Colombia's largest rebel group will stop collecting war taxes

The leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia announced he gave the order because the imminent signing of a final peace deal with the government means there is less pressure to raise funds to feed rebel troops.
July 5, 2016, 7:00pm
Photo de José Gomez/Reuters

The highest-profile leader of Colombia's largest rebel group — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC — has ordered his troops to stop collecting "taxes" in territories it dominates.

Timoleón Jiménez, known as Timochenko, announced the move in an interview published in the Colombian paper Prensa Rural on Tuesday and apparently carried out in the Cuban capital Havana.

He said the order was designed to underline the FARC's commitment to the peace talks with the government that have already produced a definitive ceasefire and are expected to bring a final accord by the end of the month, followed by the demobilization of the rebels.

"We didn't do this before because we needed to eat," Timochenko said of the order to suspend the rebel tax. "And this isn't a matter of feeding one or two people. There are thousands of guerrillas who need food, clothing, and everything that you need to live day to day."

He also said the rebel group suspended recruitment three months ago.

Though a final peace accord now seems inevitable, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos has promised to put it to a referendum, probably later this year.

A poll published on Sunday by the company Ipsos, however, suggested support for the peace deal is currently far from overwhelming, with many Colombians still not sure what they think of peace. The survey found 36 percent of those questioned said they would vote yes in a referendum, while 25 percent would vote no.

Many Colombians have an extremely negative image of the FARC that, despite its rhetoric about social justice, is also associated with systematic extortion and kidnapping, as well as drug trafficking.

Former hardline president Alvaro Uribe — known for sponsoring right-wing paramilitaries — has become a particularly vocal opponent to the peace process.

"Santos betrayed the nine million Colombians who voted for him and to whom he promised to continue with our agenda," Uribe said in an interview in the Spanish newspaper La Voz de Galicia at the weekend. "What he did was hand the country over to the FARC."

Uribe's disgust at the idea that the peace accords will allow the FARC to transform into a political party was echoed by John Jairo Velásquez, known as Popeye, a former close aide to the late drug lord Pablo Escobar who has admitted to killing more than 300 people.

"If Mr. Timochenko wants to be in the Senate then Popeye would be there too," he told reporters. "At least I paid my years in jail."

Related: How a French woman became a Colombian rebel

Follow Alan Hernández on Twitter: @alanpasten