Colombia’s largest rebel group FARC has failed in its attempt to recreate the organization’s so-called Caribbean Bloc due to repeated pressure from the Armed Forces, the Colombian army said on Friday.
“This Bloc no longer has a presence in the Caribbean region of Colombia. The 41st, 19th and 59th Fronts disappeared towards the border areas with Venezuela, while the 35th and 37th Fronts have tried to reorganize in the [northwestern] Antioquia department, however, they did not succeed, because every day we are putting pressure on them,” General Hernan Giraldo Restrepo, commander of the army’s Seventh Division told Colombia Reports.
According to the general, the 37th and 35th Fronts had to flee from their strongholds in the northern Montes de Maria region during the security offensive launched against them by the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010). The aforementioned FARC Fronts have since tried to regroup in the northeast of Antioquia without success however, due to the ongoing army offensive in the region.
As of 2013, little more than two dozen members of these Fronts remain.
“We have dealt so many blows to them that only a fraction remains of their old strength, they have some 25 members between them, they have been totally reduced,” the general said, while explaining that the bulk of FARC activity in northern Colombia has been concentrated in the Bajo Cauca region, where illegal mining and extortions have served as a source of income for the rebels.
“Northeastern Antioquia is the intersection of three FARC Blocs; the Northwestern Bloc, the Caribbean Bloc and the Middle Magdalena Bloc. For this reason the region is of great importance to the FARC, which is why we are striking blows against them there,” said the general.
Giraldo said the army offensive against illegal armed groups had been so intense that the units from the smaller left-wing rebel group, the ELN, had been almost completely defeated in Antioquia.
“The ELN’s War Front Dario Ramirez Castro, which is supposed to have some 1,000 members, has been reduced to some 150 men thanks to to the actions of the public force.”
The general also said the FARC had failed in retaking areas close to Colombia’s second largest city of Medellin, partly due to hostility on behalf of the civilian population towards the rebels.
“The FARC [in Antioquia] still have a unified command, this we do not deny, but the important thing is that they have returned to guerrilla warfare, working with explosives and mines, which proves they no longer have the strength to threathen the armed forces directly…the civilian population are not with them, the FARC has been displaced to the north of the department,” said the general.
Furthermore, army colonel Rafael Avila Salas told Colombia Reports that the Bajo Cauca region has served as a source of income for the FARC due to the prevalence of gold mines, both legal and illegal, in the region. The guerrilla group extorts local mining operations, while also operating its own illegal mines in the area..
“We have had FARC members from the 36th Front [active in northern Antioquia] captured in Cucuta [on the border with Venezuela], when they tried to reunite to discuss finances with [FARC Secretariat member] Ivan Marquez, which shows the economic importance of this region for them.”
Both officers assured that FARC and ELN rebels were severely weakened in Bajo Cauca and Antioquia at large, while pointing out the army would continue the work to rid the area of illegal armed groups.
- Interview with General Hernan Giraldo Restrepo, commander of the army’s Seventh Division
- Interiew with Colonel Rafael Avila Salas of the army’s Seventh Division