Peace talks press on with FARC finances in the crosshairs

The search is on for FARC funds, which were raised illegally, in order to pay for the peace process in Colombia
The search is on for FARC funds, which were raised illegally, in order to pay for the peace process in Colombia

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group restarted in Havana on Wednesday, the public’s attention is turning towards the practicalities of an eventual post-conflict era.

For example, who is going to pay for it?

And that’s far from a trivial issue. With critical expenses like strengthening the armed forces and police, providing assistance and reparations to victims and shoring up public programs, the cost is expected to be steep.

[quote]”Of course they have money, but nowhere near that figure”[/quote]

In 2015, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research estimated that it could run as high as US$18.8 billion, or nearly 4 percent of Colombia’s GDP.

Understandably, there is a push in public opinion to make  FARC pay their fair share of the post-conflict.

That’s because the world’s oldest active guerrilla group has also been named among the richest on more than one occasion. Financed by drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, illegal mining and other illicit means, FARC have been estimated to take in millions, perhaps even billions of dollars in a lucrative year.

Last month, an exposé in The Economist estimated that the guerrilla group has a net worth upwards of US$10 billion, though some have questioned that figure and FARC leaders have outright denied this fortune.

“Of course they have money, but nowhere near that figure,” said Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo in an interview with Spain’s El Mundo newspaper. “On the contrary, in the last 10 years, they have had strong losses in their sources of income.”

On Wednesday, Colombia’s senior peace negotiator in Havana, Humberto De La Calle, assured the audience at the Justice for Peace forum in Bogotá via videoconference that what money exists would be used for victims and reparations.

He opened his remarks by reminding that victims have always been at the center of negotiations with the FARC and reasserted the government’s commitment to forcing the guerrilla group to make reparations.

“The text agreed upon thus far discusses material reparations,” said De La Calle, who explained that a Peace Tribunal called for in the terms negotiated thus far would be granted the authority to determine appropriate financial compensation for victims.

“The conviction of the government is that material reparations imply the obligation of all who have committed crimes to make reparations to their victims.”

“There’s an empirical problem — How much money do the FARC have? Where is it? — but the state’s tools to seize illegal assets are intact,” he said. “Not a single mechanism to recover funds raised through illicit means has been weakened in Havana.”

Other researchers have backed up De La Calle’s assertion that FARC coffers aren’t as full as they have been in the past.

“It’s a more difficult time for them since they are in the formal peace process,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow of foreign policy at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. “How visibly can they participate in their traditional fundraising?”

It also remains to be seen if FARC’s alleged holdings will be revealed in the next document dump of the so-called Panama Papers.

But Felbab-Brown also pointed out that FARC are far from falling apart, and suggested that the most trying period for Colombia will come after an eventual accord is signed.

“The real tough time will come after the signing,” she said. “But if it doesn’t come through, it would be a terrible missed opportunity for the government.”


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