Successes and Challenges of Reincorporating Former Combatants in Colombia

By Valencia Wilson

On July 8, 2019, El Espectador newspaper based in Bogota, Colombia hosted a conference as part of the EncuentrosColombia 2020 initiative towards having public discussions of the successes and challenges of reincorporating former combatants in Colombia. Multiple representatives from the international community including the former Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) members were in attendance in order to discuss challenges for more than 13,000 demobilized ex-combatants. Opening statements were provided by Fidel Cano, Director at El Espectador and Eamon Gilmore, European Union (EU) representative to the Colombian Peace Process. Roundtable discussions and members of the panel included Patricia Llombart, EU Ambassador to Colombia, Emilio Archila, Senior Consultant for Stabilization, Pastor Alape, former FARC Combatant and now member of the Consejo Nacional Reincorporación (CNR), and Raul Rosenda, Chief of the U.N. Verification Mission.

Photo Credit: Valencia Wilson

The conference which was open to the public reiterated the importance of reincorporating former combatants who are eager to rejoin civilian life. Some of the successes include at least 10,000 members actively seeking productive lives within Colombian society. Political responsibility was one of the key points during the discussion of successes of reincorporation of these ex-combatants. Equally so, there is a dire need for each FARC leader to make meaningful contributions to the process and work towards the sustaining this government led initiative.

Events such as these encourage participation from all sectors of society and works towards building coalitions that have the potential of moving towards finding truth, reconciliation, and justice in post-conflict Colombia. The overarching strategies used have involved second generation Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reincorporation (DDR) strategies of which provide a large input into the work performed on the ground by various Colombian and international agencies towards the support of these products, services and other social security support measures for former combatants and their families. The Second-Generation DDR program shifts away from military structures and engages the community at large that are affected by armed groups and violence, whereas traditional DDR focuses on combatants that are present within military structures.

Make no mistake, that the Colombian context is unique with the application of second- generation DDR strategies ultimately working towards building a prosperous future and minimizing risks associated with stigmatization and intolerance that has caused issues within society. The Colombian context is unique, and the work performed will ultimately strengthen social and community initiatives towards constructing peace and reconciliation. It is also worthwhile mentioning that while there is a clear understanding that there are always contradicting opinions, and there were acknowledgements that although there are some that are trying to slowly dismantle the process, larger efforts have been successful for former combatants. Although, there may not be a consensus under all circumstances, it does not mean that peace requires an absence of political dispute.

While there is considerable progress there are also challenges that the government and other agencies must address. Many of the lingering challenges exist due to the political polarization and a lack of understanding and empathy within society. In some instances, a shortage of resources exists for implementing trainings for persons in process of reincorporation into these communities. Women also face significant issues with physical security and are unable to find safe spaces for themselves and their children. Addressing the labor and physical security issues for women are critical. Economic security is meaningless without physical security and with additional analysis and tools may provide the links to better support these vulnerable populations. Another extremely important challenge includes security risks of those former combatants who have voluntarily demobilized. Many of these former combatants do not have the protection required during these delicate times and it is extremely concerning when there are increasing numbers of assassinations of former combatants.

The numbers of former combatants and social leaders continues to rise. The waves of an unstable environment created by the increasing numbers of deaths of former combatants create instability and insecurity, and these waves prevent smaller ripples of hope because these actions are silencing emerging and vital voices. These voices that are being silenced are mounting and without an effective control mechanism that prevents the assassination of both former combatants and social leaders has a resounding impact on the opportunities of moving forward.

Discussions such as these hosted by El Espectador are a valuable addition to the public space and continue to improve by uniting three components which include security and support for former combatants and women, adequate care for children, and useful products and services towards the success of reintegrating former combatants into civilian life and safeguarding measures towards peace in Colombia. 

Source: https://www.elespectador.com/colombia2020/pais/encuentroscolombia2020-retos-para-la reincorporacion-de-excombatientes-articulo-868934

Valencia Wilson is a Latin American affairs analyst based in Washington, D.C. She covers a variety of themes, events, and perspectives throughout Latin America. She works as an advisor for public and private sector clients.