Colombia’s peace accord, signed in 2016 by the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was supposed to usher in a new era of peace in a nation that had endured more than five decades of war. The deal was that the rebels would lay down their arms, while the government would flood conflict zones with job opportunities, alleviating the poverty and inequality that had started the war.
But in many places, the government never arrived. Instead, many parts of rural Colombia have seen a return to the killings, displacement and violence that, in some regions, is now as bad, or worse, than before the accord.
Massacres and the killings of human rights defenders have soared since 2016, according to the United Nations. And displacement remains startlingly high, with 147,000 people forced to flee their homes last year alone, according to government data.
It’s not because the FARC, as an organized fighting force, is back. Rather, the territorial vacuum left by the old insurgency, and the absence of many promised government reforms, has unleashed a criminal morass as new groups form, and old groups mutate, in a battle to control flourishing illicit economies.
Critics say this new cycle of violence is being fueled in part by the government’s lack of commitment to the programs in the peace deal. And quelling growing insecurity will be among the most important and difficult tasks for the country’s next president.
Colombia’s current president, Iván Duque, has pointed out that a third of the peace deal’s provisions are now fully implemented, putting the country on track to complete the accord within its 15-year mandate. But he will leave office this August following plummeting approval ratings that many say reflect both security concerns and a growing frustration with the ongoing lack of decent-paying jobs.
“This government has wasted the opportunity of the accord,” said Marco Romero, the director of Codhes, a human rights group, calling the current level of violence “scandalous.”
Some security experts warn if the next administration does not take on a greater role in curbing these militias and fulfilling the promises of the accord, the country could be headed toward a state that looks more like Mexico — ravaged by drug gangs vying for territory — than the Colombia of the 2000s.
“It’s a long way to go to get back to 2002,” said Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, referring to the casualty counts during one of the worst years of the war. “But we’re on that path right now.”