CHOCÓ, Colombia — Iván Márquez, a guerrilla commander instrumental in negotiating a historic peace agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the Colombian government, announced Thursday that he would be returning to arms alongside two other high-ranking, demobilized commanders.
The announcement potentially dooms the peace deal, which was signed just three-years ago. It’s a heavy blow, but it’s only the latest one: Since the peace deal was signed, Colombia has been anything but peaceful.
Deep in the jungles of Colombia’s remote Pacific coast, guerrilla fighters with the Army of National Liberation, or ELN, are locked in a perpetual game of cat-and-mouse with the Colombian armed forces. Here, fighters hide out in small cells of 20 or so combatants, in hopes of eluding the helicopters patrolling above them.
The ELN has been around since 1964, but it’s stronger than it’s been in years: According to the Colombian government, it gained 1,000 new members in 2018, the year after FARC agreed to demobilize.
They can thank the government, in part, for their resurgence. A basic premise of the agreement was that the state would pick up the pieces left behind by the FARC, not only in terms of military control but in terms of basic services and institutions. But in much of Colombia, that promise was never fulfilled — so groups like the ELN stepped in to fill the void. They’ve earned new fighters, territory, and revenue as a result.
“You can try to put a band-aid on this conflict, but you can’t defuse the time bomb, because there’s a deeper social conflict that underlies it,” said Uriel, who commands the ELN’s Pacific front. “There’s political exclusion, there’s economic inequality, there are basic needs that are not being met on a large scale.”
VICE News traveled to the Colombian Pacific to check in on the precarious peace process.
This segment originally aired August 22, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.