Thursday, December 21, 2017

Providence: Colombia and the FARC: Problems with Creating Peace

"Colombia and the FARC: Problems with Creating Peace"

W. Alejandro Sanchez

Providence Magazine: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy

18 December 2017

Originally published:

The peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia: FARC) is slightly over a year old, and while the peace is holding and violence has dramatically decreased, there are a number of issues that will continue to be a concern from a practical and moral perspective. This commentary will briefly discuss some of them.

The “Missing” Insurgents
Any peace agreement that includes full demobilization must ensure that all insurgents lay down their weapons and return to civilian life. The first part of demobilization appears to have been achieved, as the United Nations mission in Colombia has overseen the FARC’s disarmament: 7,132 weapons have been retrieved from the insurgents.

The outstanding issue is the fate of the insurgents themselves. The number of FARC insurgents who surrendered via the peace deal and are now in camps is reportedly around 6,900. One major concern, obviously, is that if the demobilized insurgents are not reintegrated fast enough into civilian life, they may feel inclined to return to criminal activities. In fact, according to late-October reports by the Colombian media, some 800 fighters have not agreed to the peace deal and continue their illegal, violent activities (the number may actually be higher depending on what Colombian news outlets are consulted).

This situation is not new: last decade Bogota brokered a peace agreement with the paramilitary movement United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia: AUC). In a scenario similar to what is occurring today, many paramilitaries demobilized, but a number went on to create narco-criminal gangs (commonly known as Bandas Criminales: BACRIM), like the dreaded Aguilas Negras. The obvious fear is that the situation could repeat itself once again with the FARC.

Peace Over Victory
Another issue with the peace agreement is an ethical one: if the Colombian government was able to successfully bring an end to a five-decade war via peaceful means, did it not have the moral obligation to do so and prevent further loss of life?

At this point, it is worth mentioning a couple of facts about the FARC: its number of fighters has drastically diminished, from a high of an estimated 16,000 in the late 1990s to around 7,000 today (not counting those in prison). Nevertheless, in recent years the group maintained its fighting power, regularly attacked security units (11 soldiers were killed in an ambush in 2015), and protected its territory while profiting from drug trafficking and “taxing” mining companies, among other activities.

Certainly, an argument could be made that, since the FARC leadership was open to dialogue, this probably meant that they saw themselves on the losing side of the war. Thus, the Colombian military could argue that the agreement was unnecessary as they could have defeated the FARC militarily if the war had continued.  With that said, there was no real indication, at least from the author’s perspective, that the Colombian security and defense forces were close to dealing a devastating blow to the FARC when negotiations commenced in 2012. If anything, the FARC proved to be adaptable, able to overcome the loss of its leadership (e.g. the controversial 2008 airstrike in Ecuador that killed FARC leader Raul Reyes) and to continue fighting. The Colombian defense forces could have, probably, militarily defeated the FARC, but it would have certainly taken years with further loss of life for both sides as well as civilians—the conflict has already cost an estimated 220,000 deaths between 1958-2012, according to Colombian statistics.

Since a government’s primary duty is to protect its citizens, and there was no clear indication that the FARC could be militarily defeated in the near future without further significant loss of life (including civilian), there is a moral argument to be made in favor of the peace agreement.

Peace Over Justice?
Colombians have also had to deal with whether the peace agreement signifies amnesty for the insurgents. According to media reports citing Colombian government data, Bogota has granted amnesty to so some  6,000 FARC fighters as of July 2017, while 1,400 have been released from prison and granted conditional liberty. As part of the peace process, the FARC fighters were (only?) accused of crimes such as illegally carrying weapons and military uniforms, not actually taking part in attacks or murders, and they had to sign documents stating that they will not carry out any criminal activities again.
Understandably, there is debate about whether individuals accused of murder or drug trafficking have been given amnesty too as part of the peace agreement. For example, there are conflicting reports about whether a FARC leader, known as Jesús Santrich, has been granted amnesty.

Certainly, the fact that most insurgents will not serve jail time (or be released from it) is a bitter development to those who fought the FARC or suffered due to it. On the other hand, it would be absurd to believe that any insurgent movement would have agreed to demobilize in exchange for its members serving (lengthy) prison sentences.

The amnesty, a minimum government salary for a number of months, and representation in congress with 10 guaranteed seats—the FARC is now a political party—is the price the Colombian government had to pay for the peace. An insurgent movement like the FARC had to have some “wins” in order to be convinced to be demobilized, and the government’s challenge has been to find a balance between how much the FARC could get in exchange for peace and how much was ethically (and politically) acceptable to grant.

Final Thoughts
The issues discussed here are some of the most problematic Colombia faces regarding the post-conflict era. Certainly, there are others, such as the fate of land controlled by the FARC and if it will be returned to its previous owners, and financial retributions to the victims of the conflict.
However, the author chose the aforementioned three issues because they provide a good overview of the challenges to peace that Colombia faces. Full demobilization is a utopia, and it was to be expected that some insurgents would continue their activities. The challenge now is to bring them to justice while preventing more demobilized fighters from taking up arms again. Additionally, we have discussed the morality of making peace with an insurgent movement. This is a controversial initiative, but if there is a reason to believe the insurgents will respect the deal, isn’t it necessary in order to save lives?

W. Alejandro Sanchez is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez

The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Friday, December 15, 2017

IPD: Brazil to Join UN Mission in Central African Republic, MINUSCA

"Brazil to join UN Mission in Central African Republic, MINUSCA"
W. Alejandro Sanchez and Scott Morgan
14 December 2017
International Policy Digest
Originally published:

Brazil will join the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), theUN announced. This is an important decision for the South American nation, as Brasilia looks to maintain a high profile in UN peace operations. This also shows an increased interest in Africa as well perhaps to counterbalance western interests. What remains to be seen is whether the 750 Brazilian troops to be deployed will have a positive impact in MINUSCA’s operations as the violence in the troubled central African state continues.
Brazil and UN Peace Missions
Brazil has had a strong interest in participating in UN missions in order to increase its international profile. In fact, the South American country had a leading role in the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), as well as the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). MINUSTAH concluded its activities this past October after 13 years in the Caribbean state, prompting Brazil and other donors to withdraw their troops, and it has been replaced by a smaller mission, the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH).
According to October 2017 statistics provided by the UN Peacekeeping website, Brazil currently has deployed 250 personnel – police, experts on mission, contingent troops and staff officers – in various UN missions. The largest contribution is to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) where Brazil has deployed 205 troops and regularly deploys a warship to UNIFIL’s maritime taskforce.
Furthermore, Brazil operates in other UN missions in Africa, such as the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO); the UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID); the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS); the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA); and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Finally, it is worth noting that Brazil is already participating in MINUSCA as it has deployed one expert on mission and two staff officers.
The South American country’s contribution to MINUSCA will dramatically increase since, according to reports, 750 Brazilian military personnel will go to the African state. On 23 November, a Twitter account apparently belonging to Brazilian General Estevam Cals Theophilo Gaspar de Oliveira tweeted a collage of photos of the multinational logistic exercises AmazonLog17 that Brazil carried out with Colombia, and Peru. The tweet explains the experience learned from the exercises “will be utilized by the Brazilian army in the UN mission that it will participate in 2018 in the Central Africa Republic, MINUSCA.”
There is no official timeline for when the troops will be deployed, but Brazilian General Ajax Porto Pinheiro has been quoted by AFP in a late November article, stating that “the timing is not precise, but we think our troops will go to Central Africa by March or April.” It is also unclear what types of units will be deployed and what exactly will be their task in MINUSCA. Another Latin American state currently present in CAR is Peru, which has deployed a company of some 200 military engineers that carries out construction and support operations.
The Future MINUSCA
The key question is how effective will the 750 Brazilian troops be towards MINUSCA’s objections, which include the stabilization of CAR, protecting civilians from attacks by Séléka rebels and anti-Balaka forces, and supporting development operations. MINUSCA’s mandate was renewed in November for another year, and it will now expire on 15 November, 2018. According to a UN press release, the Security Council “decided to increase the Mission’s troop limit by 900 military personnel, resulting in an authorized troop ceiling of 11,650 military personnel, including 480 military observers and military staff officers, 2,080 police personnel and 108 corrections officers” via Resolution 2387 (2017). From a pure numbers perspective, an additional 900 troops is a (big) drop of water in an already large glass and it is debatable how impactful they will be.
Certainly, the Brazilian military is well trained, has experience in UN peacekeeping (they just spent 13 years in MINUSTAH, not including other operations), and it remains very motivated regarding future involvement in peacekeeping – the Brazilian ministry of defense and military have repeatedly been praised for their involvement in peace missions.
With that said, MINUSCA is operating in a complex and dangerous situation, where violence is much more prevalent than in Haiti, as fighters from other conflict zones use the country as a safe haven and the famous peacekeepers’ blue helmet makes them a target. Indeed, MINUSCA peacekeepers have been regularly attacked in recent months, including in September, near Gambo, when a peacekeeper was wounded; while an attack in Bria on 4 December, “resulted in one Mauritanian peacekeeper killed and two other Mauritanian peacekeepers and one Zambian peacekeeper injured.”
Thus, there is a high probability that Brazilian peacekeepers will be targeted in MINUSCA, like their counterparts from other nations have been. This is particularly the case if they go out into the field to carry out stabilization and protection operations, not simply remain in their UN compounds – a common critique against UN blue helmets. Other criticisms have included peacekeepers sexually assaulting those who they are supposed to be protecting and providing weapons or looking the other way when a militia attacks the civilian population.
Final Thoughts
Brazil’s decision to join MINUSCA is unsurprising as the country has participated in various peacekeeping operations, taking a leading role in Haiti, East Timor and the UN maritime force in Lebanon. After the recent closing of MINUSTAH, it was only natural that the Portuguese-speaking giant would look to participate in another UN mission.
The real question is how effective will 750 Brazilian troops be in MINUSCA’s overall operations. The UN mission has been operating since 2014 and unfortunately, the Central African country remains unstable, despite the excellent work of certain NGOs working on reconciliation issues, with ongoing violence against civilians, the government and the peacekeepers themselves.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect any institutions with which the authors are associated.