Critics need not apply John Kerry’s statement
Oct 142004

The Colombian Defense Ministry’s latest “Operational Results” report released this week (pdf format) presents a wide range of conflict-related statistics compiled since President Uribe took office in August 2002.

The document offers the following figures about the number of paramilitaries and guerrillas taken out of combat since Uribe’s inauguration, whether by capture, death or desertion/demobilization:

  • Paramilitaries captured: 7,576
  • Paramilitaries killed: 896
  • Paramilitaries demobilized individually: 1,432
  • Paramilitaries demobilized in groups: 1,042
  • Guerrillas captured: 14,031
  • Guerrillas killed: 4,150
  • Guerrillas demobilized: 3,960

Adding these up reveals a total of 33,087 “terrorists” out of circulation since August 2002.

In a February 2004 op-ed published in the Madrid daily El País, Álvaro Uribe declared that when he arrived in office, “my government found 30,000 people integrated into terrorist organizations.”

If you take these numbers at face value and perform some quick subtraction, you find that the combined membership of the FARC, ELN and AUC should be 30,000 – 33,087 = –3,087 fighters.

That’s awfully odd, since all three groups appear to have more than zero members – in fact, all are very evidently still out there killing people in great numbers.

Perhaps the groups’ ability to recruit is greater than even previously imagined. Perhaps the Defense Ministry is padding its figures, for instance by including among its captured “guerrillas” many of the thousands of civilians arrested lately (and often released within weeks) after paid informants have labeled them guerrilla collaborators.

Whatever the reason, this “body count” statistic is clearly not a particularly useful indicator of anything.

One Response to “Democratic Security’s fuzzy math”

  1. jcg Says:

    Definitely the “captured” figures have some sort of loose interpretation…

    The main problem with such massive arrests is precisely that innocents often will get caught….only to be later released for not being guerrillas or paramilitaries (the “inflation” applies to both groups), if they are lucky (if they are unlucky they’ll probably be in a big mess for months, at least).

    The Colombian government could argue that, even when it doesn’t bring in real insurgent collaborators (or, as it could also be the case sometimes, does bring them in but lets them go all the same, for lack of evidence), it sends waves to scare off and disorient their civilian logistical/support apparatus (which, by the way, despite the rightful concerns expressed in the blog, must certainly be well above the “30,000″ figure…probably in the low hundred-thousands or so)

    Needless to say, this method is not only unfair and legally questionable, but also potentially very counterproductive (it makes the affected civilian population, whether pro-insurgent or not, lose trust in the government), despite the (temporary) relief that it may or may not provide in the manner described above.

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