The vast majority of Colombians are against the government agreeing to a bilateral ceasefire with the FARC. While this position is respectable and understandable, I believe it is also very erroneous and even harmful.
My opinion is that the Colombian government and rebel group FARC should immediately agree to a bilateral ceasefire.
This opinion is shared with less than 10% of Colombians polled recently by Datexco. According to the pollster, almost half is in favor of suspending the peace talks with the country’s oldest guerrilla group altogether.
While I agree with the vast majority of Colombians that the FARC must disappear, I believe it is a major and costly mistake to think that this can be achieved through suspending the talks and continuing the war. The only way the FARC will “disappear” is by negotiating their demobilization, disarmament and reintegration into society, not by trying to kill them or force them into submission. It simply doesn’t work like that.
An abundance of evidence clearly indicates that the military approach has never worked before, even though Colombians were made to believe the opposite. It should also be clear that warfare is not supporting the peace negotiations. As others have said, the warfare undermines the negotiations.
Sun Tzu said
When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.
Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.
Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.
Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.
There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.
Perpetuating war — especially during peace talks — is a weak and ineffective strategy, one that can’t logically lead to a quicker solution to the conflict, either by losing the war, agreeing to a draw or defeating the enemy.
Colombian media are notoriously incompetent and in the hands of the same people who have run Colombia as a semi-feudal state since 1848. Selfservingly, they have painted a picture of the war that simply opposes reality, leaving Colombians with highly inaccurate information on which the people base their opinion.
Beyond propaganda: Army fatigue
What people don’t see on television is that the Colombian military has evidently been suffering fatigue that dates back as far as 2004.
This fatigue has not just led to a degradation of the military’s warfare and human rights record, it is also why the military will never be able to defeat the FARC.
I am not saying that military successes have not been made, because they have. However, I wouldn’t entirely give credit to the Colombian military for this as a lot of the work has been done with the help of paramilitary forces, and foreign money and intelligence.
The FARC’s military reduction began in 1995 when an offensive by the paramilitary AUC severely weakened the FARC’s connections to civilian society and cut the guerrillas off from important drug trafficking corridors, severely damaging the FARC’s finances.
Around the same time, the Colombian military saw itself fortified by hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid annually that allowed a major expansion of its fleet, a rapid expansion of ground forces, modern communication systems, spying equipment and what not.
Praise where praise is due least
However, while politicians like former President Alvaro Uribe, former defense ministers Marta Lucia Ramirez and Juan Manuel Santos, were claiming success after success, the truth was that Colombia’s military was already showing serious signs of fatigue and was only able to maintain its combat figures by killing thousands of civilians and presenting them as guerrillas killed in combat.
The garbage about military successes fed to Colombians through propagandist TV networks like RCN and Caracol got so rotten that in 2007 more than 40% of the 2,000 reported combat kills were in fact a macabre and systematic conspiracy carried out within the military.
Combat kills Colombians were spoonfed on TV
What really happened
One former soldier told me how his commander would purposely avoid direct combat with guerrilla groups and instead execute a civilian in order to fulfill the quota and appear active.
One might think that is criminally lazy, which it is, but you have to keep in mind that soldiers spend weeks, if not months in the jungle, depending on helicopter food droppings while being a constant target of guerrilla fighters. You can image that this is extremely exhausting, both physically and mentally.
The FARC’s rebound
While the Colombian military was losing its offensive capacity through fatigue and the US began withdrawing funds over severe human rights abuses, the guerrillas were actually recovering their ability to carry out attacks. These offensives weren’t as massive as back in the 1990s, but by 2011 had in number reached a level that was higher than before the military offensive.
While the guerrillas were already able to sustain their offensive capacity after 2006 already, the big bump came in 2008 when the FARC changed strategy from territorial warfare to guerrilla warfare and began using snipers, hit and run attacks, and IEDs. This resulted in a major increase in offensive actions.
At this point, a wise man would admit a war has entered a military stalemate. The already exhausted military was unable to counter these guerrilla attacks, groups that had emerged from the AUC no longer helped the military to fight guerrillas, and the US was withdrawing its support. At the same time, the FARC — while able to increase its attacks — has lost its ability to overthrow the state.
FARC attacks since 2002
The years of war during the most expensive period of Plan Colombia had resulted in absolutely nothing in terms of public security. The gains felt in cities like Bogota, Medellin and Cali were generously compensated by security losses in smaller cities and the countryside.
Both Uribe and Santos have tried to increase the number of soldiers and thus hold off fatigue, but without result.
The military and paramilitary territorial offensives had successfully achieved the recuperation (and subsequent theft) of a chunk of Colombia’s territory, but proved ineffective in eliminating the FARC or even reducing their offensive capacity, or come close to dealing a serious blow to the FARC’s drug trafficking.
Santos, who was defense minister before becoming president in 2010, knew this and picked up the peace talks that had secretly begun under the previous administration, but failed.
The president knew and knows exactly the state of the army, and knew and knows exactly how the FARC’s been able to consistently resist the military while amplifying their apparent military prowess by calculated attacks that require few fighters, but result in high-profile blows.
Colombians ignoring Colombians
While media were covering the conflict as one that only involves the two warring parties and the Uribe administration was praised over its military successes, civilian victimization was ignored, even though it was soaring.
The lack of success of the war waged in the first decade of the century becomes evident when you recognize that the number of civilian victims was as high in 2012, when the latest peace talks began, as it was in 1999 when the administration of former President Andres Pastrana commenced his peace talks.
Civilian conflict victims
Hardly any of this appeared on TV or in print media, leaving the Colombian population misinformed and supporting a war that has evidently failed.
Moreover, Colombians have not been made aware how the intensified warfare had led to the victimization of Colombians themselves. This collateral civilian damage, like the systematic killing of innocent civilians, was neatly kept out of public sight by both the government and most media.
Also in recent weeks when the FARC carried out more than two dozen attacks and the military successfully killed dozens of rebels, the mass victimization of Colombians as a consequence of this violence has almost hermetically been kept out of the news reports. There has been reporting on how FARC attacks on electricity pylons has left more than a million Colombian citizens without electricity, but nobody has reported on how renewed combat has displaced approximately 500 Colombians per month, at least.
I believe this explains the massive discrepancy between the Colombian general opinion and my personal opinion.
When I claim that a bilateral ceasefire is necessary now, I do this because I know that the Colombian military will never be able to defeat the FARC just like the FARC will never be able to defeat the military and establish the socialist state they hope for. I do this, knowing that tens of thousands of Colombians have to suffer the consequences of the government and FARC’s inability to just stick to negotiating without purposely trying to make military gains.
The FARC has already said it wants a bilateral ceasefire, so what is keeping Santos from agreeing to one when his current strategy is a complete failure?
If his objective is peace, the president should declare an indefinite and bilateral ceasefire right this minute. If he does not want peace, he should stop pretending and focus on making sure the military doesn’t collapse under the weight of his presidential incompetence.