FARC guerrillas from bottom to top have an apparently deeply ingrained psychological dependence on their FARC-issued personal firearms as their ultimate self-protection, and this appears to be having a substantial influence on the issue of the FARC’s eventual “laying down of weapons” and incorporation into legal civilian society.
This evidently profoundly ingrained psychological dependence of the guerrillas on their own individual firearms is not surprising since it is taught to them from when they enter the FARC that their weapons are an extension of themselves, that a guerrilla’s firearm is like his or her spouse, and that it is his or her only real defense. I saw this to a large degree in the Central American guerrilla movements, but not to the apparent extent of the FARC’s very strong feeling on this.
The past decimation of the Union Patriotica feeds this FARC psychological dependence on its weapons, the FARC points out. The FARC doesn’t trust the Colombian state alone for the FARC’s security. The FARC leadership thinks that Pres. Santos (or a future Colombian president) could possibly double-cross the FARC, like former president/now Sen. Alvaro Uribe says that Pres. Santos did to Uribe, which Pres. Santos denies.
Observed “Timochenko” in SEMANA: “The permanent fear that accompanies one in this stage is that we are going to make a mistake, that is the fear. And that we don’t achieve an accord that stays well protected, and that puts at risk the implementation of the agreements. And the normal fears of any person is to arrive to a different setting. Independently, our activity has always been political, but always confined to the jungle, in the mountains. We have always thought that what’s important is to be right in the decisions we take. That is the principal fear. Because, well, the fear that suddenly they kill one, that is the fear of everyone.”
Being negotiated now is where and how FARC guerrillas will be gathered in route to the leaving the war behind. An example of danger is what happened in the hamlet of Chengue, Sucre department. In 1991, the small guerrilla group Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (PRT) of some 200 militants signed a peace accord with the government in the neighboring village Don Gabriel, during a ceremony studded with speeches of a harmonious future. “The government made promises to develop the area and make it a model for peace and prosperity. But the government didn’t fulfill its promises and abandoned it,” said a one-time resident of Don Gabriel. In 2001, “paramilitaries” with long memories entered Chengue and massacred at least 28 residents suspected to be supportive of guerrilla groups.
And there is the case of members of the EPL who demobilized in 1991 and formed an organization called Hope, Peace and Liberty (Esperanza, Paz y Libertad). Up to 200 of them were killed, it was reported, from 1991 to 1995. An unclear number of their killings was attributed to the FARC. The FARC’s late “Raul Reyes” reportedly said that they had sold out to the “paramilitaries” and Colombian security forces “to betray their own revolutionary movement.”
“When they [FARC members returning to civilian life] are back in their villages,” said an agricultural developer, “they will be killed here and there, because people don’t forget the bad things that they did.”
To address this potential of reprisal attacks, the FARC has talked of Campesino Reserve Zones, which a law passed in 1994 allows and a half-dozen have reportedly come into existence since (unrelated to the peace negotiations). The idea would be that these areas, which are designed to have campesinos develop state-owned rural land and wilderness, could put FARC members who return to civilian life and their families to work on reforestation and environmentally friendly agriculture development. But some worry that the FARC could abuse Campesino Reserve Zones to form autonomous “little republics” like little “Distension Zones,” which the FARC denies, saying that the state would have a presence.
“Regarding autonomy, this has been discarded clearly by the government delegation,” Colombian chief peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle wrote in an article published in El Tiempo newspaper April 19, 2015. Humberto didn’t discard the idea of FARC post-conflict presence in Campesino Reserve Zones and observed that the idea needs more study, but that the some nine million hectares of land mentioned by the FARC to be possibly made Campesino Reserve Zones goes way beyond the scope of land practical to develop as agriculture. But FARC peace negotiators say that Humberto, a lawyer and former Colombian vice president, isn’t a farmer and almost all of them have a farming background and that even deserts can be agriculturally reclaimed.
Whatever is decided, security has to be paramount.
Back in April of 2013, during my first trip to Havana, I asked the FARC peace negotiators about the FARC potentially leaving its weapons in some sort of custody of the United Nations or some other similar entity–which is how the issue is being talked about now–as well as receiving from the United Nations or a similar entity food, lodging and other transitional living-expenses support in an eventual demobilization and post-conflict.
An upper-middle-level guerrilla passionately, irritatedly took issue with both of those ideas back then, saying that a guerrilla’s rifle is attained through lots of sweat and blood, that many revolutionaries died for their right to bear arms and to rebel against tyranny (in the FARC view), and they won’t let go of them, and that guerrillas are self-sufficient and don’t want to lose their independence by becoming financially dependent on others. One of the other guerrillas interjected and said that “obviously” the use and need of weapons as an instrument for political aims would cease to exist in times of peace, and therefore weapons would be laid down. But he insisted, too, in the definite need for security guarantees in a post-conflict.
So, this is not like a United States soldier who is issued his or her weapon and who has no problem, nor hang-up, to let go of it when he or she leaves military service.
Whatever the technical mechanism is selected for the FARC’s “laying down of arms”—whether storing weapons in stages as benchmarks are met, or all at once, in the custody of a third party, such as the UN, in either Colombia or a third country—it should be designed to try to give peace of mind to everyone (including to those who oppose these peace talks), not only for physical security but that the accords will be implemented (after ratification) and that Colombia’s freedoms will not be violated.
And what about the Colombian military in a post-conflict? The FARC says that in a post-conflict, the Colombian Armed Forces should be reduced and that the military mentality of a “National Security Doctrine” originated during the Cold War be scrapped. The Colombian military rejects as “absurd” the assertions that the Armed Forces’ doctrine is used to repress the population and that the Armed Forces are living in the past. And Pres. Santos has said that the Colombian military will not be reduced in the foreseeable future because there are other outlawed groups to combat. Another reason in Santos’ calculus may be that reducing the Armed Forces in the early stage of a post-conflict could lead to unemployed soldiers perhaps being tempted into criminal activity, such as what happened to Central America’s combatant forces after their respective armed conflicts ended. Also, it would cause irritation among an officers corps that don’t want to see their budgets cut. What could be done is to employ those budgets for increased construction, development and civilian-support projects.