We had a too-brief visit yesterday morning from Fr. Mauricio GarcÃa, director of the Jesuit-run Center for Research and Popular Education (CINEP), one of Colombia’s oldest and best-known “think tanks.” For many years CINEP has closely monitored Colombia’s conflict and political violence, including management of an extensive database of reported incidents of violence.
Fr. GarcÃa came armed with a few charts based on this information that were so illustrative of conflict trends that we asked permission to scan and share them. The images below are available as a single PDF here.
This chart shows the frequency of combat incidents that CINEP has registered since 1990, broken down by who initiated the incident.
The chart indicates that combat frequency peaked during 2001-2002, then declined steadily after Ãlvaro Uribe’s arrival in office. However, by CINEP’s measure this decline only brought the intensity of the fighting back to levels seen in the late 1990s, not exactly a golden age of peace and security for Colombia. And CINEP’s data appears to show a sharp increase in government-FARC fighting in 2007.
It is interesting to note the low incidence of paramilitary combat episodes. That is mainly because the paramilitaries rarely confronted guerrillas (and much less government forces) on the battlefield; their preferred method has been to attack civilians who live in guerrilla-controlled areas.
These and similar violations of international humanitarian law are documented in the next chart, which ends in 2006.
Here, a sharp decline in alleged paramilitary violations (yellow) – returning to mid-1990s levels – occurred after the 2003-2006 demobilizations of paramilitary groups. This, unfortunately, has been accompanied by a sharp rise in alleged violations committed directly by the government security forces (blue). This owes both to an increased frequency of government operations, and a very troubling increase in the army’s practice of “extrajudicial executions”: killing civilians out of combat and later presenting them as guerrillas killed in combat.
The decline in alleged FARC violations (orange) is largely due to the reduction in guerrilla kidnappings since 2002.
The following chart shows the number of Colombian municipalities (counties) that saw combat or international humanitarian law violations in each year. Colombia has about 1,100 municipalities.
This chart again shows a return to mid-1990s levels of violence.
The maps below show the municipalities where CINEP’s database indicates that political violence occurred in 2001 and 2006.
Again, we see a drop in violence from the nightmare period of 2001-2002, but still a very intense level of fighting. This intensity seems to have stayed at the same levels measured during the second half of the 1990s.
CINEP draws the following conclusions from their data:
- Claims that the FARC are near defeat are overblown, given the group’s continued ability to attack both security forces and civilians throughout the country.
- The FARC’s strength has been reduced from levels measured during 2001-2002. But that period now looks like an anomaly amid what otherwise has been a depressingly steady level of intense violence since the mid-1990s.
- President Uribe has been successful in reversing the horrific spike in violence measured in 2001-2002. This achievement, in large part due to a 50 percent increase in Colombia’s military and police and important strategic shifts, has made Uribe one of the most popular leaders in the world, and convinced many investors to put money back into Colombia.
But progress against violence has slowed; CINEP sees this (and we agree) as a consequence of the Uribe government pursuing a very partial strategy. Peace in Colombia will require security, and Uribe’s military efforts have made some progress here. But it will also require true governance – the presence of parts of the state other than the armed forces – and a sharp reduction in impunity for all kinds of crimes. It may be up to Uribe’s successor to add these other necessary ingredients.