â€œColombia needs and deserves peace, but Uribe represents the exact opposite,â€ reads a February communiquÃ© from the FARC. â€œWhat is at stake in these elections is the future of Colombia.â€
If the FARC leadership really wishes to prevent Ãlvaro Uribe from being re-elected in May, though, it has a strange way of showing it. If anything, the FARC are making Uribeâ€™s job easier.
Look at some of the guerrillasâ€™ actions just over the past week or so. They seem tailor-made to benefit Uribe, even though he is the candidate who promises to hit the FARC the hardest.
- On April 2, the FARC killed a town councilman in Arauquita, Arauca. On April 3, the FARC killed a councilman in Coromoro, Santander. On March 31, a councilman in MilÃ¡n, CaquetÃ¡, narrowly escaped a guerrilla assassination attempt.
- More than 80 members of the Nukak MakÃº, a nomadic Amazonian indigenous group first discovered only 40 years ago, have emerged from the jungle and are now in refugee camps outside San JosÃ© del Guaviare, apparently fleeing FARC threats. â€œGo, walk there … guerrilla very angry,â€ one of the displaced Nukak told an AP reporter in broken Spanish.
- In the wake of a March 30-31 FARC murder of two teachers from the Wanaan indigenous group in ChocÃ³, more than 1,000 indigenous people from the surrounding area have displaced.
- An April 6 bomb attack on two Transmilenio buses in a poor southern BogotÃ¡ neighborhood killed two boys aged 10 and 11.
- Meanwhile, a new book by journalist Jorge Enrique Botero claims that Clara Rojas, the running mate of former presidential candidate Ãngrid Betancourt and a FARC hostage since February 2002, has had a child in captivity. In addition to revealing this rather prurient rumor, Boteroâ€™s book reminds voters once again of the dozens of prominent figures the FARC has held hostage for several years.
This wave of violence against some of Colombiaâ€™s most vulnerable citizens earned the FARC three condemnations in four days from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and a strong statement from the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
The incidents of the last four weeks have involved bombings and armed attacks on vehicles transporting people and food; bomb attacks on campesino homes; the massacre of municipal councilmen; and the murder of a former indigenous governor and his wife, among others. These acts have left a death toll of dozens of men, women and children.
What purpose could this campaign of violence against the weak possibly serve? How can the FARC possibly view these attacks as benefiting its self interest?
One common response is that the guerrillas intend to hurt Uribe at the polls by discrediting him on his signature issue, security. By this reasoning, the guerrillas seek to sow doubt about Uribeâ€™s security strategy by creating a situation of generalized violence in which citizens do not feel that their government can protect them. If they feel unprotected, Colombians will vote against the president-candidate who promises war, and turn to those who back negotiations.
If this was the FARCâ€™s intent, they have mostly failed. The very nature of the guerrilla offensive makes that clear. It is true that the pace and scale of guerrilla activity has risen over the past year or so, including in zones central to Plan Colombia and â€œPlan Patriota.â€ And this has certainly damaged Uribeâ€™s claims that his â€œDemocratic Securityâ€ strategy is weakening the guerrillas.
However, the FARC has failed to create an atmosphere of generalized insecurity. The guerrillasâ€™ actions are mainly affecting only Colombiaâ€™s poorest, least powerful citizens. The attacks of the past week are perfect examples.
While the headlines in Colombia tell of assaults on indigenous people and poor kids on buses, the rising guerrilla violence has hardly touched more prosperous citizens. With kidnappings way down, travel on principal roads safer and urban violence lower, wealthy and middle-class Colombians are more secure than theyâ€™ve been in years. The FARC resurgence has not made a dent in that sense of security.
â€œDemocratic Securityâ€ is failing in the countryâ€™s vast rural areas where 25 percent of the population lives. But if a shopkeeper in MedellÃn is less afraid of being kidnapped, he is unlikely to vote against Uribe just because things are getting worse in ChocÃ³ or Putumayo.
Could it be, then, that perhaps the FARC actually wants Uribe to win? Could their goal be to, in Marxist terminology, â€œsharpen the contradictionsâ€ by ensuring that the regime is ruled by the most nakedly plutocratic, militaristic president possible? Do the FARC secretly prefer a president who will concentrate wealth while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses, thus (they hope) winning new converts to the guerrilla cause?
Whatever the reason, to most Colombian voters the guerrilla strategy looks like mindless nihilism, likely fueled by the imperatives of the drug economy. Worse, it distracts from several very real issues that work strongly against Uribe in this election: the growing power of supposedly demobilized paramilitaries, the disastrous results of demobilizations so far, a big and growing narco-paramilitary-corruption scandal in the presidencyâ€™s secret police (DAS), the persistence of the drug trade, an unpopular free-trade agreement, and perceived government neglect of non-military needs.
These issues, among others, should be at the heart of Colombiaâ€™s national debate as the presidential elections draw nearer. Instead, the voting public is being distracted by the FARC, who have bizarrely chosen to affect voter preferences by repeatedly attacking some of the poorest, most marginalized Colombians.