Key members of Colombia’s FARC guerrillas say peace has failed, call for armed revolution

Prominent members of Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, including Iván Márquez, center, say they are relaunching the group that demobilized after a 2016 peace deal.
Prominent members of Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, including Iván Márquez, center, say they are relaunching the group that demobilized after a 2016 peace deal. Cortesía

Colombian President Iván Duque said the full weight of the nation’s military will be brought to bear on the high-profile commanders of the now defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who announced in a video that they are relaunching Latin America’s largest and bloodiest guerrilla army.

In a televised statement, Duque put a bounty of almost $900,000 on former FARC commanders who announced in a video released Thursday that a 2016 peace deal had failed and that it was time to take up arms again.

“Colombians must understand that we are not witnessing the birth of a new guerrilla movement but the threats of a narco-terrorist criminal gang that counts on the safe harbor and support of [Venezuelan] dictator Nicolás Maduro,” Duque said. “Let’s not fall into the trap of those who disguise their criminal activities by hiding behind false ideology.”

In the video, Iván Márquez, the FARC’s former No. 2 and the group’s chief peace negotiator, said the group had “begun again” and will use weapons and force to take on corruption and the failings of the state.

He also said the movement’s “strategic goal” is “peace in Colombia with social justice, democracy, sovereignty and decorum.”

In the 32-minute video, Márquez appears alongside two other prominent dissidents of the FARC’s high command: Jesús Santrich and Hernán Dario Velásquez, better known as El Paisa.

Surrounded by armed men, Márquez said the FARC’s rebirth “is the continuation of the guerrilla struggle, [and] in response to the state’s betrayal of the peace agreement [signed] in Havana.”

Márquez, who last year abandoned the senate seat he was given as part of the peace process, said he was speaking from Inírida, in the jungles of southeastern Colombia, near the border with Venezuela and Brazil.

The FARC was initially founded in 1964 and grew to become the region’s largest and most effective guerrilla army, controlling many of the drug routes out of the South American nation. In the process, the guerrillas were key players in a half-century struggle that left more than 220,000 dead.

Márquez said the group will not resume its one-time practice of kidnapping. Instead, it will “prioritize dialogue with business owners, ranchers, merchants and the wealthy people of the country so that they contribute to the progress of rural and urban communities.”

However, he said the group will resume extorting those involved in illegal trades — such as narcotrafficking and illegal mining — as well as multinational companies that “pillage our resources.”

The new group’s objective is not to go after the military or police who are doing their job, Márquez said, “but the elite, corrupt, criminal and violent oligarchy.”

The FARC and the government negotiated a hard-fought peace deal in Havana from 2012-16, and when it was signed it was hailed around the world and won then-President Juan Manuel Santos the Nobel Peace Prize. In exchange for the guerrillas turning in their weapons and becoming a political party, the government offered reduced sentences that didn’t include jail time. It also promised sweeping reforms and investments to help the rural poor.

The FARC says those promises were broken. In addition, the systematic murders of hundreds of social leaders have also created tensions. Márquez said more than 150 former FARC members have been killed since they “naively laid down their weapons in exchange for nothing.”

Last year, Colombia detained Santrich — also a one-time negotiator — and threatened to extradite him to the United States on drug charges. The FARC had argued that his arrest was a violation of the peace deal. When Santrich was released from prison, he disappeared — only to reemerge Thursday.

Former rebel leader Seuxis Hernandez, also known as Jesús Santrich, makes the victory sign from a balcony of the FARC party headquarters after he was freed from his second detention in connection with a drug case, as rebel leader Pablo Catatumbo waves, in Bogotá, Colombia, on May 30, 2019. Colombia’s Supreme Court decided that the former FARC peace negotiator, who is accused of conspiring to ship cocaine to the U.S., should be released and determined that his case is part of that court’s jurisdiction because of his post as a legislator. Fernando Vergara AP

The government says factions of the FARC continue to run drug-trafficking operations, and Colombia’s coca production soared in the wake of the peace pact.

In a tweet, Santos defended the deal he helped broker, which has brought down the homicide rate in the South American nation.

“90 percent of the FARC are still with the peace process, we have to hold up our end of the bargain,” he wrote. “To the deserters — we must fight them with all our force. The battle for peace can’t be stopped!”

Sen. Alvaro Uribe, a former president and longtime critic of the Santos peace deal, also called on the government to capture the FARC commanders.

“We have to catch those bandits wherever they are,” he wrote on Twitter, “and recover the economy and deepen our social policies. This country needs us to have a strong hand against these bandits.”

But many in the international community said all sides need to mobilize to protect the peace deal.

“I think it’s important that all those who are directly involved in the peace process reaffirm their commitment to the process,” said United Nations spokesman Stéphane Dujarric. “The courageous decision to lay down arms was the right, historic decision. We need to move forward to ensure peace and stability for all the people of Colombia.”

While the vast majority of FARC members did demobilize, there have been dissident groups from the beginning. It’s unclear now whether their ranks will be bolstered by the support of such well-known and influential leaders as Márquez, Santrich and El Paisa. But Márquez said the FARC would seek alliances with another guerrilla group — the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Both the FARC and the ELN are considered terrorist groups by Washington and Colombia.

Rodrigo Londoño, who had been the commander of the FARC when the group demobilized and is now a senator, said there was no turning back the peace deal.

“Not one step back when it comes to peace,” he wrote on Twitter Thursday. “The objective of the vast majority is peace for Colombia.”