The murder of pardoned FARC members in Colombia

An idea is gaining strength in the ranks of the now unarmed FARC: it is safer to stay in the rural Transitional Normalization Zones than to return to the cities. Español

Santiago Valenzuela
5 October 2017
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Illustration: Zafaraz. Courtesy of ¡PACIFISTA !. All rights reserved.This article is being published as part of the partnership between ¡PACIFISTA! and democraciaAbierta. You can read the original article here.

Security, as evidenced by two recent murders of pardoned FARC members, is not guaranteed for the 7.400 guerrillas who have been awaiting amnesty since July. The last case was reported by the FARC on September, 10. Just two days after his release, Luis Herminsul Guadil Hinestroza was gunned down in the Viento Libre neighbourhood of Tumaco, Nariño. National Police confirmed the identity of the murdered former FARC member. When asked about the motives, the answer was the standard one delivered in similar previous episodes: the Prosecutor's Office is already investigating. A FARC statement described the case as due to the current "paramilitary expansion".

What is particularly worrying is that this happened only 24 days after the assassination of Brutney Alfonso Avila Snak, a former guerrilla member who returned to civilian life in Arauca. The murder took place in a hamlet in Puerto Jordán, where he was attacked by two armed individuals on a motorcycle. Ávila was one of the pardoned former guerrilla members who had left the Transitional Normalization Zone in Filipinas (Arauca).

The number of pardoned guerrillas killed varies depending on who is asked. For the FARC, there are five victims, whereas for the Government there are only two. The problem, however, has raised concern at the highest national and international levels. The UN Security Council has just green-lighted the second Verification Mission in Colombia which, among other things, will oversee the guerillas reincorporation to civilian life. The details of the mission are yet to be disclosed, but we know that it begins on September 26 and is due to last at least 12 months. The Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres, will personally be in charge.

The timing of UN’s arrival in Colombia is crucial, since the Constitutional Court has already issued a ruling on the conditions for amnesty.

Why are they killing them?

Beyond the specific count of the pardoned former guerrilla members who have been killed, 14 homicides of ex-combatants have been reported so far in Colombia since the implementation of the Peace Agreement. The killings have taken place in Cauca, Nariño, Caquetá, Antioquia, Chocó and Tolima. Although the government has said that there are not enough elements to determine that the murders have a single cause - such as paramilitarism, for example - it has nevertheless acknowledged that FARC members are in danger in some territories. For that reason, it has taken a number of measures, such as the creation of an Elite Police Corps and a Guarantees Commission headed by President Juan Manuel Santos himself and including the Ministers of the Interior, Defense and Justice.

The FARC fears that the Guarantees Commission might remain dead letter. An indication that this could indeed be so is the fact that the government has included so far only 315 former FARC combatants (out of 7.400) in the National Protection courses.

Security guarantees are also being demanded by families. Episodes such as the one in the municipality of Antioquia in Tarazá, where three relatives of former guerrilla Guillermo León Osorio – now at the Transitional Normalization Zone of Remedios – were killed, show that the death threat extends to the loved ones. A similar event occurred in Putumayo: two relatives of Fabián García, who now lives in the Transitional Normalization Zone of La Pradera, were murdered.

This has been studied in depth by professor Luis Trejos, from the Northern University. For him, the latest assassinations constitute "a serious threat to the peace-building process, since they show the incapacity of the State not only to guarantee the security of the FARC members, but also to stop the monopoly of violence in the periphery". Every member of the FARC who returns to civilian life, adds Trejos, "can be seen as a threat to the social order that other armed groups have established outside the state".

There are two main reasons for FARC members to be considered a threat by some: they may engage themselves in the substitution of illicit crops operations and thus affect the coca business – which is very strong in regions like Nariño and Putumayo -, or – as the FARC themselves have warned – some former combatants, who used to work with narcotic trade suppliers, know too much about the drug business: "They could reveal information to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), and this clearly puts them at risk", says Trejos.

The experience of the recent past

It is necessary to look at past reintegration processes, since none of them was free from obstacles.

Diego Sierra, coordinator of the Observatory of Human Rights and Peace of the Popular Training Institute (IPC), refers to events in 1991, when the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) decided to put an end to its activities as an armed group and became the Hope, Peace and Freedom (EPL again) movement: "How many deaths did that process of reintegration entail? The same thing happened with the M-19 guerrillas, when they turned into the Democratic Alliance M-19 (AD/M19) political party. These past experiences have motivated prevention mechanisms to be included in the Havana agreements, but the results are yet to be seen, and it seems that the government is, again, coming too late. "

Sierra mentions another example: " In 1994, negotiations were held in Colombia with the popular militias of the Aburrá Valley: 650 men and women were demobilized, 120 of them were killed. Protection is necessary”, he concludes, “so that the FARC are not victims of a similar episode".

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