The rise of armed groups threatens to tear Colombia apart once again.

the Colombian peace agreement, signed in 2016 by the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was meant to usher in a new era of peace in a nation that had endured more than five decades of war. The deal was that the rebels would lay down their arms, while the government would flood conflict zones with job opportunities, alleviating the poverty and inequality that had sparked the war.

But in many places the government never arrived. Instead, many parts of rural Colombia have seen a return to killings, displacement and violence, which in some areas are now as bad or worse than before the deal.

Massacres and assassinations of human rights defenders have skyrocketed since 2016, according to the United Nations. And displacement remains surprisingly high, with 147,000 people forced to flee their homes last year alone, according to government data.

It is not because the FARC, as an organized fighting force, is back. On the contrary, the territorial vacuum left by the old insurgency and the absence of many promised government reforms has sparked a criminal quagmire as new groups form and old groups mutate, in a battle to control the flourishing illicit economies. .

Critics say this new round of violence is fueled in part by the government’s lack of commitment to peace accord agendas. And quelling growing insecurity will be one of the most important and difficult tasks for the country’s next president.

Current Colombian President Iván Duque has stressed that a third of the provisions of the peace accord are now fully implemented, putting the country on track to complete the deal within his 15-year term. year. But he will leave office in August after plummeting approval ratings which many believe reflect both security concerns and growing frustration with the persistent lack of well-paying jobs.

“This government has squandered the opportunity of the deal,” said Marco Romero, the director of Codhes, a human rights group, calling the current level of violence “scandalous”.

Some security experts warn that if the next administration doesn’t play a bigger role in fighting these militias and delivering on the promises of the deal, the country could be heading for a state more like Mexico – ravaged by drug gangs vying for territory – than in 2000s Colombia.

“It’s a long way to go back to 2002,” said Adam Isacson, director of defense oversight at the Washington Bureau for Latin America, referring to the number of casualties during one of the worst years. of the war. “But we’re on that path right now.”

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