The “nuclear response” Note from the airport
Apr 102008

We had a too-brief visit yesterday morning from Fr. Mauricio García, 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. García 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 Álvaro 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.

12 Responses to “CINEP: Colombia’s conflict is far from over”

  1. Camilla Says:

    Time to increase Colombia’s defense budget. $500 mil from the US each year is obviously too cheapskate, we should be giving them $5 billion a year to clean up this Marxist terror situation once and for all. Maybe the left can instruct its pals in FARC about the virtues of nonviolence. Get rid of the FARC and the government isn’t going to attack anyone. I am especially struck by how the Liberation Theology Jesuit Garcia thinks there is no difference at all betweeen the government forces defending Colombian people and the FARC and other terrorists attacking innocent villagers. To the Liberation Theology Jesuit, it’s all the same and the government, defending the villagers, is no different from another other thug out there seeking to overthrow the government.

  2. Camilla Says:

    Notice that the spike in FARC violence coincides with Hugo Chavez’s $300 million in FARC financing, of which at least $50 million was delivered, according to a letter in Raul Reyes’ computer.

  3. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Notice that the spike in government international humanitarian law violations coincides with mr. milla entering this blog. hmmmmmm …….

  4. Chris Colbow Says:

    I agree with Camilla…the government is doing what is being asked of it by the MAJORITY of its people….defend Colombia from subversive groups and establish a secure environment.

    So here the COLAR is actively pursuing these groups in their territory and somehow their actions are tantamount to what the FARC and others do.

  5. jcg Says:

    Very interesting, thanks for posting this. Seems to confirm ongoing trends.

    That reports of government violations are up is definitely worrying, as repeatedly highlighted by the press coverage of possible extra judicial executions and “false positives”.

    Even then it’s good to see that overall IHL violations may be considerably lower, or at least affecting far less municipalities, compared to what things were like in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, even if the government’s direct responsibility has proportionally increased. Such acts are horrible enough, but it’s probably easier to address such violations, in a way, than it would be to expect the guerrillas or the paramilitaries to do the same. Somewhat ironic, when you think about it.

    As for what the future may bring, I also hope that subsequent administrations are able to present and implement far more comprehensive solutions, as previously mentioned, while not turning their backs on security.

  6. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Colbow what’s the use of COLAR wreaking havoc peasant fields and ruining inhabitants livelihoods if things such as these can occur in neverland?

    10 April 2008:

    750 guerrilla fighters leave the prisoner’s interchange list to enter the Justice and Peace process.

    The Government revealed yesterday the decree that will allow imprisoned rebels in tens of jails to take refuge in the same legislation that was used in the demobilization of paramilitaries.

  7. Tambopaxi Says:


    I’ve agreed with you several times on the need for expanded presence of GOC non-military institutions (health, education, justice, as examples) in areas cleared and secured by the FAC over time. Security doesn’t mean much if development and democratic institutions don’t come in behind.

    That said, I think the CINEP cries out for pair of complementary studies (or perhaps one, combined) which looks at 1) trends in expansion (or not) of areas considered to be secure by the GOC; and 2) progress in expansion of sustained, non-military institutional presence in categories such as health posts, schools, courthouses, fiscalias, etc. In short, the question is, is Colombia making progress in becoming a true nation, with a government capable of projecting its presence and authority througout the land?

  8. Sergio Méndez Says:

    Good post and interesting analisis. I am not sure of the graphic of combats by group…there are no indicators that discriminate with WHO the combats happened? It willvery interesting to see the gaphic in relation between goverment vs paramilitary combats

  9. Super Hans Says:

    It is undeniable that the ‘people’ are, as a whole, in favour of Uribe’s “firm hand, big heart” hardline policies against violent rebel groups — and indeed against any rebellion. Polls, election results, and my own experiences and conversations in urban Colombia suggest this.

    But ‘people’ like Coldplay and voted for a Nazi government. You can’t trust people.

  10. Kyle Says:

    What’s great is comparing these maps to the rough maps drawn up on the vice-president’s map regarding the same topic here. While they are not as specific, they are good general indicators based on government statistics. I’d recommend checking it out (to make it easy:

    my hypothesis would be that this remains to be seen. A real study would be greatly in-depth, and I’m sure there is some scholarly work on the issue, especially from Colombian sources. Either way, there is probably some empirical evidence that is widely available on the topic that could give us, at most, some indicators of the reality.

  11. wilfredo escobar Says:

    Saludos desde la republica bolivariana de venezuela,somos un grupo de estudiantes sobre los conflictos sociales en america latina y el mundo es por eso que el esquema sobre el conflicto armado lo consideramos importante para nuestro estudiospero el problema del idioma en ingles nos pone un freno ya que lo hablamos muy poco e igualmente lo leemos con dificultad, lo pueden a mi correo email en español.
    Gracias y saludos..

  12. wilfredo escobar Says:

    Saludos desde venezuela nos pueden mandar el esquema sobre el conflicto armado en colombia lo pueden mandar en español debido a que no hablamos ni leemos ingles .

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