By Megan Janetsky PONDORES, Colombia (Reuters) – Former rebel fighter Yinis Pimienta walks through the oppressive desert heat of La Guajira province in northern Colombia, past shoddy stucco houses, faded murals themed around peace and a handful of pig pens in a camp for ex-guerrillas. The pig farming is just one of many projects aimed […]
Colombia ex-rebels grow disillusioned with FARC party 5 years after peace
By Megan Janetsky
PONDORES, Colombia (Reuters) – Former rebel fighter Yinis Pimienta walks through the oppressive desert heat of La Guajira province in northern Colombia, past shoddy stucco houses, faded murals themed around peace and a handful of pig pens in a camp for ex-guerrillas.
The pig farming is just one of many projects aimed at helping former fighters reintegrate into Colombian society which have stalled, putting strain on the political party formed by former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leadership.
The FARC signed a peace deal with the government five years ago, ending its part in Colombia’s nearly six-decade armed conflict and becoming a political party called Comunes.
But as the deal’s implementation falters, the party — which promotes the FARC’s Marxist ideals and is meant to give former fighters a political voice — is fracturing.
The peace deal won former President Juan Manuel Santos a Nobel Prize but ex-combatants face targeted violence from both crime gangs and former comrades, lack of job opportunities and the temptation to join dissident rebels reaping hefty profits from drug trafficking and illegal mining.
Some ex-combatants are seeking alternatives to Comunes, led by former FARC commanders who hold guaranteed seats in Congress until 2026.
“They represent their own interests, but they don’t represent us,” Pimienta, 40, said of the party leadership. “I don’t support Comunes. They’re just the same as all the traditional parties. Pure lies.”
The overwhelming feeling in the camp is of abandonment, she says.
Comunes senators Victoria Sandino and Israel Zuniga, who have criticized party leaders for not doing enough to support ex-combatant employment efforts and for not making the party more attractive to voters, this year started a political movement they say will address those issues.
“(The FARC) never effectively transitioned from a military organization, which does things vertically, to a political organization … that depends more on consensus,” Zuniga said.
He would not be drawn on when the new movement, known as Agrupar para Avanzar, or Gather to Advance, might become a separate party.
“This is an alternative,” he said.
The movement’s adherents say it will reinvigorate reintegration projects stalled under Comunes’ leadership, take a census of ex-fighters who have left the camps to work in cities or reunite with their families and make political decisions from the ground up.
But this is too late for some ex-combatants. Armed dissident groups led by ex-FARC commanders who are wanted on U.S. drug charges count some 2,400 fighters in their ranks, including some who at first backed the deal.
Only 28% of the steps laid out in the accord have been fully implemented so far, according to a May report by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, adding there is a funding gap of some $474.5 million for this year.
The report said political participation efforts were among the most affected by lack of funding.
The peace deal is meant to be rolled out over 15 years.
No FARC-connected movement is likely to garner much support in congressional and presidential elections next year. Agrupar Para Avanzar will not run its own candidates in 2022 but may back those from other parties.
The divisions do not bode well for Comunes’ long-term future, said Arlene Tickner, a researcher at Bogota’s Universidad de Rosario.
“There are a range of ideological positions that end up coming to the surface … that weren’t as apparent when they were an insurgent group and their purpose was something different,” Tickner said.
A Comunes spokesperson declined to comment on fractures within the party or on Agrupar Para Avanzar. Its leadership has repeatedly blamed the administration of President Ivan Duque for implementation problems.
Like thousands of ex-rebels, Pimienta moved to a reintegration zone to demobilize and begin her civilian life.
Many of the camps quickly came to resemble small towns, especially as former fighters began to have families, but residents say support for businesses and farming cooperatives meant to employ them has been slow and inadequate.
Pimienta, who joined the rebels at 15 to get away from the right-wing paramilitaries who attacked her hometown, sews together white cotton fabric for a bee-keeping suit in a nearly empty room of sewing machines, a project that never got off the ground.
She earns nothing for the work but continues sewing with two others in the hope of keeping the project alive, even as she struggles to care for her five-year-old son.
“We still don’t have any kind of steady pay, because this still isn’t profitable. We don’t have any financial support,” she said.
Others in the Pondores camp are sticking with Comunes.
Lili Guerraluis, 39, joined the FARC after her family was forcibly displaced from El Salado, site of one of the conflict’s most brutal massacres.
She lives with her toddler in a two-room house. His father, a political organizer with Comunes, works elsewhere, but she fears leaving the camp because of targeted killings of hundreds of ex-combatants.
The government says both crime gangs led by former right-wing paramilitaries and the FARC dissidents are responsible for killings.
The camaraderie she once felt in the group has dissipated, Guerraluis said, but a political split will only deepen the problem.
“We want to move forward united.”
(Reporting by Megan Janetsky; Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Alistair Bell)