Colombia: Fight Between Armed Groups Leaves at Least 18 Dead

Colombia's Defense Minister Iván Vélasquez told reporters on Monday that at least 18 people died on Saturday as a result of clashes between dissident factions fighting for control of drug trafficking routes. The conflict took place in Puerto Guzmán

Colombia: Fight Between Armed Groups Leaves at Least 18 Dead
Image credit: AP [via Al Jazeera]

Facts

  • Colombia's Defense Minister Iván Vélasquez told reporters on Monday that at least 18 people died on Saturday as a result of clashes between dissident factions fighting for control of drug trafficking routes. The conflict took place in Puerto Guzmán, about 60km (37 miles) from the country's southern border with Ecuador.
  • It is the highest death toll from fighting among illegal armed groups since Colombia's first leftist president, Gustavo Petro, took office in August. Petro vowed to bring "total peace" to the country when he took up his post, by ending a decades-long armed conflict that claimed at least 450K lives from 1985 to 2018 alone.
  • The clashes reportedly involved rebel dissidents who opposed a 2016 peace agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the government, and the self-proclaimed "Border Commandos" — a group comprising former FARC fighters and a right-wing paramilitary group.
  • Under the 2016 agreement, 13K members of the leftist FARC were allowed to reintegrate into civilian life and form their own legal political party. However, security forces estimate that around 2.4K FARC dissidents have abandoned the deal.
  • Meanwhile, negotiators from the Colombian gov't. and the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) met in Caracas, Venezuela on Monday to start fresh talks to reach peace. The development ends a three-year stall in dialogue, after former Pres. Iván Duque put a stop to negotiations when an ELN bombing killed 22 cadets.
  • The ELN became Colombia's largest remaining guerrilla group following the 2016 peace agreement that disbanded FARC, increasing its activities in territories formerly controlled by the latter group. Both the EU and the US have listed it as a "terrorist" organization.

Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters, Guardian, and ABC.

Narratives

  • Left narrative, as provided by Foreign Policy. Though significant obstacles remain, the fact that Colombia and its leaders have indicated there is hope for peaceful dialogue shows that this historically violent country may have turned over a new leaf. It won't be easy to persuade all stakeholders to reach an agreement, but Petro has already conducted more diplomacy than his predecessors.
  • Right narrative, as provided by El American. It's evident that Colombia needs total peace, but it should not come at the vast cost of implementing total impunity. Petro's plan is disastrous, as it would allow asset laundering operations to benefit criminals who should instead be forced to pay sanctions and hand over their tainted money to the Colombian people.
  • Cynical narrative, as provided by Insight Crime. Petro's "Total Peace" plan offers a general framework to open dialogue and is a step towards achieving his ambitious goal, but the strategy is risky as there is no alternative in case negotiations go wrong or if criminal groups refuse to lay down their arms. Most problematically, this proposal fails to tackle the roots of violence in Colombia and could further decentralize groups, as evident in FARC's demobilization.