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A new wave of violence or crisis in implementing the Peace Agreement

These regions all have in common the presence of actors of the armed conflict, including the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) (Colombian National Liberations Army), FARC dissidents, and organized crime groups known as the Clan del Golfo (Gulf Clan), among others. Coca crops planted by peasants are also of great relevance in this area’s influence. The killing victims are mostly young people.

Without a doubt, the prior is temporary and is related to circumstantial and other long-term aspects, coupled with the scarce or inexistent presence of the State in most territories. Unfortunately, the demobilization of the FARC, which meant the abandonment of several guerilla fronts from the territory where they historically had a strong presence, was squandered, as it was not retaken by government forces.

Read more: Iván Mordisco and the killings of indigenous peoples in the Province of Cauca (in Spanish).

Most hoped the government forces would engineer and execute a strategy to regain these territories and begin strengthening the presence of the state. However, not even the prior Santos administration, which dealt with the negotiation in a good manner, but was careless in implementing the post-agreement or the current administration, implemented an appropriate strategy in this sense. There lies the greatest issue.

Due to the prior, currently, in these regions, there is a dispute among illegal groups. For instance, in the Catatumbo region, the ELN and Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL) (Popular Liberation Army) are disputing the territory; in the Pacific south the dispute for the narcotrafficking routes and territory is among FARC dissidents, organized crime, and the ELN.

However, this dispute is not expressed in combats between these groups, but impacting civil communities, a little like the style imposed by paramilitary groups in the past against the civil population considering them as social support for their rivals.

These territories have seen the planting of illegal drug crops, along with the presence of organized crime groups in charge of purchasing, processing, and transporting narcotics, all due to the inexistence or mild presence of the state; in some areas, there has been a transient presence without an adequate military or intelligence strategy.

This is why the region could not develop an economy to provide life opportunities for the community and the only sustenance is growing illegal crops and again due to the lack of government presence, social regulation is governed by illegal groups, who resolve local issues and impose their regulations to the population.

Read more: “The government ignores the agreements with the communities” (in Spanish).

It is also important to highlight that the weak backing of illicit crop substitution programs, or defunding, as paradoxically, there is more international support for aerial dusting programs has turned the substitution dynamic not to flourish completely and the lack of government protection hasn’t had an effective protection strategy for substitution leaders.

When there are violent acts, the public forces come into play a posteriori, so there is hardly any support from the community, as they perceive it as transient and this makes it difficult to gather information–one of the basics of police or military intelligence–; the information from the community to the authorities is related to trust and legitimacy issues as they request more government stable presence and support.

Surely, in these regions, most people know who are the authors of the crimes, but for this information to get to the authorities there needs to be more trust and this is built over time. It’s not only about identifying and capturing the responsible criminals, but also prevent this from happening again and for this to happen, the state needs to be present in the form of judges, police inspectors, adequate healthcare and education services, better roads, and investment for employment generation, among others.

Taking the prior into consideration, there needs to be a comprehensive state presence, involving permanent public force presence, especially of special forces, intelligence on the actors of these crimes and its dynamics, a systematic battle against narcotrafficking groups, especially those who are devoted to processing and transportation–but also a social development strategy with an emphasis on educational offer and support providing options to youngsters as well as employment; also alternative development programs for rural folk with marketing and transformation options for agricultural products that will replace illicit drug crops. There have been sufficient negative attempts over this in the past, so past experiences do not need to be repeated.

Listen: During the pandemic, the killings of social leaders and combatants continues (in Spanish).

There is no doubt that there are failures in some elements of the Peace Agreement, in some cases due to budget and administrative insufficiencies or differences in style of how to implement certain programs such as the Territorial Focused Development Programs, which are infrastructure developmental programs for municipalities with special territorial development conception with a high degree of community participation and an administrative structure with management instruments and capacities.

This is what we have called a serious strengthening of the state in its presence in these territories, or State building, a task that is still pending and that has had elevated social, political, and economic costs for the communities involved.

Consejo Editorial