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Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and Economic Challenges

Introduction

Colombia is a country diverse in its cultural beliefs, traditions, political decisions, social achievements, and military events. Although the country is famous for its beautiful landscapes, diversity, and large amounts of natural resources, Colombia is often recognized as having had one of the longest civil wars in history as well as being home to some of the most significant criminal activity and violence in South America and the world. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as the FARC, are a globally recognized guerrilla movement that changed millions of lives in the middle of the 20th century through acts of war, chaos, and mayhem. Many of FARC’s actions continue to shape the circumstances and lives of thousands of Colombians.

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Even though the former leader of the FARC, Luciano Marín (aka Iván Márquez), signed a peace treaty/agreement with the Colombian government in 2016, he and his closest collaborators have demonstrated rather aggressive attempts to return to war and relied on false promises to buy the group time for re-organization, rearmament, and redeployment. The reason for this is that FARC and its old and new members argue that their social and political rights, which were defined in the agreement, were not respected and to this day, continue to be contravened. They believed that they did not receive support and protection from the government that the agreement promised, so they had reason to seek revenge to improve their chances for a future in the country. The current intentions of FARC leaders and group members to renew the long conflict are leading Colombia to several unpredictable and unstable economic, social, and political issues and public concerns.

Problem

The peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC leaders was one of the most remarkable events during the last decade for the country. The Peace Process was characterized by the use of a planned transitional justice system as well as multiple attempts to investigate economic merits and identify the benefits for the national gross domestic product (GDP) of the country (Serrano). These negotiations promised new, better conditions for former and demobilized combatants, and much of the public believed that something could be changed in both the short and long term. However, the reintegration process is slow, and the implementation of peace has not eradicated the roots of the conflict. Flores and Vargas mention that “[the agreement] has suffered a series of seatbacks—including its dramatic rejection by a 0.5% vote margin in a referendum in October 2016” (1). The main problem or underlying issue with this is that despite the existing attempts of the government to reduce the impact of the FARC on society, unstable social relationships between different groups and classes still challenge the Colombian people.

There is a significant research gap in FARC studies because there is a lack of consensus in literature in general and there were no studies that examined multiple sources of information. Therefore, it is difficult to identify and understand the true economic challenges of the reintegration program offered for the FARC’s former participants and its possible effects. It is not enough to understand the ideology of the FARC and its relation to negations and the formulation of economic steps (Palma 5; Schubiger and Zelina 948). A new wave of concerns and social disorder is poorly investigated, and more attention should be paid to the current economic challenges of the reintegration program for the FARC participants. This research will seek to analyze and synthesize information on the problem from a variety of sources to determine common themes and study the deeper issues affecting the process of peacebuilding in Colombia to clarify its possible developments.

Purpose of the Study, Research Questions, and Hypothesis

The impact of the FARC on the citizens of Colombia remains critical and unpredictable. Regardless of the already well-known and researched history of the organization, its foundation, and missions, recent news about the possibility of the conflict re-starting ignite concerns regarding the future of the peacebuilding initiative. The goal of this paper is to analyze the activities of the FARC and clarify what hazards may emerge in the economy of the country based on past and recent negotiations. In addition to information obtained from local newspapers, interviews, and scholarly research will help to shed light on the current economic situation in the country, the quality of life, and the impact of the FARC. The researcher will fulfill this goal by synthesizing and analyzing a variety of resources providing information on the subject, which will allow identifying common themes in literature, as well as by interviewing an expert in the field. As soon as the prospects of FARC rebellions are clarified, the promotion of a new reintegration program has to be examined as a chance for former participants and ordinary citizens to be united. The financial prospects of the program remain unclear due to inconsistencies in research, and the task is to combine past and recent research about the FARC activities, reintegration program, and the future of Colombian reintegrated society.

There are two main research questions to be answered in this research paper:

  1. What are the main economic effects of the FARC activities on Colombian society?
  2. What are the outcomes of the FARC-Colombian government’s negotiation process and the reintegration programs?

To create a solid background of the organization under analysis, it is also important to answer the following questions in the literature review:

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  1. What were the main stages of FARC’s development?
  2. What were the key concerns of the peacebuilding efforts?
  3. What are the main characteristics of reintegration programs in Colombia?

Taking into consideration the evident research gap, local problems, and recent news, this review focuses on the discussion of the FARC’s past and present activities and the synthesis of evidence taken from journals and newspapers. The FARC had been a past problem for the Colombian government during the last two years, but in the last months, FARC leaders under a close relationship with the Venezuelan regime of Maduro introduced a new plan of war and demonstrated movement toward rearmament. This project turns out to be a contribution to the FARC research since it synthesizes the results taken from multiple sources in an attempt to generate objective, consistent conclusions. Peer-reviewed sources, as well as articles from reputable newspapers and government publications, will all be used as part of the analysis to create a full picture of the conflict, negotiations, and prospects. Based only on evidence obtained from current newspapers, interviews, and journal articles, it is hypothesized that Colombians (especially after the peace process was introduced) are challenged by the economic situation in the country and the outcomes of the reintegration program for former FARC members. A new stage of fighting could be an inevitable (though negative) phenomenon.

Methodology

To clarify if the results of negotiations and outcomes of the reintegration program for former FARC combatants cover the existing economic challenges, materials about the organization and its relationship with the government were examined.

Several steps were taken to search the material online, and multiple databases were implemented to gather enough scholarly sources, as well as credible newspaper articles and web pages from Colombian organizations. A Google search of the FARC organization and its economic changes was the initial step conducted within the last month. Then, such websites as Google Scholar, Project Muse, RAND, and the Strategies Studies Institute were investigated to find out what people wrote about the FARC, its history, and its current influence on society. The following search phrases were used, “FARC,” “economic situation,” “reintegration program,” “Colombian government,” “FARC and society,” “Colombian revolution,” and “war in Colombia.” The inclusion criteria were that the material was published within the last five years, FARC-related articles, and English-written sources. It was necessary to use credible local organizations and exclude blogs where personal information was offered. The resulting material included a book, newspaper articles, journal articles, and web pages.

An interview with a former Reintegration office was also held to reinforce the assessment and provide additional insight where necessary. The expert chosen for the interview was Alejandro Eder, who is a former agent in charge of the peace commission for Colombia. The interview followed a semi-structured format, whereby the initial questions were predetermined and further questions were asked to clarify the responses or consider related issues.

Results

The majority of the sources chosen for analysis were characterized by a neutral position to the FARC and its members. In general, all the materials were equally divided regarding the topics they covered, eight sources per each concept, including war intentions, FARC description, economic situation, and reintegration of society. In about 60% or 14 of the sources, the authors proved an unstable situation in the country and several reasons for returning to the state of war. In eight sources (30%), negative outcomes of the peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government were discovered. The importance of the FARC as a revolutionary organization was discussed in all the sources (100%). It was identified as an obligatory step for people to be heard (30%), an outcome of weak governmental decisions (20%), or a desire to find new opportunities (50%). The summary of the peace agreement offered by the peace commission and the Presidencia de la República (Colombian executive power) introduced as a standard to investigate expected and achieved outcomes among the Colombian citizens.

The goal of the literature review was to gather as many variable opinions and investigations as possible and create a solid basis for content analysis. As a result, three major topics were developed to outline the FARC’s background, the concerns related to peacebuilding efforts, and the outcomes of the reintegration program for Colombians. The content analysis of the literature helped to introduce several common problems associated with the topic and provided foundations for further discussion.

An interview with an expert on the subject was also conducted to respond to some questions raised in the research.

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Literature Review

This section aims at explaining the main points of the FARC’s foundation, its missions, and stages of development, as well as the contributions by leaders and the characteristics of a negotiation process. As soon as the background of the organization is defined, special attention will be paid to the economic situation in the country and the steps taken by the government and the FARC. Finally, the review of the reintegration program as a major outcome of the negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government will be developed.

FARC’s Background

The FARC’s background has been detailed in numerous sources, providing an excellent foundation for future research. The FARC was established by Manuel Marulanda Vélez and Jacobo Arenas as a Marxist/Leninist revolutionary movement in the middle of the 1960s, which focused on spreading leftist rhetoric in rural areas. The group started as a left-wing political movement and shortly thereafter became militarized and declared war on the Colombian government. According to Palma, during the previous several years, and more specifically during the ten years between 1948 to 1958, a civil war between members of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party; a period known as “La Violencia”, influenced the citizens of Colombia and much of their political thoughts and orientation (25). Palma also notes that the first squad included 48 participants who called themselves the “Southern Bloc” and organized the first guerrilla conference to promote land reforms for the citizens of Marquetalia (28). The next official meeting and declaration took place in 1966 when the Bloc was renamed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and new guerrilla warfare strategies were introduced.

In the 2000s, the FARC leaders made a significant change in their practice and quit the idea of kidnapping people for ransom purposes. According to Gurney, the kidnapping rates in Colombia decreased eightfold between 2000 and 2015. There is not enough evidence of why such changes occurred, nevertheless, it was mostly due to an increased amount of territory controlled by the state and the army as well as a decrease in the popularity of the group. Moreover, the deaths of its leaders, Manuel Marulanda (a heart attack), Julio Suarez Rojas (aka Mono Jojoy) (killed), and Alfonso Cano (died in a military attack) influenced the behaviors of the combatants in many key ways (Palma 38).

Peacebuilding

Negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government became one of the most frequently discussed topics in the country between 2016 and 2019. On the one hand, a new agreement offered a possibility of eradicating the illegal armed group and introduce it as a political party with reduced violence and hostility (Guzman and Holá 128). On the other hand, the concept of justice was questioned because, for example, there were issues related to gender inequality as well as the several concessions related to amnesty that many FARC members were receiving (Céspedes-Báez and Ruiz 104).

Another important perspective of negotiations was the willingness of the FARC to stop kidnapping processes and recruiting children (Herbolzheimer 7). The role of the government was also defined during the talking process. For example, Spencer believed that this agreement provided the government with an opportunity “to reduce the attractiveness of participating in the illicit market” and to control the transportation of drugs and other illegal substances in the country (87). The past and present achievements of negotiations are characterized by rather strong and successful intentions – to minimize the negative effects of the FARC activities and legalize the positive outcomes of the organization.

Finally, an important detail of the peacebuilding process is associated with punishment norms and liberty restrictions. Despite the desire of Colombians to establish peace, there is no common solution for the crimes committed in the name of revolution organized by the FARC (Muñoz). Negotiations failed to classify guerilla activities and explain which situations require serious punishment, such as long imprisonment, and which cases may be defined as eligible for amnesty.

Reintegration Programs and Challenges

From the sociopolitical viewpoint, one of the most popular topics studied in research was the reintegration programs applied as part of peacebuilding initiatives in Colombia. To improve the social order in the country, the Colombian government, along with FARC leaders, focused on the development of multiple reintegration programs. The main idea of reintegration policies includes the participation of ex-combatants in civil communities and the minimization of illegal activities (Kaplan and Nussio 132). An agricultural training program was also implemented and it promoted the desired reintegration of several indigenous communities (“Former FARC Guerrillas Graduate from Reintegration Program”).

However, the implementation of reintegration programs was subject to certain challenges and misunderstandings. The investigations of Brown show that many people are eager to leave their reintegration camps because they think that the program will not help them achieve the desired results. The peace process has been slowed down, and commitments to reintegration have been dramatically changed. The lack of medical services, poor working opportunities, and control of ex-combatants behaviors question the necessity of the peace agreement in the country (Brown). The examples of real people investigated by Camargo show that the reintegration process is not easy in Colombia as there is a strong relationship between illegal drug production and trade. The military captures ex-combatants and leaves unpleasant memories that cannot be neglected. Even voluntary demobilization does not prevent them from being imprisoned for at least some period. As a result, about 93% of FARC former members suffer from psychological traumas (Camargo). On the whole, the research shows that reintegration is a complex economic and social process, and more improvements and evaluations are required before the government’s programs can become truly effective.

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Discussion

Economic Effects of the FARC Activities

Based on the review of literature, as well as the interview results, the economic effects of the FARC’s activities stemmed from the continued military opposition between the group and the government. To resist governmental attacks, the FARC had to prepare its members. There was a burning need for regular training, as well as for medical services, to ensure that the group had the resources to withstand the armed conflict. Jacome Jaramillo explains that to pay for new training camps and keep their legitimacy amongst their followers, the FARC had to think about additional resources, money, and activities such as the drug trade were chosen and applied by them (55). Valenzuela also noted that kidnapping and extortion of high officials enhanced regular financial incomes, and sea vehicles/boats, as a means of drug transportation, helped to develop the necessary business relationships with other regions (208).

The government, on the other hand, had to draw financial resources away from other functional areas to sponsor warfare, which affected the welfare of Colombian society. In the interview, Alejandro Eder noted that the Colombian government spent a significant share of its financial resources on military action against the FARC and needed support from other countries. “Plan Colombia” was a US military aid program that cost $9 billion but did not bring evident improvements in drug or violence control (Mapping Militant Organizations). According to Alejandro Eder, the program faced obstacles due to poor coordination of activities in the Colombian government, which impacted the degree of control over the country’s territories.

The end of the conflict and the signature of the agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government resulted in a ceasefire and the demobilization of most armed FARC combatants. Serrano’s source investigated the national GDP points to show the economic effects of peacebuilding in Colombia. It was expected that the peace agreement promoted the GDP increase by 1-2% due to the development of the agricultural sector and the improvement of the land quality (Serrano). Other economic improvements could include the changes in foreign direct investment (FDI) and the possibility to establish new international relationships. According to the agreement reviewed by Presidencia de la República (The Colombian Presidency), monthly basic wage minimums will be increased (20). Oil exports were illegally developed by the FARC representatives during the last several decades. In essence, the end of the conflict is a chance to control oil exports. However, in 2016, the country experienced a considerable decline in oil prices that decreased the value of the Colombian peso and drove inflation (Woody). Colombia remains an economically stable country but still aiming for its development, and the search for additional resources is one of the current goals of the government.

As soon as the FARC was defined as a political party and not a revolutionary organization, its leaders faced new problems, such as how to finance their members and continue their mobilization campaign. Furthermore, it was not possible to dismiss all combatants without any clear opportunities and plans for the future. The FARC leaders stopped kidnapping and large drug transportations, which hurt their income considerably due to the lack of a stable, legal source of income (Palma 42). The humanitarian solution was achieved, but significant economic and financial challenges continue for the citizens of Colombia, as well as former FARC members as the war against drugs is one of the major reasons for the organization´s decline in their finances

Peacebuilding and Its Effects

The research on peacebuilding efforts highlights the importance of the FARC to Colombian society. Although it is associated with radical attitudes, illegal activities, and immoral behaviors, its members truly believe that everything they do aim at obtaining voice and justice (Phelan 837). Many Colombians understand that the FARC have their justified vision and mission and take steps to resist the weak government and its inability to create conditions that are good for living. Colombia is a country with rich natural resources and is located in an advantageous geographical location for developing international relations. There are many outside sources to strengthen the country’s economy. However, the inability to find out a balance between the governmental intentions and the needs of the local people (represented by the FARC) resulted in dramatic economic outcomes. Social reintegration was offered as a solution for former combatants, but the price people had to pay was higher than the government could allow.

Luciano Marín, also known as Iván Márquez, joined the leaders’ team at the beginning of the 2010s. He was one of those who initiated peaceful intentions and cooperation with the government. Márquez wanted “to be the voice of the excluded, of the voiceless, of those who live in misery, the voice of the honest and the good people of Colombia” (as cited in Phelan 837). At the same time, he believed that it was not necessary to break the ties with the past but wait.

Márquez’s peacebuilding intentions led to peaceful negotiations between the government and the FARC, with both parties willing to arrive at a compromise. However, the unsuccessful implementation of the reintegration program threatens the future peace and stability of Colombia. The recent arrest of one of the current FARC members and the inability of the government to control violence against social movements only contributed to the group’s leaders’ outrage (Jordan 16). As a result, the situation in Colombia is on the brink of another war, with the FARC ready to withdraw from the peace agreement.

Achieved and Expected Outcomes

The investigation of the past of the FARC, along with its missions and ideologies, showed that its members did not care about its moral image and the correctness of the decisions they make. Peace negotiations achieved some goals with regards to the cessation of warfare and illegal activity, and people got a chance to live their normal lives without being afraid of kidnapping or rape. However, there is a significant difference between what has been expected and what was achieved.

People believed that the peace agreement and reintegration could considerably improve the quality of living and open new opportunities (Binningsbø et al.). Women’s rights in peaceful Colombia should also be slightly mentioned because it was expected to improve the situation with gender inequality either locally or globally (Céspedes-Báez and Ruiz 100). Finally, improved access to educational and medical resources was expected in the country because people strived to change their living from multiple perspectives.

Still, today, the achieved outcomes prove how unstable and dangerous the situation in the country is. The FARC leaders, including those who contributed to peacebuilding efforts in the past, are pushing for a return to warfare today. According to Flores and Vargas, “formal peace agreements often end in renewed violence, continuing poverty, and weak democratic practice” (582). Based on research, the position and attitudes of the FARC leaders are mainly due to the lack of effectiveness of the government in achieving the requested outcomes.

The education and training of local citizens play an important role in social development. As part of the interview, the expert confirmed that the reintegration programs could be useful for people who engaged in the FARC’s activities, many of whom now lack a stable source of income. Reintegration programs could help these people to understand how they can earn a living and establish relationships that are free from violence and other immoral behaviors. Hence, the government’s intentions that drove the development of reintegration were positive. The government’s program promised to create a new rural land legal system and promote a dialogue between the government and members of local communities, including those who were part of the FARC (Presidencia de la República 7). However, as Márquez pointed out, the oppression of the former FARC members persists despite the agreement, and thus guerilla members cannot use the conditions predetermined by the peace agreement and live in justice (Casey and Jakes). As a result, other sources of income and illegal activities have to be considered by the group to make sure the FARC is ready to proclaim its concerns and obtain a voice again.

Current Issues

With several materials available online, this content analysis demonstrates what the current state of affairs in the country is, and what future perspectives for Colombians are. The FARC is on its phase to proclaim a new civil war or a revolution to demonstrate to the government its weaknesses or mistakes (Binningsbø et al.; Casey and Jakes). There are many causes of such a decision of former FARC leaders, and one of them is the inability to follow the conditions of the peace agreement and offer enough opportunities to the local people (Ingber).

The worth of the reintegration program in the country is its ability to provide former FARC members with a new vision of peace and stability. Education and training become available to people to become sufficient in such spheres as agriculture, business, and management (“Former FARC Guerrillas Graduate from Reintegration Program”). However, in addition to the official reports and public discussions, there are still many problems and concerns that make people leave their reintegration camps and find other options (Brown). It means that the Colombian government is not able to meet the goals and promises it indicated in the peace agreement.

In addition to the possibility to stop the military conflict and reduce the number of unnecessary deaths, the government has to think about new ways of development and social growth. People should recognize what they have to do for their country. Reintegration is not only education and training but an ability to cope with the consequences of wrong decisions and actions. Muñoz offered to reconsider the idea of punishment for former criminals and use them for social work. Unfortunately, the government did not find the necessary consensus with the FARC. In the interview, Alejandro Eder suggested that achieving lasting peace would require the government “to develop a truly integrated program of social and economic development for rural regions”, as it would “help to decrease people’s support of the FARC and provide them with ways of leaving an honest, good life”. Based on research, it appears that this goal has not been achieved yet.

Reintegration is an activity that requires additional financing and economic improvements in the country, although it would reduce political instability and improve the Columbian economy in the long term. The government is responsible for the identification of its goals and the implementation of interventions. The FARC has to promote peace and follow social norms to reduce illegal actions and help people reintegrate. Each party has its obligations and resources, but the government proves the lack of experience to operate in the country without military conflict. Economic instability, inflation, and no new business relations provoke new problems and challenges for many areas of the country (Woody). In addition, people suffer from emotional concerns and poor social organization. FARC leaders react to these conditions is the only available way – a new war foundation. Based on the results of the research and the interview, the only way to prevent future violence is to focus on the needs and concerns of the populations represented by the FARC and develop programs that could support the economic development of rural areas.

Conclusion

In Colombia, the role of the FARC is integral because this organization does not only predetermine military actions and the number of deaths but also indicates what can be done in society. The peace agreement signed in 2016 proved the possibility to communicate and discuss common goals and intentions. However, the current statements of former FARC leaders about the necessity to return to war as the only way to point out the mistakes of the government are the last steps that can be offered to Colombians. Many people have already suffered from the war founded by the FARC. Its illegal drug trade, kidnapping for ransom purposes, and murders negatively influence the moral image of the country and the quality of life of Colombians. However, the impossibility of the government to achieve positive results in reintegration programs and the lack of economic benefits question the need for reintegration for the FARC members as a social intervention. The FARC has already changed the people of Colombia, and the government must identify new ways to avoid a new military conflict, the scope of which is hard to predict.

The findings described in this paper demonstrate that the reintegration program has been an ineffective tool that generates additional challenges for the country’s economy and prevents the development of new approaches. The participation of the FARC in governmental decisions is questioned because current leaders plan another way to change the situation in Colombia. These findings are important because they prove the hypothesis that the poor approach to the implementation of reintegration programs is one of the reasons for economic challenges in the country. Therefore, the evaluation of current relationships between the FARC and the Colombian government has to be continued. Inflation, low GDP, and no strong international business relations are the economic outcomes of the FARC activities in Colombian society. Fields including politics, international affairs, economy, and social sciences must be involved in future research to analyze the reintegration program and define new methods to strengthen Colombia’s economy.

Works Cited

Binningsbø, Helga Malmin, et al. “Colombia’s Historic Peace Agreement with the FARC Is Fraying. We Talked to 1,700 Colombians to Understand why.” The Washington Post. 2019, Web.

Brown, Kimberley. “Why Are Former FARC Rebels Leaving Reintegration Camps?” Al Jazeera News. 2018, Web.

Camargo, Raisa. “Former FARC Combatants Face Their Pasts.” NACLA, 2019.

Casey, Nicholas, and Lara Jakes. “Colombia’s Former FARC Guerrilla Leader Calls for Return to War.” The New York Times. 2019.

Céspedes-Báez, Lina M., and Felipe Jaramillo Ruiz. “‘Peace without Women Does not Go!’Women’s Struggle for Inclusion in Colombia’s Peace Process with the FARC.” Colombia Internacional, vol. 94, 2018, pp. 83-109.

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Ingber, Sasha. “Former FARC Leaders Announce ‘New Stage of Fighting,’ Upending Colombia’s Peace Deal.” NPR. 2019.

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Jordan, James. “Former Colombian Guerrillas Rearm as Government Undermines Peace Accords.” Green Left Weekly. 2019, p. 16.

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Woody, Christopher. “Colombia Has Finally Ended a 52-Year War, but the Price of Peace Will Be High.” Business Insider. 2016.

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