After nearly four years of negotiation, ongoing peace talks to end the five-decade insurgency by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are increasingly focused on ironing out details of an agreement. One possible strategy being negotiated at the talks in Havana, according to an unconfirmed report, could involve paying a monthly stipend to demobilized rebels, which would amount to a little more than $600 each month.
The Colombian government has denied that it is considering such payments, but it will likely offer the FARC leadership some degree of immunity from prosecution for crimes committed as insurgents. This could extend to some form of political participation — perhaps even congressional seats — although such concessions would not apply to the group's rank and file. So, to raise the likelihood of successfully demobilizing a majority of the FARC, negotiators are in the process of crafting some kind of compensation package. Providing financial support to militants as they leave the insurgency could play a key part in the effort to reintegrate them into society by providing them with an income not reliant on criminal activity.
Unlike other leftist insurgencies in Latin America, Colombia's presents a special challenge for political leaders. Dogmatic grievances drove most Cold War insurgencies, with militants wanting greater involvement in national politics and concessions from their governments. In El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, for instance, once those conditions were met and peace deals were signed, rebels demobilized and few meaningful centers of insurgency remained. In Colombia, however, numerous illegal activities add an economic component to the process of quelling revolutionary conflict.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the FARC, which had relied on kidnapping and extortion for revenue, shifted its business model, increasingly moving into taxation of cocaine production, then eventually into its manufacture. Then, when global metals prices climbed, the group began illicit gold mining operations. Today, the peace talks must factor in the group's extensive illegal economic activities, which form the core of the insurgency's financial security. For some FARC members, giving those activities up would drastically impact their finances. Some of the rebels' rural support base might lack the skills necessary to make a comparable living outside of the FARC's illicit networks. They would undoubtedly resist abandoning those sources of income. Even with a peace deal, it is plausible that criminal groups composed of former FARC members would coalesce around old FARC nodal points and resurge in areas of former militant influence.
But from a political point of view, that outcome would be a success. The Colombian government's primary goal when entering into negotiations with the FARC in 2012 was to end the political insurgency — not halt drug trafficking. The drug issue is secondary, primarily because it is a more intractable problem. With Colombia's extensive coca plantations supplying raw material and significant manufacturing and distribution infrastructure in place to keep cocaine flowing to international markets, it is unlikely that a FARC peace agreement would contribute to a change in Colombia's status as a primary cocaine producer. Examining Bogota's dealings with the paramilitary Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in the early 2000s offers some clues as to how the FARC deal could turn out. After the AUC demobilized, it fragmented into smaller, regional groups that remained involved in criminal activity. Colombia's cocaine trade continued unimpeded, but the threat the group posed to security across the country rapidly diminished.
The breakup of the FARC could produce a similar outcome. The AUC demobilized in stages, a process that contributed to fraying ties among the group's commanders once units disbanded. That fragmentation led to numerous criminal groups springing up across the country, composed of people formerly under the AUC banner. In the case of FARC, however, the rebels most likely will all demobilize at once. But incentives to continue criminal activity will linger beyond any peace deal, and the FARC's rank and file are unlikely be immune to the temptation of easy money.