According to a military news webpage, strategicpage.com, the Colombian government has purchased 39 M1117 Guardian Armored Security Vehicles. Despite the obscene amount, Colombian media did not pick up on this story apart from a pro-government economic paper, Portafolio. Understandably, the paper limited itself to translate the news rather than contact the relevant authorities to obtain more information and/or question the purchase for the hefty sum of US$ 1 million each.
Naturally the article received limited echo because it would have brought the government negative publicity. Just a month ago the government had shootdown a law that would have tried to compensate the victims of guerrillas’, paramilitaries’ and government forces’ atrocities because, incidentally, the government did not have the US$ 39 million for compensation. Apart from ethical concerns, there are other fronts in which this purchase exemplifies the government’s now mistaken war mentality that is openly promoted by the United States.
The M1117 is a 15 ton 4×4 armored vehicle that can mount either 12.7mm machine-guns or Mk19 40mm automatic grenade launchers in their turrets and protect the 4 personnel from Rocket Propelled Grenade attacks. It was built to handle the kind of combat encountered in Iraq. In fact, the US, Cadillac Gage of Textron, found itself without military contracts in 2002. However, Iraq’s lethal road side bombs led the US to order more M1117’s to reach about 2058 from only 49 in 2003. Bulgaria is the only other country in the world, apart from the US and Iraq, to have purchased the M1117’s, but those were also deployed in Afghanistan.
Colombia’s guerrilla war is vastly different from anything in Iraq and Afghanistan. Colombia’s urban areas may be full of thieves, murderers, displaced peasants and pickpocketers but rarely guerrillas armed with RPGs. The guerrillas stop having the maneuverability in urban areas they were known for after ex-president Andres Pastrana commenced the modernization of the armed forces. But, perhaps most important for fighting off the guerrilla threat was President Alvaro Uribe’s Plan Patriota (Patriot Plan), which aimed at having military presence in the most remote areas of Colombia.
Pastrana’s and Uribe’s anti-insurgency actions were possible thanks to funds the US allocated through Plan Colombia, which have now reached US$ 6 billion; 80 percent of those earmarked for the Colombianpolice and military. Even the change in the White House has not translated into structural changes in the military “cooperation”. This is not only demonstrated by the movement of the US base in Ecuador to three military and two naval bases in Colombia, but also by the recent unfreezing of US$ 50 million for Plan Colombia. These developments only add more suspicion to the actual entity responsible for ordering the purchase and its beneficiaries.
The intensification of the war has brought diminishing returns to the planners in Washington and Bogota, and an eternal struggle tothe peoples in the field. There was a breakthrough in 2008 with the death of three members FARC‘s secretariat with the army’s direct or indirect involvement. However, this year, Colombia’s internal conflict seem to have reached an impasse. The FARC are killing many soldiers in ambushes in rural areas but attacks to civilian populations have been limited, which are characteristics of long-lasting guerrilla warfare.
The government may have achieved what is possible through military means. Now another strategy with a political solution at the forefront is needed. Choosing to purchase war machines by forfeiting to compensate the victims of Colombia’s past and present violence or at the expense of funding programs that aim at eradicating poverty would not only nurture tomorrow’s paramilitaries’ and guerrillas’ foot soldiers, but also lead the millions displaced that are now in cities to irremediably choose crime.
Afterthought: Colombia’s neighborhood has not changed much since 2008.
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian and lives in Hong Kong