Despite successes by Colombia’s Armed Forces in the center of the country, the FARC have been able to increase their military activity, kill more soldiers and gain influence in the south-east, west and north of Colombia, a study on Colombia’s ongoing conflict shows.
According to the annual report by Nuevo Arco Iris, a study group focused on Colombia’s armed conflict, the army has been successful in central departments, where it has arrested and killed important guerrilla ringleaders.
However, despite nearly eight years of an aggressive military offensive against the guerrillas, the FARC are far from beaten but appear to be on the rebound. According to the report, the guerrillas increased their military attacks by 30% in 2009 and were able to kill more soldiers than in previous years, mostly by an increase in the use of anti-personnel mines.
According to official figures, 296 soldiers were killed and 1050 were injured by landmines in the first six months of 2009. In the full previous year 373 soldiers died and 1692 were injured.
Despite its recent rebound, the FARC is still significantly weaker than in 2002, when the first administration of President Alvaro Uribe began its ‘Democratic Security’ policy.
According to the Nuevo Arco Iris report, the country’s violent conflict is concentrated in three axes or corridors.
The violence is most serious in the west of the country in Nariño, Valle del Cauca, Cauca – all three departments in the south west of the country – and the Chocó department along the Pacific coast, where the FARC is not just involved in combat with the army, but also with the ELN and paramilitary drug gang Los Rastrojos.
Because of an alliance between ELN and Los Rastrojos, the country’s second largest guerrilla group has been able to increase in this area of the country.
The second corridor is from the center to the east of the country, where the FARC have strong presence in the Arauca, Casanare, Meta, Vichada and Guaviare depatrments. The paramilitary group of ‘Cuchillo’ is also active in this area, which is important for the growth of coca and the transport of drugs to Venezuela and the northern coast. According to the report, the guerrillas were able to strengthen their grip on this area.
The third conflict area is located on the Panamanian border, the north of Antioquia and the south of Bolivar. This area is mostly contested for drug trafficking and important hydro-electric and mining projects.
Following the demobilization of the AUC in 2006, paramilitary violence throughout the country dropped significantly. However, due to the military successes against the FARC in 2008 and a sharp increase of paramilitary activity almost immediately after the demobilization, right-wing death squads are more violently active than the left-wing guerrillas.
The report indicated that paramilitaries are mostly active in the north of the country, especially along the Caribbean coast and the departments of Antioquia and Cordoba.
According to the report, the tendency throughout 2009 however is that paramilitary activity is decreasing, while that of the FARC is going up.
Negotiations or war
Nuevo Arco Iris concludes the current ‘Democratic Security’ policy has reached its limit in effectiveness and the National Government must come up with a new strategy that either involves an increase in military action or negotiations that will lead to the demobilization of illegal armed groups.