- “At least 11 FARC guerrillas die in combat with the military in La Macarena.” (El Tiempo, June 27)
- “Two ELN guerrillas died, one more captured and another surrendered.” (Vanguardia Liberal (Bucaramanga), June 27)
- “Three presumed members of the FARC killed in combat in Putumayo.” (Ministry of Defense, June 21)
- “Six FARC and ELN guerrillas killed in combat.” (EFE, June 19)
- “Seven guerrillas presumed dead, four captured and five voluntarily surrenderd to military units, is the result of operations.” (El Colombiano June 18)
Meanwhile Colombia’s Defense Ministry reminds us (PDF) that 9,508 guerrillas have been killed since President Uribe took office in August 2002.
Do these body-count statistics tell us anything about whether Colombia’s government is weakening armed groups and regaining control of territory? Keep in mind:
- The overwhelmingly vast majority of guerrillas killed are footsoldiers, of low rank.
- The FARC’s membership is about 40 percent women.
- The FARC’s membership is conservatively estimated to be at least 20 to 30 percent children under the age of eighteen.
Large numbers of dead FARC guerrillas is not an indicator of a successful strategy. In too much of Colombia today, the FARC has shown itself enormously capable of replacing lost rank-and-file members by drawing from the country’s vast pool of poor and unemployed, especially in rural areas. For too many Colombians, the FARC is a jobs program, a surrogate family and a poor substitute for an absent government.
Instead of body counts, far more interesting would be measurements of the Colombian government’s progress in reducing the conditions that still make guerrilla membership attractive to so many poor young Colombians.