUC guerilla group in 2006 and has evolved to categorize any criminal or drug-trafficking organization outside of guerilla groups (McDermott, 2014). In 2017, the BACRIM were responsible for 441 recorded attacks on activists, protestors, and human rights groups as well as 121 murders (MacKenzie, 2018). These numbers are astonishingly high, though higher still is the number of displaced Colombians who have had to flee their homes due to the threat of the BACRIM.
While approximately 8.7 million Colombians still live amid conflict, 7.4 of these Colombians are internally displaced, reports the Norwegian Refugee Council (Forero, 2018). The murder of Plinio Pulgarín, a community leader in San Pedrito, forced community members to flee. These internally displaced Colombians left their land and all of their possessions out of fear that they might meet the same fate as Pulgarín. Displaced Colombians find refuge anywhere they can, such as city halls, shelters, parks, and even the streets. The atmosphere that surrounds these harbors for internally displaced Colombians is far from hopeful. A displaced woman living in a shelter in San José de Uré explained that the government does not recognize the situation that she and many other unarmed farmers face. She says that her community will “wait for the security to return to our homes, and are asking that the government otherwise relocates us”. A displaced community leader describes the fear that caused his community to flee after the murder of three social leaders. He says that his community does not plan on returning to the land they have lost to avoid any more deaths among his neighbors. He, among others, has proposed that the National Government provide them new land, where they can start a new life without the fear of violence (Forero, 2018). Their request is not unfounded as the danger rural communities face is immense, however, is something that has not been done in such a large scale during the many years of paramilitary and guerilla violence.
Colombians who have tried to stand their ground and defend their land against the BACRIM are almost always killed. Hernando Pérez from the town of Sucre, Colombia explains the danger that he, among millions of others face daily, and how it has in ways grown worse since the 2016 Peace Deal. Pérez’s father was killed when after months of being displaced he returned to reclaim his family’s land. His family’s worst fears came true as days after his father left, they found him on the front cover of the newspaper laying in a pool of his own blood. He had been shot and killed while watching television in his living room. Pérez and his family had survived attacks from paramilitaries and the FARC before and were displaced by the FARC for several years in 1993. When the Peace Deal was announced, Pérez believed that his family had survived through the end of the violence and that their lives would go back to normal. After his father’s death, and the new BARCIM threat, however, Pérez felt differently about his family’s future. He and his family lived in fear and did not want to sleep in their own house. Several weeks following his father’s murder, police captured the prime suspect— A man who was a part of a paramilitary group, the Heroés de los Montes de María, who were responsible for more than 40 massacres (Wesche, 2018). Paramilitary groups are at an all-time high as their competitors, the FARC, demilitarize. These groups often recruit guerilla members who are unable to reintegrate into society. Perhaps this is the fault of the Peace Deal for not providing the necessary resources for ex-FARC members to reintegrate into society, or perhaps it was inevitable due to the rise of the BACRIM in the wake of the FARC’s demilitarization.
Although each new BACRIM member has his or her own reason for joining the group, one reason responsible for swaying many ex-FARC members to join is the violence that they would face as civilians. For many, following the Peace Deal ex-FARC members had the option to join the BACRIM or face the risk of being killed by the BACRIM (Casey, 2018). The new BACRIM members do not join these criminal groups to fight for the ideals they fought for with the FARC or to continue a violent lifestyle. Often, they join to defend themselves against the violence in the aftermath of the Colombian Peace Deals.
Nearly two years after the finalization of the Peace Deal, millions of Colombians continue to face lethal violence and are displaced from their homes. As BACRIM paramilitary groups rush to fill the power vacuum left by the FARC, Colombian civilians and ex-FARC members fear for their lives, sometimes feeling pressured to join paramilitaries for their own safety. As Colombia’s recently elected President Ivan Duque takes office, the future of the Peace Deal is uncertain. Duque has been a prominent critic of the Peace Deal for years and has been quite vocal about his disapproval of the lack of punishment for many FARC members (Taylor, 2018). He has been clear on his plans to revise the peace deal in order to implement more severe punishments on ex-FARC members. Whatever the future of the Peace Deal might be, it is clear that it has not yet resolved the violence in Colombia. The Peace Deal was not entirely a failure; after all, it did successfully demilitarize one of Colombia’s last guerilla groups. However, in order to meet the end goal of peace in Colombia, more steps and legislation will need to be put in place.

REFERENCES

  1. Casey, Nicholas , Escobar, Federico Rios. (2018 Sept 18). "Colombia Struck a Peace Deal With Guerrillas, but Many Return to Arms". The New York Times. Retrieved Tuesday, October 23, 2018.
  2. Forero, Elena. (2018 Apr 30). "Violence continues to displace Colombians". Norwegian Refugee Council. Retrieved Tuesday, October 23, 2018.
  3. MacKenzie, Alan. (2018 July 19). "Colombia's peace deal: Where is the peace?". DW News. Retrieved Wednesday, October 31, 2018.
  4. McDermott, Jeremy. (2014 May 2). "The BACRIM and Their Position in Colombia’s Underworld". Insight Crime. Retrieved Tuesday, October 23, 2018.
  5. Taylor, Luke. (2018, Jun 18). "Uncertainty for FARC peace deal as Ivan Duque wins in Colombia". Al Jazeera. Retrieved Tuesday, October 23, 2018.
  6. Wesche, Philipp. (2018 May 4). "The Paramilitary Threat in Post-Conflict Colombia". North American Congress on Latin America. Retrieved Tuesday, October 23, 2018.

About Author(s)

Rachel.Bierly's picture
Rachel Bierly
Rachel Bierly is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Linguistics as well as pursuing minors in Spanish, Chinese and a certificate in Latin American Studies. Though her major is Linguistics, her focus lies in Latin American languages, culture, and politics. Rachel spent the summer of 2019 living and conducting research in Manizales, Colombia regarding the process of demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration for ex-guerrilla combatants. When Rachel is not working at Panoramas she enjoys traveling, learning new languages, and rock climbing. She hopes to one day use her experience to defend the rights of minority groups and underrepresented communities in the United States and Latin America.