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FARC’s Resurgence and Potential Environmental Impacts Image Courtesy of Ron Savage - Savage Vistas Photography

FARC’s Resurgence and Potential Environmental Impacts

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Three years ago, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government came to a long-awaited agreement to establish peace and begin working towards prosperity within Colombia. A group that was initially conceived in the 1960’s by rural farmers with the desire to fight overwhelming inequality in Colombia, FARC progressively became more of a criminal enterprise than a political resistance movement. The peace deal mandated that FARC relinquish territorial control, give up their weapons, and reintegrate back into civilian society.

During its five-decade reign of terror over Colombian rural communities, FARC was a primary actor providing basic goods and services, in addition to being the chief security authority in the relatively lawless region. Within the three years since the peace deal, new armed groups are implementing high levels of violence in their competition for control of cocaine networks, illegal mining and illegal logging – all of which have resulted in rapid deforestation.

These groups acquire territory quickly due to the minimal governance resulting from Colombia’s geography – access is limited, conditions are harsh, and circumstances are ideal for the proliferation of criminal organizations conducting illegal logging operations. The highest quality timber is typically used by the local villagers, as they lack the infrastructure to transport the valuable hardwood to a market. These villagers do not have the capacity to perpetuate the deforestation at its current rate Therefore, the most substantial loss of forest is at the hands of massive crews of workers “hired by mysterious ‘sponsors’ to blaze trails into untouched reaches of forest, where pristine jungles are cleared, burned, and later planted with grass;” said sponsors are suspected to be “wealthy individuals from out of town.” Evidently, domestic and international investors are taking advantage of the lack of governance for personal profit at the expense of the environment.

The deforestation rates in 2017 increased by 44 percent from 2016, impacting the incredible biodiversity that Colombian forests are home to. While FARC was in power, it limited logging to two hectares a year in several municipalities in order to maintain substantial forest cover to protect from government warplane raids; yet, once FARC withdrew, Colombian rebel groups and civilians cleared over 100 hectares (equivalent to approximately 100 football fields) within one week.

The unregulated logging and gold mining operations have both decimated forests and poisoned the surrounding soil and water with mercury, making the land incapable of agriculture and water undrinkable. The country’s rivers are covered in gold dredging boats called “dragas,” which mix and churn the riverbeds while looking for gold using mercury. As a result, thirty percent of the rivers’ fish have above average levels of mercury, which results in a poisoned food chain. Massive logging and mining operations have displaced thousands of community members, in addition to debilitating their ways of life by contaminating fresh water and cutting down their entire livelihoods in the forests.

Now, with FARC’s former top official Luciano Marín denouncing the government’s efforts and calling troops back to war as of August 29th, the future of Colombia’s forests and stability is increasingly uncertain. If this leader’s call to arms gains traction among the former FARC troops, the organization can become a substantial force – one of many which are now competing for resources and destroying Colombia’s vast forests.

Instability in Colombia is already perpetuated by the massive influx of Venezuelan migrants escaping the Maduro regime. FARC will face the benefit of having larger numbers of disenfranchised and unemployed youth.  Marín’s call to arms will further delegitimize the already fragile peace deal and add the smaller factions of FARC to the already sparring rebel groups in the region. This reality dramatically amplifies the conflict over resources and drug trafficking networks in the region, especially if Maduro re-instates his funding of FARC operations. Colombia will likely experience an increase in the rate of deforestation; despite FARC’s past as a “protector” of the forests, the new age of FARC is more interested in profit, rather than prosperity. Considering the recent Amazon wildfires and its overwhelming rate of deforestation, Colombia must do everything in its power to preserve its vast jungles for the sake of quality of life and carbon absorption.