- In the aftermath of the FARC hostage rescue, we are alarmed that Luis Eladio PÃ©rez, the former senator and hostage whom the FARC released in February, was forced to leave Colombia this week by threats that probably came from the FARC. We note that Ingrid Betancourt also has no plans to return to Colombia soon, for fear of FARC reprisals.
- The Washington Post and Associated Press offer the most new details about the U.S. role in hatching and carrying out the hostage-rescue plot.
The Post explains that the idea of a guns-blazing military rescue was only abandoned in June, when a Colombian Army major hatched the “Operation Check” plan, and that the Colombians did not alert U.S. officials immediately.
Although the Americans and Colombians work together closely, Colombia’s Defense Ministry does not always tell the American Embassy what plans are in the works. U.S. officials discovered on their own that a rescue plan was taking shape.
In June, the Americans noted that three FARC units, all of them known for holding hostages, began moving together into a region southeast of the Guaviare capital, San Jose.
Brownfield said he and his team deduced that the Colombians, using fake communications, were executing a deception plan aimed at freeing the hostages. Later that month, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told Brownfield about Operation Check, as in checkmate.
AP describes “Operation Alliance,” a crafty U.S. plan, with heavy FBI involvement, to infiltrate more than 5,000 guerrilla communications by providing the FARC with wiretapped telecommunications equipment.
U.S. law officers arrested the Miami contacts, who in exchange for promises of reduced sentences put [guerrilla supply chief Nancy] Conde in touch with an FBI front company, according to a U.S. law enforcement official involved in the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
Over more than four years, that company provided wiretapped satphones and other compromised telecommunications equipment that threw the rebels off balance and eventually helped authorities strangle their supply lines.
- Congratulations to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) for a far-seeing letter [PDF] to President Uribe that calls for creative steps to end the conflict at the negotiating table.
With the FARC on its heels for the moment, I encourage you to press for its disarmament and its renunciation of drug trafficking and extortion in exchange for a seat at the negotiating table. In this regard, I applaud Colombia’s decision to seek direct talks with FARC rebels to explore further hostage releases; these steps could lay the groundwork for broader gains in the interest of peace for the people of Colombia. In addition, I would urge you to consider including the National Liberation Army (ELN) as part of future talks to end the violence. Lastly and more generally, I would encourage you to consider Brazil, a country with a record of bridging ideological divisions and displaying an awareness of regional sensitivities, as a possible mediator for any discussions.
- The hostage rescue has meanwhile inspired some right-wing commentators to get back on the old “human rights NGOs love the FARC” hobbyhorse. The Wall Street Journal’s Mary A. O’Grady is back at it again. And don’t miss this informed exchange between the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes and NPR’s Juan Williams that took place on Fox News a few days ago:
Barnes:Â [Y]ou have a kind of iron triangle. I’m calling it an iron triangle, of the human rights groups in Colombia, and organized labor in the United States, and then Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Fox host Brit Hume: But why did the Colombian guerillas not smell a rat?
Barnes: Well, one, because the military guys were all dressed up as guerillas, but particularly the helicopter was one they thought was from one of these non-government organization which they thought with — it was perfectly normal for those organizations to actually be on very friendly and supportive terms with the FARC guerillas.
Hume: Do you agree with that, Juan?
Williams: Well, I don’t think there’s any question about it. I don’t think the facts can be disputed here left or right.
… Now the point at which I think Fred goes too far is to say, listen, of course Americans have every legitimate right to be concerned about human rights and the way people are treated, but what the FARC had become, in the midst of its disarray, was involved with cocaine smuggling and trying to undermine the legitimate government of Colombia.
And at that point, you would have hoped that somehow these human rights groups and labor in the United States would have taken a step back. Apparently it didn’t happen.
Take a step back from what exactly, Mr. Williams? Do these journalists really believe that non-governmental organizations, including U.S. groups like ours as well as labor unions, sympathize with the FARC? That we’ve somehow managed to ignore their horrific atrocities, including hostage-taking, committed over so many years? Or are they just cynically employing the hostages’ rescue to score cheap political points?
Anyone who chose to do a bit of homework and investigate would find a community of groups that supports Colombia’s state – not the violent groups that confront it – as well as the idea of U.S. support to Colombia’s state. A community that wants this state – and U.S. aid to it – to improve the quality of its governance and its accountability to its own citizens.
It is highly irresponsible – and very dangerous, given the frequency of attacks on human-rights defenders in Colombia – to use heavily-viewed forums like the Journal and Fox News for these uninformed “terrorist sympathy” slurs. If these news outlets value their credibility at all, they will publish rectifications.
- A post earlier this week linked to this article, but it’s worth highlighting again because, as it was written at the height of the “Baby Emmanuel” fracas late last year, it didn’t get much attention. Semana magazine’s security editor, Marta Ruiz, provides a very helpful overview of the shifts in strategy that have done so much to weaken the FARC over the past year and a half. Ruiz notes that success required the Colombian military, in 2006-2007, to break with its own super-hard-line approach.
The true change that the armed forces required had to do with doctrine. The visions inherited from cold-war counterinsurgency, which regarded the civilian population as an enemy or “the water in which the insurgents swim,” began to be left behind. This sort of vision predominated at the outset of Democratic Security and Plan Patriota. Mass arrests, “rehabilitation zones” and the absurd criminalization of coca-growers did nothing more than deepen distrust of the government among the inhabitants of regions controlled by the guerrillas. Questions remained about the sustainability of a model that achieved the control of much territory through purely military means, with all that this implied with regard to keeping troops in each locale, and with regard to the financial effort required. What would happen next?
The Consolidation Plan, although far from perfect, hits the nail on the head of the crucial problem that the state confronts in this war: its legitimacy in the eyes of the inhabitants of remote regions. An important sector of the military high command has begun to understand that counting bodies is not the road to defeating the FARC. Even though in its first few years Plan Patriota fought the guerrillas fiercely, and there were many dead on both sides, the losses did not have a significant impact on the FARC. That combat, while carrying a big human cost, would have little effect if the government did not launch a plan for these marginal zones where war is a part of everyday life.
- The widely cited Colombian human-rights NGO CODHES (Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement), the go-to organization for information about the country’s internal-displacement crisis, estimates that a horrifying 113,473 Colombians were displaced during the first three months of 2008. [PDF] This is the highest quarterly figure that CODHES has counted since 1999.
The reasons for the displacements were, mainly, the aerial spraying of illicit crips within the framework of military operations; forced recruitment [mainly by guerrillas]; the planting of landmines [mainly by guerrillas]; the presence of paramilitary groups in 17 departments [out of 32] in the country; intense combat between the army and FARC guerrillas, which included bombardments and use of arms with indiscriminate effects; as well as confrontations between the FARC and ELN in some regions of the country.
- The OAS verification mission in Colombia released its eleventh report [DOC format] on the paramilitary demobilization and reintegration process at the end of June. As usual, the summary and recommendations are neutral and general (demobilization is a good thing; the process faces challenges). But the region-by-region overview of reintegration programs and re-arming paramilitary activity is indispensable.
- In a column in Wednesday’s Guardian, Richard Gott has a suggested Latin America policy memo that the next U.S. president, in his view, should write after assuming office. It includes the following appointment:
I have asked Wayne Smith, our oldest former US state department official with an intimate knowledge of Cuba, to come out from academic retirement to become the chief of our embassy in Havana, the so-called US Interests’ Section of the Swiss Embassy. Smith is a former member of the US Marine Corps, and he held this post between 1979 and 1982. He will work toward the normalisation of our diplomatic relations with Cuba.
To Wayne Smith, a CIP senior fellow since 1991 whose office is two doors down from mine: We’ll miss you!