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 PaÃs, Ãlvaro 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 = â€“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.