Defense > education “Villa Sandra”: a mass grave in Putumayo recalls Plan Colombia’s beginnings
Oct 232009

After several years of declining violence statistics in Colombia, we are seeing some very serious backsliding. The chief causes are the new FARC leadership’s shifts in strategy, and the proliferation of “emerging” criminal groups, the heirs of paramilitary groups whose leaders have mostly been extradited to the United States. This backsliding should worry both proponents and detractors of Álvaro Uribe’s hardline security policies.

  1. A Reuters piece published Tuesday and a CNN series [1 | 2 | 3] that ran last week attest to the severe wave of drug and gang-related violence sweeping over Medellín. According to Reuters, “The city’s murder rate has more than doubled since the [May] 2008 extradition of its main crime boss, [paramilitary chieftain Diego Fernando Murillo,] known as Don Berna, which left a power vacuum in the local drug and extortion rackets.”
  1. El Tiempo reports on the tense atmosphere in Sumapaz, a mountainous zone just to the south of Bogotá, from which Colombia’s army ejected the FARC in 2003 and 2004. Last Sunday, in broad daylight, the guerrillas killed two town council members in the zone (Sumapaz is part of Bogotá and Colombia’s Capital District).
  1. Herbín Hoyos, host of the Bogotá-based “Voices of Kidnapping” radio program, which broadcasts relatives’ messages to FARC kidnap victims, was forced to leave the country two weeks ago in the face of what Colombian military intelligence said was a recently uncovered FARC plot to kill him.
  1. In the oil-refining port of Barrancabermeja, 99 people have been murdered so far this year, 5 more than in all of 2008. El Tiempo places much of the blame on two “emerging” paramilitary groups, the “Rastrojos” and the “Urabistas.”
  1. Semana notes “three simultanous processes” of violence amid a counter-guerrilla military offensive in Cauca, in southwestern Colombia: “First, the alliance between the ELN guerrillas and a criminal gang known as ‘Los Rastrojos’ to fight the FARC; second, the military forces’ tendency to go easy on the ELN and Los Rastrojos, since the Espada II and III military operations have not touched them, and the whole offensive has been against the FARC. … The third process, however, is the strengthening of the FARC’s offensive military capacity in northern Cauca. So much that the guerrillas have attacked Toribío municipality on 51 occasions this year; the most recent attack was on October 7, which left two police dead and several soldiers wounded.” El Tiempo also reported this week on the ongoing Cauca offensive.
  1. This week the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) issued “early warning” alerts about FARC threats against the population of Toribío, as well as that of the municipalities of Puerto Lleras, Puerto Rico and Vistahermosa, Meta. The Meta alert covers the heart of the La Macarena region, where a Colombian government “Fusion Center” has been carrying out a U.S.-funded counter-insurgency and “consolidation” program. In Puerto Rico municipality, Amnesty International reports, a FARC attack on the Guéjar river wounded Islena Rey, president of the Meta Human Rights Civic Committee.
  1. Elsewhere in Meta, authorities are concerned about a growing “war” between two powerful paramilitary chieftains who had been believed to be cooperating: Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias “Cuchillo,” and Víctor Carranza, who controls a large portion of Colombia’s lucrative emerald trade.
  1. More than 220 people have been killed this year in the Bajo Cauca region of northern Antioquia department, where four “emerging” paramilitary groups are fighting to control the drug trade: “Los Paisas,” “Los Rastrojos,” “Los de Urabá” and remnants of the AUC’s “Bloque Mineros.”
  1. Two weeks ago in Arauca, a brazen ELN attack managed to free “Pablito,” who until being imprisoned was the guerrilla group’s maximum leader in the zone, one of its longtime strongholds.

All of these links are from the past two weeks. They indicate that Colombia’s government needs to refocus on its public security strategy, which may have reached the limits of what it can achieve. Significant adjustments are needed, particularly a renewed effort to protect threatened populations (instead of using resources on costly offensives) and a far stronger campaign against the “new” paramilitary groups before they manage to consolidate themselves.

But no adjustments are likely over the next several months, since Colombia’s President and its entire political class are likely to be focusing entirely on Álvaro Uribe’s attempt to win a third term in office.

8 Responses to “Friday links, increasing violence edition”

  1. lfm Says:

    Since I’m almost always wrong in my prognoses, I guess I can boast a little bit when one of them pans out. So, I’ll go back to my earlier post: marginal diminishing returns, people, marginal diminishing returns. After eight years, looks to me like the only way to remain a “furibista” is by ignoring them.

  2. Camilo Wilson Says:

    In something of a continuation of my last post, and in the context of a mounting violence cum diminishing security, let me point out with regard to the FARC that an insurgency can shift its stragegies, and an insurgent strategy is not always one of that of taking full power–of sitting in Bogota and ruling the country, that is. there is no question in my mind that the FARC leadership is smart enough to know that. An insurgency can adopt a harrassment strategy, with a view of achiving limited gains–certain reforms, for example. To achieve those reforms is, of course, to gain a measure of power.

    With regard to the FARC and the ELN, a serious negotiation with those groups in regard to reforms–reforms much needed with or without an insurgency–would take some of the armed combatants off the battlefield. But to do so would deprive Uribe and his political followers of their political platform, the axis of which is achieving security through beating back the insurgency. And to adopt reforms agreed to through dialogue would also undermine Uribe and the Establishment that supports him, for reform is precisely what they do not want.

    Uribe’s strategy is to beat back the insurgency through military action, either defeating them or forcing them to dialogue on Establishment terms. Neither will work.

    So the violent game goes on, into an indefinite future, driven by deep hatred. The public, Establishment and non-Establishment, will have to live with a measure of insecurity, whether on the highways, in the airways, or in the cities and towns. A lot of innocent blood will be shed, and scarce resources spent to no good end. Colombia will continue to be a breeding ground for drugs trafficking, and a regional training ground for assassins and other delinquents.

    Not a good scenario for either Colombia or the greater region. Too many Colombians deserve better than this.

  3. maremoto Says:

    what is it that these people are fighting for? drug production and trafficking routes in many cases and drug trafficking financed violence in the rest…. who’s responsible for the black market that creates this lucrative trade which is also responsible for generating 75% of the violence? ….

    modern journalism … what a joke.

    take a look at this country’s homicide rate during and after their first scam (Prohibition) AND Colombia’s as the “narcotrafico” (Orwellian right-wing fascist shit) in the eighties took root.

    shabby and cheap

  4. Marcos Says:

    FARC doesn’t want limited gains. They want power or at least shared power. Not through elections or through viable reforms, but through extortion. The M-19/EPL/QL were able to negotiate and produced some reforms. FARC did not and each time they’ve negotiated they only wish to exploit the government’s weakness in their favor. They did that in 1984, they did that before the Constituent Assembly, they did that in Mexico and Venezuela, they did that in Caguán.

    That’s not an invention of mine nor something taken from Uribe’s paranoia, you can even find evidence for that in Cuban diplomatic records, such as those revealed by Fidel Castro in his book LA PAZ EN COLOMBIA (or something along those lines).

    But apparently if the government talked to them now, if only Demon Lord Uribe truly wanted peace, then FARC would easily agree to some reforms and stop fighting.

    And before you tell me something like the fact that there are “reasons” for the conflict that should be fully resolved first through massive magical reforms leading to 0% poverty, 0% inequality and poverty or 0% intolerance….I will point my finger towards to all those countries that defeated their insurgencies or forced them to surrender without solving those famous “reasons” first. Perhaps some of you live in a false world where Colombia is surrounded by countries without practically the same problems, both now and long before currrent “wave” of leaders, or where the reforms haven’t been just as limited as anything Colombia has implemented or offered, in the grand scheme of things.

    But perhaps it is better to live in that world and cast the thunder of divine judgment from there, eh?



  5. Marcos Says:

    And to say something that is actually on topic…even if there are diminishing returns, only a lunatic would imply that there shouldn’t be any investments in security right now.

    Add new ideas to the mix, but the fact is that the proper response to rising violence is not reducing security spending.

    Unless some of you have a viable alternative in mind, but I doubt that. Perhaps it is only my ignorance that is at work and everyone else is a genius?



  6. lfm Says:

    OK, I’ve said this a lot and I’ll say it again in the vain hope that the point will be clear. It shouldn’t be so hard so maybe there’s some willful misunderstanding here. Let’s see.

    I have never said that Colombia’s government should UNILATERALLY surrender or reduce the security expenditure. I don’t even know any public voice in Colombia’s left saying that. What many of us have argued is that the government should look for ways to get a political process started so that in the middle-run we do not need to maintain the current war footing. So far, I don’t see what’s so hard to understand. I think that public debate in Colombia would progress faster if the government and its defenders stopped misrepresenting this one. Sure, Uribe wouldn’t get to call his opponents “terrorists in civilian garb” and I can see that it would make his life less fun. But that’s the way it is.

    Once this is clear, the next question is whether a political settlement is feasible. The standard line is that the FARC are obsessed with taking over and that they will never, ever, make peace. To this, I would make some comments.

    1. Remarkably, the FARC seem to know that they will never win the war and have over time adjusted their rhetoric ever so subtly in ways that make clear that they accept that. These days they talk about a “national unity government” that would include them. Of course, that’s not going to happen. But remember, that is the “ceiling” of any settlement. The M-19 in it’s heyday was more radical and intransigent than what the FARC are now. We have seen in every conflict that the hawks always say things like “well, in the case of so and so a political settlement was possible because so and so was reasonable” but somehow their current foe is not reasonable, will never accept peace, will never negotiate in good faith and so on. Except that, over time it does. What is the evidence that the FARC, unlike any other armed group in the world, do not learn from experience? They have suffered setbacks. That would surely change their outlook. If you don’t believe it, you have to prove that they are irrational. Again, what makes the FARC different from al Fatah? from the IRA? from the FMLN? from the ANC? from the Maoist insurgents in Nepal? All these groups have entered some sort of political process, in very different circumstances to be sure, and have, at the end, settled for less than they wanted.

    2. Maybe there’s a better way to find out what the FARC are up to, instead of us playing the psychiatrist: ask them. Sure, the FARC can lie and deceive as anybody else. I’m not saying that negotiating is simply believing everything they say. It is possible to negotiate while the war goes on. That happens all the time. Talk and fight, fight and talk. Over time, if things go well, you can do less fighting and more talking. It’s hard, for sure, but it can be done. Other countries have done it.

    3. It’s been eight years of frontal war and the final victory is not yet at hand. So, we are now entering the phase of permanent contention. Sure, we can keep going like this, ensuring that the FARC are contained, but we know the cost and it’s not pretty.

    4. It’s not like making concessions to the FARC is the end of the world. Some concessions are OK. Land reform? Fine in my book. Regulating foreign investment in oil? Let’s talk about it. Some ideas might be looney, but some may be fine. Electoral engineering to increase the participation of the FARC in Congress and governorships? Not to the point of giving them 40% of Congress, but some of it, why not? Heck, we already have the paramilitary there, we have associates of the Medellin Cartel with their paws very close to the Presidential Palace!! I remember a time when every Colombian to the last man would have sworn never to let this happen. I remember Pablo Escobar’s bombs. And now it’s OK to have people of his entourage in high places. So, who the hell are we kidding?

  7. Camilo Wilson Says:

    Andale, IFM, Andale… Usted va al grano de la vaina, al meollo del asunto… ¡Viva la sensatez! ¡Viva! ¡Viva! ¡Viva! Hay gente que no entiende el lenguaje vernáculo. Me cuesta comprender, compañero(a)…

  8. Sergio Méndez Says:


    Among the statistics sourounding violence, do you have any concerning “desplazamiento” (I don´t know how to say it in english) DURING this goverment two periods? I was sure that I read in the news monnths ago that Uribe goverment admited that among 3 million persons were “desplazados” during his almost 8 years in power…can you confirm it?

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