Eric Holder and Chiquita Nuevo Arco Iris (2): The FARC
Dec 032008

View this map on the Nuevo Arco Iris website.

In a series of three articles posted to its website and to that of Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, the Colombian think-tank Corporación 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.

A Worrisome Increase of Armed Groups in Colombia

There are two types: The Águilas 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 Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris as part of a research project on the state of the war in Colombia.

The result of the research by Corporación 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,” León Valencia, director of the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, told “This is a huge security risk for all citizens because they attack the institutions, social leaders, honest politicians, and families close to organized workers.”

Corporación 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 Águilas 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 Rendón, a major narcotrafficker and brother of Freddy Rendón, alias El Alemán, former head of the powerful Elmer Cárdenas paramilitary bloc that operated in the northwestern region of Urabá].
  • It is believed that Águilas 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 Águilas Negras have been responsible for threats against union organizers, members of local governments, professors, journalists, and employees of the Personerías and Defensorías [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 Organización al Servicio del Narcotráfico (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” (Consolidación 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 Nariño 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 Organización 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.

11 Responses to “Nuevo Arco Iris (1): Emerging Paramilitary Groups”

  1. Chris Says:

    Some might already know this, but I work at USAID now… I coordinate our anti-trafficking in persons activities worldwide.

    I was in an inter-agency meeting this afternoon and I was discussing with my colleagues human trafficking activities in Colombia. Colombia is chategorized as a Tier 1 country… meaning it’s up there with countries like Sweden and other western European states in combatting human trafficking and resolving the problem.

    My argument was that it seems the facts are a little misguided…

    I thought ironic when I read Adam’s opening sentences about being misguided above.

  2. El Común Says:

    Is the emergence of 100 relatively small groups who for the most part appear less motivated by political ideology (and more interested in narcotics trafficking) as worrisome as having a single 10,000 man strong AUC?

  3. MZR Says:

    For me, El Común, the answer is “yes, it is more worrisome”. IMHO, the more fragmented these groups become, the more difficult it is to solve the problem. For example, the drug cartels in the 80s and 90s were much easier to target. The fragmentation of the cartels after their demise made it even more difficult to target these new armed groups/gangs or, conversely, negotiate with them, especially with no coherent leadership, structure, etc, etc. The same goes with the FARC. If the FARC was to fragment into many different factions then I feel it would be more difficult to target these groups or, conversely, negotiate with them. The latter, in my opinion, is the most important factor as I can’t see the FARC (or emerging new groups should the FARC break-up) ever being totally defeated militarily, despite its current losses.

    The question is, I guess, how do you stop this fragmentation? It appears to be too late in terms of the paramilitaries…

  4. Jaime Bustos Says:

    So Chirs you have a category, tier one, in which you put together all the countries that are successful in “combatting human trafficking and resolving the problem. ” What kind of categorization is that, if I may ask? What level is Ruanda in that strange assortment of countries? if you show this ranking to your workmates they may change their mind ;)

  5. Camilla Says:

    The report doesn’t give any insight into why the Aguilas Negras are conducting so-called political killings. To run around killing people is a guaranteed way of making citizens despise and loathe the killers. Especially in Colombia, which has known so much Marxist and drug-linked killing. People don’t vote for killers they hate. Therefore, the claim that these killings are political doesn’t make any sense. Killers are detested in democracies. Killing isn’t a vote getter.

  6. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Well Camilla then why don’t you get hip and learn why Mr Uribe is Colombia’s president. Dead threats spread around the country in gargantuan proportions. I know I know. I made that one up too.

  7. El Común Says:

    The question is not whether genocide has taken place in Colombia (it has). It is whether those who are responsible for having committed genocide are being brought to justice, whether the truth about genocide is coming out, and whether those who were (and in some cases, are being) victimized are to receive reparations. This remains to be seen.

  8. Chris Says:

    Rwanda is in tier 2 along with Ireland and Japan. I don’t create the thing… Dept of State does. I work for USAID. The whole thing is flaky in my opinion. To many unknowns in trafficking to quantify anything.

  9. MZR Says:

    “Killers are detested in democracies. Killing isn’t a vote getter.”

    This is precisely the reason why Colombia is a limited democracy at best. I’m not necessarily saying it’s 100% the fault of the government – it’s hard to have a full democracy when large swaths of territory are controlled by sub-state armed groups. But, on the other hand, the government certainly claims a lot of the blame and, indeed, has employed violence to tackle its political enemies. I notice Camilla only mentions Colombia knowing “Marxist and drug-linked killing” in its troubled past. What about right-wing, politically motivated killings? What about the extirpation of the Unión Patriótica (UP), with over three thousand of its members being murdered (including two of its presidential candidates)? This obviously doesn’t bode well for left-wing armed groups should they ever want to demobilise any time in the near or, indeed, distant future. Moreover, Uribe continues to associate anyone even slightly left-leaning to be a guerrilla. With the violence that continues, with 1-3 million internally displaced people, with mass-murdering paramilitaries receiving a slap on the wrist for heinous crimes, with chemical warfare being employed by the government against its own citizens (i.e. aerial fumigation), with trade unions being under constant threat, etc, etc, the word “democracy” can only be used very loosely in the case of Colombia.

    “People don’t vote for killers they hate.”

    You’re right, Camilla. They usually vote for killers they fear or killers whom they are forced to vote for…

  10. Ojo Gringo: A Pulse on Latin America » Blog Archive » ‘Firm hand, big heart’ really at play for Uribe? Says:

    [...] a bite at the carrot, the state has to dangle something provocative. Beyond this, if judging by the ugly mess of contemporary paramilitary demobilization, there is much reason for both sides and their [...]

  11. Paramilitaries - “Justice & Peace” « Todos Somos Geckos Says:

    [...] met at least two dozen people who have been threatened by paramilitary or, as Corp Arco Iris calls them, “emerging armed groups,” just in the last year. Many activists received death threats [...]

Leave a Reply