Farc Guns for Hire

Kathleen McCaul Moura

Six months after a peace accord was signed between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, coca production in the country is said to be at its highest level in two decades. Rafael Alcadipani, a public safety researcher at FGV university in Rio de Janeiro, says that the Colombian peace process could make Latin America less stable. ‘It has a definite impact in making the connection between Colombian and Brazilian gangs stronger and the illegal drug trade stronger,’ he told me. ‘We’re getting information from intelligence services that the Farc and the PCC’ – the Primeiro Capital Command, a São Paulo gang – ‘have been in touch. There are some particular drug routes in the Amazon where the two groups meet and negotiate. My understanding is that the war is ending in Colombia and a war is starting between drug gangs in Brazil, so retired guerillas could be hired.’

The PCC was responsible for a recent wave of prison riots in which members of other gangs were beheaded, and for what has been called the ‘heist of the century’ over the border in Paraguay. The PCC used anti-aircraft guns and heavy weaponry to steal $8 million from a security vault. It isn’t difficult to see why former Farc guerillas may be tempted by job offers. The Colombian agency for Reintegration estimates that 70 per cent of them are illiterate; civilian work will be hard to find.

‘It’s not just the PCC who are offering them jobs,’ Jeremy McDermott from InsightCrime told me, ‘but all illegal actors. Everyone wants to get their hands on Farc rebels. They are disciplined, they know how to handle weapons and equally important are their excellent ties with the communities where the coca is produced. The minimum wage in Columbia is £200 – these guys are being offered between £1000 and £4000 a month depending on rank and ability. A significant number of these rebels will drift back to doing what they do and rejoin dissident factions to restart business. It is not a question of if, it is a question of how many.’

When the Farc soldiers left the jungle, they arrived at half-finished camps; open fields where there were supposed to have been schools, running water and toilets. ‘A massive part of the peace deal was agreed on the ability of the government to provide infrastructure in the mountain and jungle strongholds of the Farc,’ McDermott said, ‘and so far the rebels have not been impressed.’

Still, ‘it has been surprising how little defection there has been up until this point,’ according to Sarah Daly, the author of Organised Violence after Civil War: The Geography of Recruitment in Latin America. ‘There is still a way to go,’ she told me, ‘but they have stuck it out through a failed referendum and a very difficult road to peace. The future depends a lot on what the mid-ranking commanders decide because if they decide to go back to crime then they’ll pull their rank and file soldiers with them … As long as there are illicit markets you will have illicit groups.’

‘If you don’t legalise drugs in Latin America, the violence will continue,’ Alcadipani said. ‘If you make drugs legal you are going to stop the black market and the killings. Right now we are only dealing with the problem militarily. We don’t tackle the root of the problem. We need to diminish inequality and provide for the poorest people in society.’