Militia Violence Continues To Displace Colombian Farmers

Two years on from the monumental peace agreement which brought an end to Colombia’s 52-year civil war, the state still remains significantly unstable. Following decades of conflict between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), local militia groups have seized the opportunity created by the ceasefire’s power vacuum, forcing thousands of subsistence farmers to leave their land and possessions behind in search of safety.

That the peace agreement did not immediately resolve deeply rooted issues of political instability that have plagued Colombia for decades is not surprising. As Silvio Mellara, a Colombian legal aid at the humanitarian organisation Perigo, said when probed on the issue, “Fifty years of civil war cannot be resolved only by a handshake and a Nobel Prize.” Large volumes of displaced persons are a trademark of conflict zones around the globe. “If conflicts were prevented or resolved, most refugees flows would disappear,” said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filipino Grandi, as he addressed the United Nations Security Council in April. Colombia is no exception: the United Nations has estimated that there are already more than five million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Colombia, on of the highest numbers in any nation.

Despite the promise of sustained civility, the Colombian government remains incapable of disseminating a consistent and comprehensive rule of law from its capital of Bogota to its more vulnerable peripheral areas. Since the ceasefire, there has been a 90% increase in attacks on civilians and over 300 human rights activists killed. This ongoing condition of anarchy suggests Colombia’s relationship with violence is far more complex than the simplistic bipartisan peace agreement would suggest. The spaces which FARC militia members occupied for the better part of a century have been swiftly assumed by a new breed of opportunistic antagonisers, whose brand of brutal thievery is all too familiar to rural Colombians.

As if their domestic concerns weren’t severe enough, Colombia is also dealing with an unsolicited influx of Venezuelans fleeing their own domestic strife. For the last few years the Venezuelan economy has been in sharp decline. Hyperinflation has made life exceptionally difficult, with the state struggling to supply its people with the most basic necessities such as food and medicine. Venezuela, like Colombia, is home to a deeply divided and unstable political environment. President Maduro commenced a second term in office on January 10, but the results of the election are fiercely debated. The leader of the opposition, Juan Guaido has labelled the election fraudulent, and proceeded to swear himself in as interim president, a claim which US President Donald Trump has publicly supported. US attempts to administer aid to Venezuelans in the form of food and medicine have been blocked as a result, undoubtedly driving more desperate people to take their chances across the Colombian border.

Once celebrated as a triumphant example of diplomacy, Colombia’s peace deal is now being exposed as a temporary solution to an endemic problem. Regional oversight, governmental accountability, and trust must be restored if real peace is to established. Otherwise, the states most vulnerable persons will remain perpetually exposed to violence.

Oliver Lees