Luis Francisco CuÃ©llar. (Photo from Semana.)
Colombian soldiers yesterday found the body of Governor Luis Francisco CuÃ©llar in a village outside Florencia, the capital of CaquetÃ¡ department in southern Colombia. CuÃ©llar, the 69-year-old governor of CaquetÃ¡, was abducted from his home in Florencia late Monday by a guerrilla unit wearing army uniforms.
The brazen attack took place in a city that hosts the Army’s 6th Division and is a very short drive away from Larandia, the army base that hosts the Colombian armed forces’ Joint Task Force Omega. Larandia is one of seven Colombian bases to which U.S. personnel now have access under a new defense agreement signed in late October.
The evidence points to the FARC, which have been strong in CaquetÃ¡ for decades. We condemn this crime in the strongest possible terms. Governor CuÃ©llar’s murder is a violation of international humanitarian law that none who value civilization can justify.
We are also concerned about what it means for the evolution of Colombia’s conflict.
The CuÃ©llar killing could have been a botched kidnapping. If the FARC’s intention was to hold the governor hostage, it might mean a shift back to the guerrillas’ early 2000s tactic of kidnapping prominent civilian leaders, holding them hostage to pressure for a prisoner exchange agreement. This tactic proved to be a spectacular failure for the guerrillas, who got nothing in exchange, earned near-universal international condemnation, and lost many hostages to a brilliant Colombian military ruse in July 2008. Today, the FARC hold no civilians to pressure for a prisoner exchange. (They do hold military and police personnel for that purpose, and many civilians for ransom.) It is not clear why the FARC would have sought to revive this disastrous tactic now.
It could be that the FARC meant to kill CuÃ©llar, whom it had already kidnapped for ransom four times since 1987. (CuÃ©llar is believed to have had trouble with paramilitary groups as well; the VerdadAbierta websiteÂ noted in June that paramilitaries actively opposed his 2004 campaign for the CaquetÃ¡ governorship.)Â The FARC maintains old feuds with CaquetÃ¡’s powerful families, and its intentions with CuÃ©llar may not have been abduction but murder, as in the killing of another prominent CaquetÃ¡ politician, Diego Turbay Cote, and his mother almost exactly nine years ago. If assassination was the guerrillas’ intention, then it is urgent that Colombia’s government step up its protection of local officials throughout the country.
Above all, this and other recent actions are likely part of a FARC effort to undermine President Ãlvaro Uribe’s “Democratic Security” policy, five months before an election in which Uribe may be running for a third straight term. Actions like these certainly show the limits of Uribe’s reliance on military power. But by making Colombians feel insecure, the FARC are in fact helping the electoral prospects of the candidate with whom voters most associate the word “security”: Ãlvaro Uribe.
For his part, Uribe has promised to redouble the military effort against the FARC, ordering the armed forces once again to attempt the military rescue of all guerrilla hostages. This in turn caused the International Committee of the Red Cross to announce that it is suspending efforts to guarantee the FARC’s imminent release of two soldiers whom it has held hostage for years, including Corporal Pablo Moncayo, who just finished his 12th year in the guerrillas’ custody.