Doubling the “Troop Cap” Hogs not bombs
Oct 112004

If you read Spanish, yesterday’s edition of the Sunday-only Colombian newspaper El Espectador featured some highly recommended reading (in addition to its coverage, and my summary, of the joint report on military aid we released last week with LAWG and WOLA). (Sorry about all those hyperlinks.)

Two articles in particular were “must-read”:

  • A debate between Ricardo Vargas of Acción Andina, one of Colombia’s most articulate drug-policy critics, and Gen. Gustavo Socha, a former head of the Colombian Police Anti-Narcotics Division (he left this post in 2002, when he was reassigned after several members of his unit allegedly stole about $2 million from a U.S.-donated fund for fuel and spare parts). The article is interesting because these are two drug-policy experts who rarely spend much time together.

    “Fumigation has a perverse effect,” Vargas says, “because it has been focused too much on the smallholding peasants, while an effective strategy against narcotrafficking is nowhere to be seen.”

  • A U.S.-based analyst named Zachariah Bruyn Decker writes about changes in the FARC guerrillas’ strategy in response to Uribe’s security policies, as indicated by captured guerrilla documents.

    Apparently, a letter from FARC leader Manuel Marulanda to his subalterns outlines three goals: first, don’t let Uribe consolidate security throughout the country; second, don’t allow the economy to bounce back from the 1999-2001 downturn; and third, create a division in Colombian public opinion about how peace can be achieved. A key tactic was to be increased attacks and bombings in cities, especially Bogotá, in order to “make the rich and the government feel the war.” The article indicates that the adoption of urban terrorism was not a popular idea with all guerrilla leaders, some of whom reportedly noted that “it’s good for weakening the state, but causes the people to reject us.” Though the FARC has carried out more attacks in cities, such as the February 2003 bombing of the El Nogal social club in Bogotá, the article notes that the urban campaign has been nowhere near as intense as the guerrilla leadership had hoped.

    The captured communications also indicate that the FARC seeks to follow the Maoist dictum of dispersing forces when the government is strong, and concentrating them when the government is weak. Apparently, their attempt to put this into practice failed a year ago, when the fronts in Cundinamarca department surrounding Bogotá were routed by the Army’s “Libertad I” offensive despite dividing into small groups. The conclusion is that “the Democratic Security strategy and its military component, Plan Patriota, have indeed substantially diminished the FARC’s ability to carry out offensive actions.”

    Is this accurate? It’s hard to tell; groups like Alfredo Rangel’s Security and Democracy Foundation have issued positive, but far less rosy, evaluations of their own. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of new information in Decker’s piece, it’s definitely worth a close read.

One Response to “Yesterday’s El Espectador”

  1. jcg Says:

    Fumigation has always been sort of the “easy way out”…unfortunately, it’s not working. And it’s hurting the farmers more than current aid programs are helping them. Effective (even if expensive) alternatives should be made available on the ground, or else the drug crops, whether Colombian or Peruvian or Bolivian, will keep coming back.

    As for the second article, it’s definitely interesting….I’d say that possibly some sectors of the FARC have been hit hard, but many others should be managing to survive either by scattering or donning civilian clothes, inside or outside the country…that’s why it’s important to increase and sustain something more significant than the military offensive itself: the presence of all aspects of the Colombian state (judicial, medical, economical, etc.) in the areas where the guerrillas have pulled back. Unfortunately, that’s also expensive and has traditionally been a government weakness (Colombia has always been a weak state in itself).

    More likely, at least in the short-medium term, many of the new army and police garrisons may well be quite vulnerable to any guerrilla counter-offensive, once Uribe’s steam runs out, IF the opposition has not managed to create concensus around a viable alternative by then…

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