In late April, the Colombian government announced it would offer benefits to members of organized armed groups (GAO, in Spanish), who want to reenter civil society. The policy would apply to members of the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish), dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish), Clan del Golfo, Los Pelusos, and Los Caparros (also known as Los Caparrapos) — all connected to narcotrafficking.
The offer will include reduced sentences, job reinsertion assistance, and economic support, with health benefits and education for their families, said Miguel Ceballos, the High Commissioner for Peace for the Colombian government, at a press conference. Ceballos will lead this policy, which is still under development.
“This is a new opportunity for members of organized armed groups who want to transition to legal life and comply with the law, so they can have a path to do so,” Ceballos said.
Until now, the high commissioner said, there were legal benefits for all GAO members who wanted to comply with the law. Other benefits (such as job reinsertion assistance and economic support) already applied to ELN members since 2003, as well as to FARC members until the 2016 peace accord.
“With regard to members of the other four organized armed groups, the national government will establish [the details] for individual demobilization of their members in the coming days, so that they can have access to benefits for themselves and their families, just like the ELN, not only during the first few months, but […] for several years as they reenter civil society,” added the high commissioner.
According to César Augusto López Quintero, a Colombian national defense and security analyst at the Military Forces of Colombia’s War College, several factors led the government to expand its benefits policy. One of them, he explained, is the need to reduce violence in some areas of the country.
“At this moment, Colombia has a big problem with human rights advocates and leaders of social and political movements being killed or massacred,” López told Diálogo. “And the way to reduce [these killings] is to try to reintegrate these members of criminal groups, with certain guarantees for them.”
According to data from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 107 activists were killed in Colombia in 2019, while another 13 cases are still under investigation.
Another factor, López said, is the international pressure for the government to resume talks with the ELN, and “this governmental decision might, in part, be related to these requests that many countries are making to resume the peace process,” he said.
High Commissioner Ceballos said that the policy only included individuals, adding that there will be no negotiation or talks whatsoever with the four GAOs other than the ELN. The difference with the ELN, Ceballos told the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, is that the group’s political character has been recognized.
According to government data, 73,000 ELN and FARC members have demobilized since 2003. It is estimated that there are 7,000 GAO members in the country. Ceballos said that between 2016 and 2019, the Armed Forces captured 4,400 members of the five GAOs.