PARES  (Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation)

On August 7, 2022, Gustavo Petro was inaugurated as President of Colombia, in the midst of a country marked by armed violence and the strengthening of armed groups organized during the administration of Iván Duque. To approach this situation, the Petro administration proposed the Total Peace Statute, 2272 of 2022, seeking access to those groups. However, with the completion of the administration’s first year, you could see certain failures in the guarantee of what ‘s called “human security”, because of the growth and activity of the armed groups in different regions, and of the limited governmental response in dealing with the violence in the countryside.

To evaluate the state of the “Total Peace” policy in the administration’s first year, we have identified four key aspects. First, there is a characterization of the organized armed groups that are operating in Colombia now. Next, we analyze the advances and the backtracking in the “Total Peace” process, recognizing achievements in obtaining access to some armed groups, but also identifying unfavorable aspects during the first year of the administration. Finally, we suggest lines of effort and messages focused on the importance of confronting not only the achievements but also the challenges identified, taking relevant and appropriate measures in the face of a second year of the Gustavo Petro administration.

Organized armed groups in the first year of the Gustavo Petro administration

  1. National Liberation Army (ELN)

The National Liberation Army (ELN) is now the last active guerilla group in Latin America, and has become very relevant to the political agenda after the Peace Agreements signed in 2016 with the FARC-EP. In spite of having made six attempts to reach peace with the Colombian government, the ELN has been perceived as a complicated and uncertain guerrilla group as far as establishing pathways to negotiation in the conflict goes. In recent years, it has strengthened its territorial control, expanding not only in Colombia but also on the Venezuela border, even reaching states beyond the border. According to Pares records, the ELN has increased its presence in Colombia, going from 115 municipalities in 2018 to 215 municipalities in 2023. In addition, it’s estimated that it has some 5,900 combatants[1], of whom approximately 950 are in Venezuela[2].

The ELN, as a guerrilla federation, has a territorial presence differentiated by autonomous war fronts in every region, but a national cohesion under concepts like the Central Command and the National Direction. Their strengthening and expansion were accelerated after the breakdown in dialogs in 2019 because of the attack on the School for Cadets in Bogotá and the insufficient response by the Iván Duque administration in the area of security and strategy for peace.

EMC Central Command

The Central Command (EMC) originated from the First Front of the FARC-EP. The First Front did not sign the Peace Agreement in November 2016. The first commander of this dissident group was alias “Gentil Duarte”, who was killed in May 2022. After that, and until the present, the group is commanded by alias “Iván Mordisco”, who has also been commander-in-chief of the First Front since the Peace Agreements were signed in Havana. The EMC is the largest faction of the FARC dissidents; they are operating in 166 municipalities in 22 departments, which is 47 more municipalities than in 2022[3].

This increase in territory is based on two principal factors. First, they increased their footprint, with approximately 3,480 members, 2,140 carrying weapons, and 1,330 in their networks of support. And second, they consolidated territory in departments like Cauca, Norte de Santander, Arauca, Putumayo, Valle del Cauca, and Antioquia. That has allowed them to expand to a greater number of municipalities. Their increase in presence is also related to a repertoire of armed actions against other groups, such as the ELN, the Clan del Golfo, and the Segunda Marquetalia, thus consolidating their control.

In Argelia, Cauca Department, there have been constant combats between the Coordinated Western Command (CCO in Spanish) which is a faction of the EMC, against the Segunda Marquetalia in alliance with the ELN. Another armed dispute they are having right now is the one in Arauca between the Tenth Front and the Domingo Laín Front of the ELN. In Antioquia (in the Northern and Northeastern subregions) there are also confrontations between the Eighteenth Front and the Thirty-sixth Front against the Clan del Golfo, and in the region of Bajo Putumayo, there have been armed actions between the Carolina Ramírez Front of the EMC and the Bolivarian Border Commandos of the Segunda Marquetalia.

The other dissident faction of the FARC-EP is the Segunda Marquetalia, a grouping led by alias “Iván Márquez”. It has gone through different contrasts in its presence and territorial control since it was put together in 2019[4].

As mentioned above, its counterpart, the EMC, has broad territorial influence and a large number of members. In this order, we point out that right now the Segunda Marquetalia has territorial influence in 55 municipalities (six fewer than in 2022) and according to military intelligence sources, it is made up of nearly 1,650 members (1,050 armed men and 600 people in its support networks.)

The territorial influence of the Segunda Marquetalia is concentrated principally in departments in the country’s southwest, such as Nariño, by the Oliver Sinisterra Front, the United Guerrillas of the Pacific, People of Order, and the Alfonso Cano Western Bloc, among others. In Putumayo, with the Bolivarian Border Commandos, and in Cauca, with the Diomer Cortes Front and the Sixth Commission; they also have an important presence in Caquetá, with the Fernando Díaz Company, and in Meta Department, with the Vladimir Stiven Mobile Column.

Different from this positioning in that part of the country, their territorial presence in eastern Colombia is almost nonexistent, perhaps because of the marked presence of not just the EMC, but also the ELN in departments like Norte de Santander, Arauca, Guaviare, and Vichada. Thus, the same intelligence report mentioned above states that this group has lost its armed presence in the Apure and Amazonas states in Venezuela[5].

Clan del Golfo

Right now the Clan del Golfo is the criminal structure with the largest territorial extension in the country. Pares’ most recent research shows the progressive expansion of this armed group, having encroachment in 270 municipalities in the country, distributed in 20 departments. That means they are the principal threat to stability and public order, and to the defense of human rights in the country. According to intelligence information, the Clan del Golfo now has 3,500 troops in its ranks. Of those, 2,100 work in intelligence and support networks.

In departments like Antioquia, where the Clan del Golfo has taken hegemonic presence, there is now an armed dispute with the Darío Ramírez Front of the ELN in the subregion of Bajo Cauca and Northeast. The dispute extends as far as southern Bolívar in municipalities like Simití and Bolívar, while in the northern subregion they are pushing disputes with the 18th and 36th Fronts of the EMC. In the case of the Colombian Caribbean, the Clan del Golfo has achieved a strong consolidation in departments like Córdoba, as well as in the region of Montes de María[6] where they are advancing with powerful control and regulation of social order. This implies more violent disciplining of the people, confinement, and selective homicides.

In Norte de Santander there is an escalated increase near the rural area of Cucutá beginning in 2020 in alliance with Los Rastrojos, who fell back after their dispute with the ELN[7].

In Santander they are also demonstrating more forceful control, reflected in the armed actions against environmental leaders. In the Colombian Pacific this gang is winning the battle with the ELN in the department of Chocó, as they retreat as far as Medio San Juan and Bajo San Juan. Battles have been transferred to Bajo Calima, in the District of Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca Department. In contrast with that, in departments like Cauca and Nariño, they have almost no presence, because of the complete control by the EMC, the Segunda Marquetalia, and the ELN.

In spite of the systematic hits against their leaders, the Clan del Golfo has been able to take control in what you might call a Criminal Holding. Different from the other type of associations that operate and exercise violence, they are able to assemble or disassemble other violent groups who could have different orientations or who participate in different economies, legal like the control of some commercial sectors, or illegal like mining and drug trafficking, and directly criminal, like extortion, and sex trafficking, or trafficking of migrants.

Clearly, the control over other groups that are smaller is carried out by investment, subjection, or punishment where there is lack of discipline, or competition. The Clan del Golfo possesses rank and decision-making power, makes the lion’s share of strategic decisions, gets the biggest share of earnings, but shares and gives freedom to their associates to obtain the earnings that are specific to them. They don’t involve themselves totally in the production of goods and services, but they guarantee territorial control to control their development, and use violence as a priority mechanism of control of any goal of theirs or of their associates.

The Clan del Golfo doesn’t just have the say-so in the value chain of the drug traffic and of the income from mining but rather it has been able to intervene in the economic enclaves of lumbering, fishing, and even getting into the cryptocurrency business in the most sophisticated manner.

The Pluses of “Total Peace”

Plus #1: The Peace Process With the ELN       

The current process of dialog with the ELN has made significant progress toward a sustainable peace. Different from previous attempts, this process uses a ceasefire framed in a protocol aimed at continuity. The focus on participation has led to the creation of a National Committee on Participation, a System for Monitoring and Verification, and a channel for communication represented by the UN. This involves civil society in the prevention of armed incidents and in warning of possible violations of the ceasefire. These mechanisms and the participation of society are outstanding elements in the negotiations with the ELN, opening a possibility for political participation without resorting to weapons.

Plus # 2: Consolidation of the Approaches to Negotiation With the Central Command

During the first year of the Gustavo Petro administration, they made progress in approaches to the establishment of a Dialog Table with the Central Command (EMC), adding to the negotiations now going forward with the ELN. The purpose of that Table would be to agree on a bilateral and temporary ceasefire with the EMC at the national level, looking to de-escalate the confrontations among armed groups in regions where they are in dispute. It is hoped that this Table could collect what was learned from the previous dialogs with the FARC-EP, to tone down the armed actions and focus on political issues within the framework of the “Total Peace” Law. The participation of civil society and of the EMC, a group with different factions distributed in the countryside, will be key aspects in the traveling methodology of the Table. The preliminary phase has already begun with the designation of delegations by the government and by the EMC.

Plus #3: Reduction of Attacks on the Armed Forces

One of the principal victories of “Total Peace” under the Gustavo Petro administration has been the reduction of violence against the Armed Forces, partly because the armed groups like the Clan del Golfo announced a unilateral ceasefire for their own actions. Although there was an uptick in December, in January of 2023 they were able to mitigate the increase and maintain lower levels of violence. The implementation of ceasefire policies has contributed to maintaining the positive tendency in the reduction of attacks on the Armed Forces.

In monitoring by Pares, we observed a diminution of 52% of attacks on the Armed Forces during the first five months of 2023, in comparison with the same period in the previous year, a reduction from 80 attacks to 38. Groups like the Clan del Golfo and the Central Command reduced their activities by more than 80%, thanks to the ceasefire decrees issued by the government. However, the ELN has maintained a persistent tendency with respect to the previous year, having been responsible for approximately 73% of the attacks registered in the same period. That is because the ELN did not follow the bilateral ceasefire decree issued by the government, which created tensions in the process of installing the dialog tables in México[8].

The Minuses of “Total Peace”

Minus # 1: Gaps in the Socio-Legal Dialog With Criminal Organizations

The policy of “Total Peace” is confronting a significant obstacle because of the stalled process with the Clan del Golfo. The conceptual disagreements between the administration and this gang of criminals has made dialog difficult, as the administration has not given them political status because of their connections with organized crime. The High Commissioner for Peace has expressed the intention of approaching the Clan del Golfo with a socio-legal dialog based on a bill that would require them to submit to the legal system, but their representatives have shown their displeasure at not having participated in the drafting of the bill.

Recently the Clan del Golfo requested political recognition and a system of transitional justice for setting their penalties, which appears improbable in the current context. That situation makes it hard to find a system that would permit their effective participation in the policies of “Total Peace”, balancing the demands of justice and the expectations of the organization for a system of legal benefits. In addition, they want equal treatment in comparison with other armed organizations like the ELN and the EMC, given their size and the humanitarian implications that their actions have created in the country.

Minus # 2: The Destiny of the Segunda Marquetalia

The role of the Segunda Marquetalia in the policy of “Total Peace” is uncertain, as the administration has not yet defined how they will connect with this dissident faction. Some voices close to the administration are looking for a legal solution to bring them to negotiations, arguing the entrapment that led to the desertion of alias “Jesús Santrich” and other guerrilla commanders in this faction. However, leading them to negotiations presents difficulties, as some of their leaders took part in the Peace Agreement signed in 2016, and their desertion does not guarantee their treatment as political actors or their right to participate in the transitional justice systems established in that Agreement[9].

Recently, the United Nations designated Antonia Urrejola to investigate the entrapment that originated this armed faction. This could place a new focus on the approaches to “Total Peace” with this group[10]. In addition, an audio of alias “Iván Márquez” was discovered. He had been believed dead, and he would be the only political figure representative of this group for the “Total Peace” dialogs[11]. The situation with the Segunda Marquetalia continues to be complicated and needs a clear map by the administration to define their participation in the “Total Peace” policy.

Minus # 3: The Violence is Unceasing

Although a temporary bilateral ceasefire was initiated with the ELN to diminish the violence against the population in the areas where they operate, the assessment of the first year of the Gustavo Petro administration with regard to violence is bittersweet. We have seen no significant diminution in the statistics on human rights violations, like the murders of social leaders, former combatants, and massacres, although there was a slight diminution of the events of forced displacement. This suggests that there is still no effective attention to preventing the violence against the civilian population or to guarantee humanitarian relief while the approaches to the armed groups advance in the framework of the “Total Peace” policy. The Emergency Plan for the Protection of Social Leaders, Human Rights Defenders, and Signers of the Peace Agreement that we saw previously seems not to have had a significant impact. Human security, a priority of the administration, has still not materialized completely.

If we compare the murders of social leaders during the last year of the Duque administration and the first year of the Petro administration, we can see that there was an increase of 7% in that scourge, going from 159 murders between August 2021 and July of 2022 to 171 cases between the month of August 2022 and July of this year (an average if 14 events per month). April was the month with the highest number of attacks in the last two years. The departments that had the highest measure of this kind of violence are Cauca, Antioquia, Nariño, Valle, Bolívar, Córdoba, and Putumayo, places where there is marked territorial influence of organized armed groups like the EMC, ELN, Clan del Golfo, and the Segunda Marquetalia.

On the other hand, the number of murders of former combatants between August 2022 and July 2023 diminished slightly compared with the same period in the last year of the Iván Duque administration, registering 36 cases as opposed to 48, respectively. In spite of this reduction, this kind of violence is still going on and there is an added kind of attack on signers of the Peace Agreement, namely threats that have resulted in cases of forced displacement, as happened in May when members of the Georgina Ortíz ETCR (Territorial Space for Training and Reincorporation) in Meta Department were threatened by the EMC[12].

Forced displacement, for that matter, was the consequence of the threats against the civilian population and the combat between armed groups.[13]. During the administration of Gustavo Petro, after 141 events of displacement between August and April[14] in the years 2021 and 2022, there were 115 cases between August and April of 2022 and 2023. Nevertheless, sources in the areas most affected indicate that several armed groups are forcing the population to be confined in their homes, substituting for the specific acts of violence, another action that is more difficult to measure.

Finally, in relation to massacres, there is almost no diminution during the first year of the Gustavo Petro administration, when there were 91 massacres, compared with 93 during the last year of the Iván Duque administration. During last August, with the greatest number of massacres in the last two years, there was a worrisome increase of 16 cases. Even though the Gustavo Petro administration has expressed commitment to taking on the problem of massacres and promote reconciliation in the country, the results up to now show that it’s essential that government institutions and the Armed Forces take more forceful actions and have more effective coordination for the prevention of this violence.

Minus # 4: The Humanitarian Impacts Are Undermining Hope For Peace

According to the Impact Monitor at OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), 27,000 people were affected by confinement between January and June of 2023, which impeded access to the communities of food products, potable water,and emergency assistance. In June, the Ombudsman’s Office issued AT 024-2023 because of the situation of imminent risk of confinement in the Municipality of Silvia in Cauca Department. While the confinement situation is intensifying, there is concern in the international community about the process of dialog and negotiation, and they could pull out of the country because of the increase in attacks or threats against their humanitarian missions.

[1] According to official intelligence estimates cited by EL TIEMPO for 2022. The greater part of those statistics could not be verified, but they are an approximation.





[6] In certain territories of the country and especially in subregions like Montes de María, the Clan del Golfo has adopted practices of confinement, harassment and threats against the civilian population, which have allowed them to exercise a silent control of the countryside so as not to attract the attention of the Armed Forces, and thus expand progressively.







[13] Las cifras de enero a abril de 2023 estan sujetas a variacion ante la posible actualizacion de los datos de esta afectación en la Unidad de Victimas.

[14] Se toma como referencia este mês ante el posible subregistro en las cifras de la Unidad de Victimas para los meses mas cercanos (May, June, July) a la publicación de este informe.

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