UN: ‘major challenges’ for FARC demobilization

The United Nations warned Dec. 7 that Colombia's peace process faces "major challenges," urging the government and FARC rebels to "act swiftly" to demobilize and disarm the guerillas within the set time frame. In a press release, the UN Mission in Colombia called for immediate "administrative, technical and logistical preparations for the implementation" of the demobilization process. This comes as FARC leaders have broached suspending the process in response to the delay in judicial review of the legal framework for demobilization. The Constitutional Court is set to rule Dec. 12 on the validity of the "fast-track" legislative process for the package of laws and amendments to the peace deal that was approved lby Colombia's congress ate last month. These include an Amnesty Law that would grant immunity to FARC fighters who are only accused of "rebellion," and not more serious crimes.

Under the agreement, the FARC is  to complete the demobilization of its fighters by the end of the year—the first phase in a three-part process of demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) process. Some 12,000 members of the security forces have been mobilized to oversee the gathering of FARC fighters in designated "concentration zones" around the country. The UN currently has 208 international observers deployed to participate in the process, a number expected to reach 400 in January.

After the peace deal was approved, Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo refused to speculate on the fate of the peace deal if the jurors don't uphold the "fast track" option. "The Constitutional Court is studying the issue at this moment,” he said in a press conference, “and we have to wait, with all due respect, until they make an announcement." (Colombia Reports, Dec. 9; Colombia ReportsEl Tiempo, Dec. 5; Miami Herald, Dec. 1)

With the Constitutional Court decision pending, ex-president and right-wing opposition leader Alvaro Uribe this week traveled to Washington DC and New York, meeting with US political figures such as Rudolph Giuliani to agitate against the peace process in his country. (El Tiempo, Dec. 9)

President Juan Manuel Santos meanwhile brought no FARC leaders with him to Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony because he didn't want to "create a problem" for the Norwegian government. "They will be here in heart and spirit," Santos added. (NYT, Dec. 9)

In addition to the estimated 7,000 active FARC fighters (down from an historic high of 20,000 some 15 years ago) now set to demobilize, there are 4,500 imprisoned FARC adherents awaiting amnesty or review of their cases under the system of transitional justice. (Prensa Rural, Dec. 9; BBC News, Nov. 13)

Ongoing violence in Colombia's countryside also poses a challenge to the demobilization process. Santos has pledged action on the wave of assassinations of social leaders across Colombia, presumably at the hands of right-wing paramilitaries. An arrest was announced this week in the slaying of María Diocelina Canacué González, an activist with the Marcha Patriótica movement, who was gunned down in front of his young grand-daughter Nov. 25 in Versalles vereda (hamlet), Palermo municipality, Huila department. By the government's count, 56 social leaders have been assassinated this year, with 28 arrests made in connection with these cases. (El Tiempo, Dec. 8; El Tiempo, Dec. 4)

The government refers to the paramilitaries as "bacrim" (criminal bands) and says they have been reduced to fighting over microtráfico—trade in small quantities of cocaine, due to stepped-up enforcement. But this has hardly brought peace to their zones of operation. Local authorities say a struggle between the Clan del Golfo and Rastrojos networks left 277 dead this year just in the metropolitan area of Cúcuta, a major crossing on the Venezuelan border in Norte de Santander department. (El Tiempo, Dec. 7)