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The importance of the FARC’s 2018 political campaign

On January 27, Rodrigo Londoño began his campaign for president of Colombia. Will this move help the FARC achieve greater acceptance and further the peace process, despite the unlikelihood of a political victory?

Rodrigo Londoño is the leader of the FARC, which, in September 2017 became a political party in an attempt to vanquish a notorious guerilla past. The violent syndicate gave up arms in pursuit of political legitimization in a peace process that has moved mountains since its signing in November 2016.

Colombia’s elections in 2018 will demonstrate to the world just how far the Colombian peace process has progressed, and more importantly, if it can survive. Both the legislative elections in March as well as the campaign for president in May will bring the FARC into the media spotlight.

Despite the attention Londoño has garnered, the FARC’s 2018 political ambitions are destined to fail. A Polimétrica poll from November 2017 had 1% of voters pledging support for FARC candidates in March 2018. It is likely to take years, if not decades, for the FARC as a political party to gain any noteworthy support on the political podium. This is likely to cause mounting frustration among FARC sympathizers and perhaps lead to greater numbers of FARC defectors wanting to take up arms once more – an escalating issue since the FARC gave up their weapons in June 2017.

As part of the peace process, the FARC is guaranteed 10 seats in the upcoming legislative elections. It should be noted that the group’s ambitions shoot far beyond this. The group is fielding 74 candidates for the ballots in March. As pointed out in a recent GRI analysis, the FARC’s presence in Congress, as small as that of the 10 seats assured, will place a likely constraint on the ruling party’s efforts to form a governing coalition and to subsequently implement noteworthy legislation.

While this should preoccupy the attention of investors, faith in the peace process should remain of paramount importance. The campaign of Londoño and his party is of undeniable symbolism. The FARC’s political campaign will neither disrupt the political establishment nor the country’s institutions. What the FARC campaign can however achieve, intentionally or not, is the conveyance to other militant movements that a political road map to voicing concerns can be a viable alternative to violence.

In the summer of 2017, Londoño declared: “We will continue to exist as a movement of legal and democratic character, which will develop its ideological political organizational actions, and its propaganda, through legal methods.” Other groups such as the ELN – which have been the cause of major infrastructure damage – now find themselves at a crossroads, and will see the upcoming elections, and specifically the FARC campaign, as a drawing board for their own negotiations with the government.

Why does the UN favor FARC protection?

The peace process has been an experiment in forgiveness which has, at least to a small extent, quashed security risks in many remote regions of the country. The hope is that the peace process will continue to encourage social stability and economic growth, not only in the short term, but in the medium and long term as well.

In January 2018, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as an appeal for everyone to stand behind the peace process. However, as the FARC’s election campaign now gets under way, the promise of peace has become more brittle. On January 17, two former FARC militants wereassassinated by armed men in the Peque Municipality in Antioquia Department while promoting their newly formed party.

The UN has wholeheartedly condemned the attack and insisted that the government provide greater security protection for FARC leaders and militants. The risk of attacks on FARC members will increase considerably as the elections approach, testing the resolve of all sides. For Guterres, such attacks are extremely damaging to the success of the peace process as a whole.

The Colombian government is likely to respond in kind with increased military and police operations in rural areas.

Power vacuum and dissent

A power vacuum opened up in 2017 after FARC members gave up arms as part of the compromise to forming a political party. This has allowed other powerful and violent syndicates such as Los Urabeños and the ELN to move into previously controlled FARC regions.

On October 2017, the ELN entered into a recently expired ceasefire with the government. Immediately following its cessation in January 2018, the ELN attacked the Caño Limón–Coveñas oil pipeline. This pipeline alone was bombed 62 times in 2017, causing millions of dollars in damages.

The pipeline has historically been a target of militant groups. It is estimated to have been out of service for 30 percent (10 ½ years) of its lifespan since 1986. Effectively integrating members of groups such as the FARC and the ELN into Colombian society will thus be the cause of considerable relief for both nationalized and private infrastructure.

To understand, at least in part, the failure so far in peace talks with the ELN, we must look closely at the progression of the peace process with the FARC. Negotiations extend much further than simply allowing the FARC to form a political party. Economic and social integration programs, as well as the advancement of development and agricultural projects in former FARC concentrated zones of the country, must be followed through and implemented. The extent to which these policies have been effectively carried out has been contested.

The government has instead focused extensively on militarized operations in a bid to crack down on FARC defectors and other violent groups in these regions. These operations have indeed had some immediate positive impacts on security. However, analysts predict that by not tackling core socio-economic issues, many more FARC members will dissent.

Conclusion

Private sector as well as civilian vilification of the FARC’s political campaign is not conducive country’s ongoing stability. The distrust towards the success of the peace process has been of ongoing concern for years, particularly because it disparages notions of investor safety.

However, as security concerns increase over the coming months, in particular with the proliferation and violence of other militant groups, distrust in the peace process will continue. Still, if the FARC continues to display trust in the political system, and the number of FARC defectors does not continue to grow, this distrust may begin to dissipate.

The signing of the November 2016 peace process provided the foundations for a bridge to ending decades of conflict. That bridge is far from built. Bringing attention to Londoño’s campaign is less important for the message his party produces, and more so for the possibility of both greater social and market stability in the long term.

 

This article first ran on Global Risk Insights, and was written by Anthony Tipping.