Friday links (Monday edition) An irresponsible column
Dec 092009

That is the title of a report released two weeks ago by the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, one of a small handful of security-focused think-tanks in Bogotá. It has received a lot of attention in the Colombian media because it warns of some bad news.

For the first time since Álvaro Uribe and his get-tough “Democratic Security” policy entered Colombia’s presidency in 2002, the country’s security indicators are headed in the wrong direction. Nuevo Arco Iris contends that the Uribe government’s policies are experiencing diminishing returns after a high point in mid-2008, when paramilitary leaders were extradited, hostages were freed, and top FARC leaders were killed.

Here are a few points that stood out in my reading of the report.

  • The FARC are more active. Nuevo Arco Iris registered 1,429 actions initiated by this guerrilla group through October 20, 2009 – more than 30 percent more than in all of 2008. Their increased capacity is most evident in the southwestern departments of Cauca and Nariño, the Orinoco-basin department of Guaviare, and the coca-producing Bajo Cauca region in northern Antioquia department. The guerrillas are relying ever more heavily on landmines – including the planting of enormous minefields – and snipers. This, Nuevo Arco Iris says, is part of the FARC’s “Plan Renacer” (Rebirth Plan) begun after “Alfonso Cano” took over the group’s leadership in 2008.
  • “New” paramilitary groups are far more active. In 2008 and 2009, Nuevo Arco Iris detected activity of “emerging criminal bands,” or groups including elements of the now-defunct United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), in 293 of Colombia’s 1,100 municipalities (counties). They estimate 11,000 people belonging to dozens of such armed bands.
  • Crisis in Medellín. While a few years ago Medellín had reduced its murder rate to 32 killings per 100,000 residents, this year the murder rate has shot back up to 73 per 100,000 residents. Nuevo Arco Iris attributes the rise to violence between gangs, narcotrafficking groups and re-forming paramilitary groups, all of them trying to fill the vacuum left by the boss who had dominated the city’s criminality for much of the 2000s: paramilitary leader Diego Fernando Murillo, “Don Berna,” extradited to the United States in May 2008.
  • “New” paramilitaries are also increasingly active in Bogotá, especially poor and working-class neighborhoods in the city’s west and south. They appear to exercise significant influence in the city’s main food wholesaling and distribution center, Corabastos, and over the city’s semi-legal markets in untaxed and often counterfeit goods, known as “Sanandresitos.”
  • Judicial actions in cases of “false positives” or extrajudicial executions. Nuevo Arco Iris reports that Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) is currently investigating more than 2,000 members of Colombia’s armed forces on charges of killing civilians and presenting them later as civilians killed in combat. Of this number, 476 are detained, a few serving jail terms and most awaiting trial.

13 Responses to “2009: The decline of “Democratic Security?””

  1. Jaime Bustos Says:

    – ‘Get tough’ Democratic security :lol:

  2. Kyle Says:

    I’ve read most of the report, and overall I’ve found that it is very solid and findings are analyzed, to me, in an objective and clear manner – after all most of the data speaks for itself. There are a couple things that I have issues with – such as the counting of threats as an armed action for the neoparas but not that FARC, but that about covers it. At this point, the actions of the FARC would actually be higher. On the other hand, I like that they covered the ELN, which they did for very obvious reasons.

  3. Kyle Says:

    Side note: the press conference dragged on for a long time and disappointed when a copy was not disseminated. And the press there was rude, and not even close to on time.

  4. lfm Says:

    I know it can be a misleading measure, but the graph on “FARC’s actions” tells a sobering story. Before I get into the story, let’s see the complications that might be argued. “Actions” may mean lots of things so that a lot of small actions in 2008 would count for much more than one big action in 1998. I’m sure critics of the report will point this out.

    That said, if the numbers are taken at face value, what transpires is that after eight years of “democratic security” we are basically back to the 90s. You see, what happened was that 2002, the year Uribe came into office, was an off-the-charts year, an abrupt escalation in the activity of the FARC. So, what the chart says is that Uribe managed to roll that back, but that we end up in levels comparable to what was going on before that huge spike. (I will qualify this later.)

    In fact, one little detail that the uribista rewriting of history wants to sweep under the rug is that the previous governments were already getting the army in gear to fight the FARC’s offensive. I’ve said it often: I’m not fan of Pastrana and could fill endless blogs criticizing him. But when the story of the current war is written, it will be clear that the biggest military defeat the FARC faced on the ground was the Battle of Mitu, one of the great conflagrations in Colombia’s history, and this happened early in the Pastrana Administration, with American air support and beefed up equipment bought under the Samper Administration. That battle pretty much broke the trend.

    Now to the qualifier. Overall, I don’t get the perception that we’re back to the late 90s although the data may suggest so. The attacks of the late 90s were horrific, probably the biggest victories the FARC (or, for that matter, any other insurgent group) had scored on the ground. But, from what I’m picking in the news, the early 90s are a better parallel. And, if you are old enough, you will remember that back then nobody thought that Colombia was a haven of peace and stability. Back then the FARC were a serious concern. Not an existential threat, to be sure. But they’ve never been one unless you drink the uribista Kool-Aid.

    Bottom line, eight years later, after the destruction of several institutions, after all the excesses, after all the legitimation of paramilitary power, after all the handling of social and territorial control to the warlords, the Uribe Administration is bringing the security situation back to what was then regarded as unacceptable. Heckuvajob!

  5. jd Says:

    Adam, I’d like to hear your opinion on the semantic issue of “neoparamilitaries” versus “emerging groups” or “criminal bands” or whatever. I mean, the continuity in terms of specific individuals who moved from say, the Bloque Catatumbo to an Aguilas Negras band is obvious, but to me and many others the implication of the term “paramilitary” in the Colombian context is quite clearly related to doing dirty work in cooperation with the state security forces. And yes, I know that most of them were just in it for the drug profits, land theft, etc., but it seems that there is rather less evidence of systematic cooperation between these “neoparas” and the security forces. Is it really conceding too much to the govt. to draw a distinction between the paras and the post-paras?

  6. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Helluva job indeed, lfm, bad news the helluva job will keep going until we are gaspig red in the face, and back to the XIX century when our then president gave Panama away.

  7. Camilo Wilson Says:

    It is of interest that Jaime Bustos speaks of a return to the XIX Century. I would argue that Uribe has always had one foot in the XIX Century, and the other in the modern sector. The mentality of many of the regional landed elites (including Uribe) dates from the XIX Century. Uribe is able to draw support from both sectors, each supporting him for its own reasons.

  8. común Says:

    As if to underscore the report, there is a story in today’s El Espectador with the headline “Mass grave with 2000 bodies found in La Macarena”:

    Didn’t Adam recently do a report on this region?

    Perhaps even more tragic than the story itself; is that El Espectador had it tucked away in the “Judicial” section. El Tiempo did not even carry the story (though in all fairness, the story may just be breaking).

  9. Chris Says:

    Perhaps valuable US support has been dithering, and will pick up once again in the near future.

  10. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Washington rethinks its relations with Colombia. It’s about time

  11. Eric Girard Says:

    LFM, good post, but I was under the impression that the battle of Mitu was somewhat of a tie, was it not? And that the Colombian military was only successful after the Brazilians allowed them use of their airbases.

  12. lfm Says:

    Thanks Eric Girard. Point well taken. Still the fact remains that, with or without external help, the Army inflicted casualties on the FARC beyond anything before. To my mind, it proved on the ground what most people suspected before: that, when push comes to shove, if both sides give it their all, the Army could prevail. But you have shown to know some juicy bits about this so I’ll let myself be taught if you wish.

  13. Called to Colombia » A Tale of Two Stories – part 1 Says:

    [...] concerns about illegal armed groups’ continued strength, Colombian think tank Nuevo Arco Iris reported a couple of months ago about increasing FARC attacks, including kidnappings.  GDP tracks the [...]

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