Colombia's FARC rebels have announced on December 17, 2014, that it would begin a unilateral ceasefire for an unlimited time starting from Saturday December 20, 2014. The group stated the ceasefire after killed five soldiers in an ambush. The statement was welcomed by the UN and the European Union. However, President Juan Manuel Santos rejected calls for a bilateral truce, warning this would give them the chance to consolidate the group. It is understandable President Santos calls the unilateral truce declaration by FARC as “gift full of thorns” after the FARC rebels kidnapped General Ruben Dario Alzate and two his companions in September 2014 that suspended the negotiations. The rebels then returned the General in November unharmed to revive the talks. The rebels said the truce should become a formal armistice and would only end if they were attacked.
The announcement was made in Cuba where Columbian Government and FARC have been holding peace talks aiming to end the conflict since 1960s resulted in 220,000 people killed and 5 million displaced people. If the talk between Columbian Government and FARC is successful, it will motivate other rebels to negotiate with the government, reduce national problems significantly and start to move on for other important development agenda.
How big is the FARC ?
The FARC is Colombia's largest guerrilla group and one of the world's richest rebel movements, allegedly due in large part to drug-trafficking and other illegal activities. FARC has 8,000 fighters down from 16,000 in 2001, according to Columbian military.
FARC’s asset itself is just 30 percent in Columbia. While the remaining 70 percent of the assets are held outside Columbia in countries like Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Ecuador. Columbian Attorney General’s Office also traced the assets in Holland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany. Attorney General’s Office calculated the FARC’s annual income from drug trade and other illicit activities to be estimated amounting to $1.1 billion.
Rebel associated problems in Columbian National Development
Columbia is a democratic country that has high level of internal violence from insurgencies, politics, and crime rates. The biggest left wing insurgent groups in such as FARC, ELN, and AUC operate in Colombia with big assets. FARC also funded itself with narco-trafficking, although it denies this allegation. Therefore, peace talks initiated by President Santos would include not only the end of conflict but also the eradication of coca crops. Many of the armed forces financed themselves illegally through kidnappings and coca trafficking.
Prior to the 1980s, the FARC and ELN did not pose serious challenges to national security. Only after the price shocks of commodities occurred did the insurgent groups start to become involved in crimes, mostly for financing. There was a positive correlation between the price commodities shock and the increase of conflicts or attacks as seen by James Robinson. Oendrilla Dube and Juan Vargas in “Commodity Price Shocks and Civil Conflicts: Evidence from Colombia”, also confirmed the positive correlation of coffee price change, labor market outcome, and violence. This correlation was also found in the case of oil (oil and coffee were the top two Colombian exports) but no positive correlation between price commodities and conflicts related to other commodities, such as palm, bananas, and sugar.
The increasing crime rates reduced Columbia’s growth rate from around 5% annually between 1950-1980, to around 3% annually from 1980-2000. This was directly associated with the crime rates. The explosion of crime was the consequence of rapid expansion of drug trafficking activities and intensification of the armed conflict, fueled by the rents from the drug trade. The increase of criminalities diverts capital and labor to unproductive activities.
Today’s Colombia is also still challenged with the existence of paramilitary forces. The Urabeños gang, which takes its name from the Uraba region of northwestern Colombia, controls a drug trafficking organization that handles from a third to half of the 300 tons of cocaine shipped to the United States last year, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The gang is causing mayhem in Buenaventura because it is fighting other gangs for control of the city, which is Colombia’s largest Pacific port and a gateway for cocaine shipments to the U.S. The instability in the city also caused forced displacement last year of 19,000 people from the city of Buenaventura.
The Buenaventura situation is especially alarming because the Colombian and U.S. governments have poured millions of dollars in aid into the city during the last decade to try to develop the port and give the mostly impoverished Afro-Colombian residents economic alternatives to crime.