“It implies a whole different life for us, a different regime,” Alberto Camacho, a FARC commander, told The Guardian. “We have been living in boots for so long.”
It will also be tough for FARC to extricate itself from the cocaine business, which has earned it anywhere between $200 million and $3.5 billion a year.
FARC has never admitted its full involvement in the drugs trade. It began as a political movement, when a group of communist farmers ran to the mountains to protect themselves from the government. In the 1950s, nearly all of Colombia had split into armed political factions, and the government saw the farmers’ Marxist ideology as a threat. The farmers fought back and their action gave birth to FARC and an armed rebellion. At its peak, FARC claimed 20,000 fighters. And it owes its success and survival to the money brought in through kidnapping, extortion, and beginning in the early 1980s, cocaine.
Although growing coca in Colombia is illegal, poor farmers cultivated it because by the time they transported their legal crops and fruits to the markets from their remote towns and villages through the dense forests, the transportations costs eroded any profit margin.
“But with coca,” Jeremy McDermott, co-director of Insight Crime, told me, “the buyer will come to your house.”
Two years ago, McDermott, who lives in Medellin, wrote about FARC’s ties to cocaine in an article titled “The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?” In it, he wrote FARC taxes farmers $50 per kilo of cocaine and criminal organizations $200 per kilo. It charges $100 per kilo to the laboratories that soak the green leaves in kerosene to extract the alkaloids that 1.5 million U.S. cocaine users regularly snort. FARC charges airplanes that transports the drugs from its territory, and has even shipped cocaine itself.
FARC soldiers work in units called fronts, which are its fighting blocs. Each is responsible for itself, but answers to the Secretariat, the rebel group’s governing body. The jungle is vast and the guerrillas use the small towns spread in the countryside as bases of operation. For that reason, and because of the nature of being a rebel group hiding from the Colombian government, FARC’s central command can’t oversee everything. One fear is that after peace, autonomous fronts will stay put in the jungle, having forged their own relationships with mafia and cartels, completely able to oversee the growth, manufacture, and shipment of cocaine.
“That is the ‘FACRIM’ scenario,” McDermott told me.
That term is something McDermott coined based on another armed rebel force that disbanded and turned into fractured criminal groups. They are now collectively called BACRIM, a combination of “bandas criminales,” Spanish for criminal bands. Most of the BACRIM began as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing group supported by both drug dealers and the Colombian army. For a while, the government found AUC useful. In the 1990s and early 2000s, it hunted and killed FARC members. But the U.S. later labeled it a terrorist organization—like FARC—and by 2006 it had largely demobilized. Some of its fighters remained in the jungle, and these groups now buy cocaine from FARC-controlled growers.