Colombian Peace Deal Leads To More Drugs & Violence In Rebel Zones

By Kelly Burch 08/08/18

“When the peace process started, we saw a great future for Ituango, but now, my God, things are worse than they were before.”

farmers market in Villa de Leyva, Colombia

When the Colombian government reached a deal with the guerrilla group, FARC, in 2016, it was supposed to usher in a new era of peace for the South American nation, and transform an economy that relied heavily on cocaine production. 

However, according to a report by SF Gate, the agreement has led to increased violence in some territories as new guerrillas move in to take the place of the FARC. 

“When the peace process started, we saw a great future for (the town of) Ituango, people started coming back after many years," said Gladys Zapata, who works in a local school. "There was a lot of hope, but now, my God, things are worse than they were before.”

As part of the peace settlement, the government was supposed to come into areas like Ituango, which were long controlled by the FARC. The government promised to provide security and crop replacement for farmers who grow coca. However, that hasn’t come through. 

"What's happening is a criminal reconfiguration for the control of territory and illegal economies," said Ariel Avila, a political analyst at the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation in Bogotá. "No one counted on the government being so slow in arriving in this area.”

This has frustrated former FARC fighters, some of whom have aligned with new guerrilla groups when promised work on government projects did not come through. 

"They left us with nothing but our underpants,” a former fighter said.

The Gulf Clan, a group known for trafficking cocaine, has taken hold in Ituango, bringing in intense violence, including roadside executions. 

"We decided to continue the struggle due to the government's failure to comply with the peace accord and due to the murders of ex-combatants and social leaders,” one fighter who joined the group said. 

People working toward peace in the district have received death threats and many have left the area. In addition, local farmers who were used to paying a tax to the FARC often have crops or animals seized by the new group without compensation.

"I want to get out of this hell," said a woman whose 18-year-old son had been murdered. 

In the meantime, without efforts to eradicate coca, cocaine production continues to surge. Last year, officials warned of a “tidal wave” of cocaine coming into the U.S., noting that Colombia was producing more cocaine than ever before. The drug is increasingly being laced with synthetic opioids like fentanyl, officials report, making it even more dangerous for users. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.