In a series of three articles posted to its website and to that of Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, the Colombian think-tank CorporaciÃ³n Nuevo Arco Iris (which unfortunately translates as “New Rainbow Corporation”) provides a brief but excellent overview of the state of Colombia’s conflict at the end of 2008.
The picture is complex, but very troubling on balance. They reveal U.S. officials’ portrayal of Colombia as an “international model” of successful state building to be premature at best – if not completely misguided.
Here is an English translation (thanks to CIP Intern Anthony Dest) of the first of these articles, which focuses on the challenge of re-arming paramilitary groups. If Nuevo Arco Iris is correct, these groups’ combined membership probably now exceeds that of the FARC.
There are two types: The Ãguilas Negras (Black Eagles), who commit political violence, and other groups involved in narcotics trafficking and other illicit businesses. They hav gone from being in 115 to 246 municipalities [counties]. This is a finding of the CorporaciÃ³n Nuevo Arco Iris as part of a research project on the state of the war in Colombia.
The result of the research by CorporaciÃ³n Nuevo Arco Iris is truly disturbing. Their research, which makes use of official data and field work, concludes that Colombia’s internal security is endangered by the existence of bandas criminales emergentes (emerging criminal groups).
Part of the success of the [Uribe government's] Democratic Security strategy, which has been defined by confronting and weakening the guerrillas and successfully demobilizing the the AUC, is now at risk in 246 municipalities where these emerging criminal groups are committing violence or other illegal operations.
“They destroy the social order in order to flourish,” LeÃ³n Valencia, director of the CorporaciÃ³n Nuevo Arco Iris, told Semana.com. “This is a huge security risk for all citizens because they attack the institutions, social leaders, honest politicians, and families close to organized workers.”
CorporaciÃ³n Nuevo Arco Iris’ study also included a run-down on the state of the FARC, ELN, and the parapolitics scandal.
Here are a few of the key findings on these emerging criminal groups:
- The groups throughout the country are divided into 100 armed nuclei that use 21 different names and are committed to criminal activities, murders, and threatening the population.
- These groups are present in 246 municipalities, and conservative estimates show that they include 8,000 members. The groups are mostly concentrated (40%) in the Atlantic coastal region.
- There are three types of criminal groups:
- the emerging ones, which is to say the new organizations like the Ãguilas Negras;
- the rearmed groups, which are made up of previously demobilized paramilitaries, such as [former "Heroes del Guaviare" paramilitary leader Pedro Oliverio Guerrero, alias] Cuchillo’s group in the Eastern Plains (Llanos Orientales); and
- the dissidents, ex-paramilitaries who left the Ralito [2002-2006 demobilization-negotiation] process or were never involved, like those of Don Mario [Daniel RendÃ³n, a major narcotrafficker and brother of Freddy RendÃ³n, alias El AlemÃ¡n, former head of the powerful Elmer CÃ¡rdenas paramilitary bloc that operated in the northwestern region of UrabÃ¡].
- It is believed that Ãguilas Negras, who are considered a criminal group, are present in 57 municipalities, the majority of which are in the Santanders, the north of the country, and southern Cesar.
- It is interesting that according to the authorities, the Ãguilas Negras have been responsible for threats against union organizers, members of local governments, professors, journalists, and employees of the PersonerÃas and DefensorÃas [government entities responsible for dealing with human rights denunciations and investigations]. “Are these activities exclusively criminal, or do they aim gain social and political control? There is no doubt that there is something more than just a criminal motivation in the operations that they carry out,” according to the researchers.
- The OrganizaciÃ³n al Servicio del NarcotrÃ¡fico (Organization at the Service of Narcotrafficking) is a criminal group that works with Don Mario’s organization, as evidenced by the close proximity of their areas of operation. It has rapidly expanded its activities throughout different parts of the country.
- Some areas of paramilitary influence are within the 60 municipalities that make up the government program called “Social Consolidation of Territory” (ConsolidaciÃ³n Social del Territorio), which intends to recover government control and institutions in conflict areas. The military pressure to pursue the “criminal groups” in these zones is not as intense as was the pursuit of the FARC under “Plan Patriota” [an ambitious 2003-2006 series of large-scale anti-guerrilla military offensives].
- There are agreements between the guerrillas and emerging criminal groups to secure drug corridors or attack other groups in the southeast and southwest of the country. For example, in NariÃ±o and Cauca, there is a cease-fire between the Rastrojos [which began as a private army of North Valle Cartel figures] and the ELN in order to traffic drugs. In Meta, the FARC and Cuchillo’s group, the OrganizaciÃ³n Libertadores del Llano, have similar agreements, although these groups have confronted one another in recent months. Interestingly, in Arauca, the FARC was the target of both the Army and the ELN; the FARC eventually left the region.