FARC peace ac­cord starts to un­ravel

Rebels sur­ren­der few weapons, use con­ces­sions to ex­pand coca

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARTIN AROSTEGUI

Se­nior U.S. of­fi­cials fear that the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment is los­ing con­trol of the land­mark peace process ini­ti­ated last year with left­ist FARC rebels, with ques­tions of whether the rebels are hon­or­ing prom­ises to dis­arm while their il­licit drug trade grows.

Ac­cord­ing to the agree­ment ne­go­ti­ated be­tween Colom­bian Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos and FARC leader Ivan Mar­quez in Novem­ber, the guer­ril­las were sup­posed to dis­arm in six months and work jointly with the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment to erad­i­cate coca crops that are the base prod­uct for co­caine, their main source of rev­enue.

Three months into the agree­ment’s im­ple­men­ta­tion, the guer­ril­las have sur­ren­dered what crit­ics say is a to­ken num­ber of weapons while the pro­duc­tion of coca has sky­rock­eted from 63,000 hectares in 2013 to 188,000 last year. An­a­lysts at­tribute the rise to con­ces­sions that the FARC has ob­tained through the peace process.

“FARC con­tin­ues to be one of the world’s largest drug traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions and an or­gan of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism,” U.S. Am­bas­sador to Colom­bia Kevin Whit­taker said af­ter high-level dis­cus­sions in Bo­gota last month be­tween Colom­bian and U.S. anti-drug of­fi­cials, who said that cut­ting off as­sis­tance is be­ing con­sid­ered as part of an over­all 37 per­cent re­duc­tion in for­eign aid.

Pres­i­dent Obama backed the peace process by try­ing to delist

the FARC as a ter­ror­ist group to fa­cil­i­tate an agree­ment. He ear­marked $450 mil­lion for fis­cal 2017 to un­der­write the deal, and his sec­re­tary of state, John F. Kerry, pub­licly met with FARC lead­ers.

But Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son jolted ob­servers in both coun­tries when he ex­pressed am­biva­lence about the peace deal, which helped earn Mr. San­tos a No­bel Peace Prize in De­cem­ber. In his Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, Mr. Tiller­son said he wanted to re­view the de­tails of the peace agree­ment and “de­ter­mine the ex­tent to which the United States should con­tinue to sup­port it.”

The State De­part­ment’s Bu­reau for In­ter­na­tional Nar­cotics and Law En­force­ment, in a March re­port, at­trib­uted Colom­bia’s “dra­matic” in­crease in co­caine pro­duc­tion to “re­duced erad­i­ca­tion op­er­a­tions in ar­eas con­trolled by the FARC to lower the risk of armed con­flict as the par­ties ne­go­ti­ated a fi­nal peace ac­cord.”

The re­port also said that the FARC had urged grow­ers to plant more coca “in the be­lief that the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment’s post-peace ac­cord in­vest­ments and sub­si­dies will fo­cus on re­gions with the great­est quan­tity of coca.”

For­mer U.S. drug czar Barry McCaf­frey said in Bo­gota last month that the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment had mis­cal­cu­lated in its ne­go­ti­a­tions with the FARC.

Colom­bian of­fi­cials have told The Wash­ing­ton Times that they are con­fi­dent that the FARC will col­lab­o­rate with the gov­ern­ment’s stated plans to erad­i­cate 100,000 hectares of new coca next year be­cause “they will un­der­stand that it’s in their best in­ter­est. They are not stupid.”

An­a­lysts say that ri­val guer­rilla groups and crim­i­nal gangs are fill­ing the vac­uum left in some coca grow­ing re­gions by FARC units that are de­mo­bi­liz­ing to com­ply with the peace agree­ment.

Cut­backs in mil­i­tary spend­ing have re­duced the Colom­bian army’s abil­ity to se­cure those ar­eas, de­fense an­a­lysts say.

The skep­ti­cism in the U.S. is mir­rored by stillpow­er­ful con­ser­va­tive par­ties in­side Colom­bia. Al­varo Uribe, Mr. San­tos’ pre­de­ces­sor as pres­i­dent, has emerged as a fierce critic of the peace agree­ment, lead­ing the cam­paign that helped de­feat the pop­u­lar ref­er­en­dum on the deal in De­cem­ber. Less than two months later, how­ever, Congress rat­i­fied a slightly re­vised ver­sion of the agree­ment.

Mr. Uribe and his sup­port­ers point to the surg­ing coca pro­duc­tion and the po­lit­i­cal im­mu­nity be­ing of­fered to top FARC lead­ers as rea­sons to op­pose the deal. With crit­i­cal na­tional elec­tions set for next year, Mr. Uribe helped or­ga­nize a huge “an­ti­cor­rup­tion” rally in Bo­gota last week that many said was ac­tu­ally tar­geted at the peace deal.

Seek­ing the guns

The Colom­bian gov­ern­ment says 7,000 FARC fight­ers are sup­posed to lay down their arms. Sixty per­cent of them have con­gre­gated at 23 “con­cen­tra­tion zones” un­der the su­per­vi­sion of U.N. peace­keep­ers, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial spokes­men. But there are se­ri­ous doubts that the FARC in­tends to dis­man­tle its arse­nal.

Colom­bian de­fense of­fi­cials say that fewer than 200 ri­fles have been sur­ren­dered so far and the FARC’s es­ti­mate of the num­ber of weapons it plans to give up keeps chang­ing. When de­mo­bi­liza­tion be­gan at the start of the year, the group an­nounced that it would be hand­ing in 14,000 ri­fles. Guer­rilla lead­ers are now talk­ing about re­lin­quish­ing half that num­ber.

Mr. Mar­quez, the FARC leader, said the size of group’s arse­nal is a se­cret be­tween his group and the United Na­tions.

Juan Car­los Pin­zon, a for­mer Colom­bian de­fense min­is­ter un­der Mr. San­tos and now Bo­gota’s am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton, told The Wash­ing­ton Times in an in­ter­view last week that he was not aware of any of­fi­cial es­ti­mate of the FARC’s fire­power. Mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence sources cal­cu­late that the num­ber of weapons is be­tween 30,000 and 40,000, ac­quired dur­ing decades of arms deals fi­nanced with drug money that in­volved pur­chases of as many as 60,000 ri­fles at a time.

In 2013, the FARC bought over 15,000 ri­fles and machine guns from Rus­sian arms deal­ers, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Southern Com­mand, as well as 200 por­ta­ble anti-air­craft mis­siles, 500 anti-tank rock­ets and 2 mil­lion rounds of am­mu­ni­tion.

The peace agree­ment al­lows the FARC to keep some of its weapons to arm a se­cu­rity force to pro­tect its lead­ers. Some FARC lead­ers would be run­ning for of­fice, while oth­ers would be un­der pro­vi­sional house ar­rest in ru­ral ar­eas that the group con­trols.

The rebel group is al­ready re­fus­ing to al­low gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to en­ter ar­eas des­ig­nated as guer­rilla “con­cen­tra­tions zones” in the peace ac­cords.

The FARC’s pro­tec­tion net­work could also ex­tend to rank-and-file guer­ril­las re­turn­ing civil­ian life in ur­ban ar­eas, said Ro­man Or­tiz, a Colom­bian se­cu­rity an­a­lyst. He raises the pos­si­bil­ity that the FARC could turn into an armed po­lit­i­cal party.

“It’s a pretty dan­ger­ous when you le­git­imize a ter­ror group with a lot of fund­ing from crime and nar­co­traf­fick­ing and a lot of guns to join the po­lit­i­cal process,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. The Florida Repub­li­can has called for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to trace what could be bil­lions of dol­lars in hid­den FARC as­sets.

Roger Nor­iega, who served as as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for West­ern Hemi­sphere af­fairs in the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, also ex­presses doubts about the good faith of the guer­ril­las as the peace deal is im­ple­mented.

“FARC has a strat­egy to take power by com­bin­ing vi­o­lence with po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion and has sig­nif­i­cant re­sources from drug traf­fick­ing and other il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity to mount a se­ri­ous far-left chal­lenge,” said Mr. Nor­iega, now a vis­it­ing fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute. “The only way to sal­vage Colom­bia’s peace process is by repa­tri­at­ing their money to fi­nance a gov­ern­ment-backed in­te­gral de­vel­op­ment pro­gram.”

Colom­bia’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, Nestor Humberto Martinez, has said that his gov­ern­ment is search­ing for the FARC’s hid­den as­sets.

“We wel­come them into democ­racy, but with­out re­sources from nar­co­traf­fick­ing, kid­nap­ping and ex­tor­tion,” Mr. Martinez said. The gov­ern­ment has seized about $500 mil­lion in il­licit as­sets, the at­tor­ney gen­eral said.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve that a lot of the FARC’s money is be­ing held out­side of Colom­bia. A for­mer CIA op­er­a­tive who spe­cial­izes in as­set re­cov­ery says the FARC laun­dered most of its drug money through Cuba, which hosted the peace ne­go­ti­a­tions and is a guar­an­tor of the ac­cord.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

TOO FEW: March 1 was the dead­line for the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia to turn over 30 per­cent of its arms to Colom­bian au­thor­i­ties, but crit­ics say only a to­ken num­ber have been sur­ren­dered.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“FARC con­tin­ues to be one of the world’s largest drug traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions and an or­gan of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism,” U.S. Am­bas­sador to Colom­bia Kevin Whit­taker said af­ter high-level dis­cus­sions in Bo­gota.

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