Contrary to the conclusions of a previous independent study, the FARC are not on the rebound but are continuing to weaken, Alfredo Rangel, director of the Security and Democracy Foundation, a Colombian think tank which specializes in the country’s conflict told Colombia Reports.
Rangel contradicts the conclusions of fellow think tank Nuevo Arco Iris on the success of President Alvaro Uribe’s democratic security policy and accuses the report of being politically motivated. “All our studies indicate that the guerrilla has been weakened very much and this continues. They have left 68% of the municipalities where they were and the amount of offensive actions has been reduced to 20% of what it was.”
Nuevo Arco Iris’ study ‘Decline of Democratic Security?’ states that Colombia’s biggest guerrilla group the FARC has become stronger over the past year and attacked villages in areas such as the Cauca department. The think tank says that the FARC have laid mines in more than 400 municipalities, that fewer fighters than before are deserting the guerrilla, and that more soldiers and policemen are being killed by the rebels.
“The FARC are now in one-third of the area that they were before,” is Rangel’s reaction. “All the fronts have less people. Comander Iván Ríos, who was killed by one of his own men, had 200 men. There are 20 left. The same happened to deserted Karina‘s 47th front. And the liberated hostages confirm it.”
Rangel estimates that the FARC had 18,000 fighters during the peace talks with the Pastrana government (1998-2002) and have 6,000 fighters now, an estimatimate that is close to that of the Colombian government.
Apples and pears
“Arco Iris adds up apples and pears,” he states. “They mention for example minefields, which are laid to hold back the army. That is a defensive move and not an offensive one, as Arco Iris says.” According to the NGO, the FARC created a new front in Guaviare, the 81st. “That may be true,” Rangel reacts, “but what they do is split their fronts in half. It doesn’t mean that there are more men. Only if there are offensive acts you can see if a front is active. Forty fronts are doing nothing.”
Rangel thinks the military pressure on the FARC’s highest commander Alfonso Cano is very high. “Communication with other fronts is hardly possible because the army intercepts it.” He thinks that El Espectador‘s supposition that Timochenko and Iván Márquez are the real leaders may well be true. They are thought to be in Venezuela and therefore able to move more freely.
Nuevo Arco Iris’ classification of these groups as neo-paramilitaries, as opposed to the government’s ’emerging gangs’ is a “language abuse”, Rangel says. “In Colombia the paramilitaries were civil groups that with the support of the drugs trade fought against rebel groups. In many areas these paramilitaries cooperated with the army. There was national coordination. For example fighters from Urabá were transported to Mapiripán,” where 49 villagers were massacred. “Those groups disappeared. The emerging gangs are mercenaries who serve drugs traffickers. They are not operating against the guerrilla. Often they even cooperate with the guerrilla in the trafficking of drugs. It is a lack of intellectual honesty to name them paramilitaries.”
The defense and peace specialist also disagrees with Arco Iris’ conclusion that the paramilitaries’ demoblization has failed. “Ten percent of Colombia’s demobilized paramilitaries have gone back to their former lives. That is in accordance with international investigations,” he concludes.
Although Nuevo Arco Iris denies it, Alfredo Rangel opines that there is an ideological interest in saying that the paramilitaries’ demobilization is a failure. “It is true that director León Valencia is not a candidate to the senate, but the discredit of democratic security is a political goal. Valencia is member of the Polo Democrático and it is the Polo’s interest to criticize the Uribe government.”