The former guerrillas of the Colombian resistance FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army) are having a rough time adjusting to civilian life after a lifetime of armed insurrection with many of the former fighters turning to criminal drug trafficking gangs with few other prospects.
The threat level both from these former guerrilla fighters and against them is high. Many citizens take retribution against the former FARC fighters since the peace treaty was signed. In the city of Cali, always a tough, crime-ridden area, the violence and death rates have risen and the prospects for a solution there seem far away.
Now, after a lifetime of fighting in the mountains and jungles of Colombia, guerrillas like Idarraga face a new challenge: surviving the city.
Retribution is a real issue. According to the Colombian Agency for Reintegration, one in 10 reported cases of violence against demobilised fighters involves homicide or attempted homicide.
Cali is already Colombia’s most violent urban centre, and is expected to receive up to a quarter of all former Farc combatants – a volatile addition to a city where criminal gangs already run rampant. While the peace accord promised each former guerrilla $6,100 for the first two years to help them start anew, large gangs such as the Urabenos have been reportedly offering triple that amount in some areas.
Idarraga says the temptation to take up a life of crime is very real for people like him who are barely making ends meet through legal employment. He spent over a decade fighting for the Farc, eventually becoming an explosives expert who commanded up to 54 guerrillas. But after the birth of his son nine years ago, he left the war for good, and now picks up local construction jobs when he can.
Violence peaked in the 1990s, when the Cali and Medellin cartels waged a vicious war for control of global cocaine distribution. By the mid-2000s, violence had dropped as paramilitary groups demobilized. Many fighters splintered into smaller groups, each scrambling for control of the cocaine trade.
By 2009, Cali’s murder rate began to rise again as desperate ex-paramilitaries and vulnerable youth were recruited into criminal life.
Colombia may have signed a peace treaty with the FARC rebels but the problems they face from the former guerrillas hasn’t disappeared as those former fighters struggle to find an identity in a world that they weren’t prepared to enter.
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