Colombia has stood at the forefront of debate across Latin America and the world on how chronic armed violence can be combated. Its programmes of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) have aimed to put over 50,000 ex-combatants from paramilitary forces and guerrilla movements back into civilian life. But a rising tide of criminal violence has swept up former paramilitary fighters and is seizing control of Colombia's many sources of illicit wealth, with cocaine production and trafficking at their heart. While thousands are still enrolled in reintegration courses, this paper asks what more the Colombian government, civil society and the international community can do to ensure that the demobilization process does not end in failure. The paper, based on extensive field research, argues that an essential first step is to ensure local communities are engaged, respected and protected.