How Colombia plans to turn 32,000 ex-jungle-dwelling guerrillas into useful members of society

Jack Aldwinckle reports: A bloody civil war has gripped Colombia for over fifty years. The conflict has pitched left-wing guerrilla groups such as the FARC, right-wing paramilitary groups, and government security forces against one another. Over 220,000 people have been killed and 6.7 million have been officially recognised as victims—most of them civilians. In 2003 president Álvaro Uribe entered negotiations with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the country’s largest paramilitary group, which led to its disbanding. Thirty-six thousand paramilitaries demobilised in the following three years. In 2012 Uribe’s successor, Juan Manuel Santos, began peace negotiations with the FARC, which are continuing in Havana.

Since the reintegration programme started in 2003 57,082 combatants have demobilized (pdf), of whom 47,944 (84%) decided to take part in the reintegration process. Of those, 8,916 people have now graduated from the program, which can take up to six-and-a-half years to complete. 27,451 fighters are currently part of the scheme — attending classes and meetings in the 120 municipalities where the ACR has a presence.

Attention is now focused on Havana, where the Colombian government is locked in fragile peace negotiations with the FARC. An agreement would bring a formal end to the country’s civil war and would vindicate president Santos, who has staked his reputation on the peace process. It would also involve demobilizing up to 32,000 former guerrillas. That presents the ACR with arguably the biggest challenge it has faced. [Continue reading…]

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