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Colombian Insurgency - President Uribe - 2002-2010

Stepped-up government actions against the guerrillas during the first administration of lvaro Uribe Vlez (president, 2002-6, 2006-2010), with the help of significant U.S. military aid, kept the guerrillas mostly withdrawn into the countryside, while government efforts to improve the economy and reduce cocaine production were showing results. Accordingly, the FARC devoted its efforts to making windfall profits from the trade in illegal drugs and maintaining its territorial control in its traditional, mostly rural areas of operation, which constitute at least 30 percent of the national territory. The FARC has used its huge revenue from drug trafficking to purchase a formidable guerrilla arsenal.

The paramilitary groups that emerged in the early 1990s, including the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia-AUC), the country's largest paramilitary organization, have fought the guerrilla groups and terrorized campesinos and human rights workers suspected of supporting or sympathizing with them. Members of these paramilitary groups are sometimes in the pay of drug cartels and landowners and backed by elements in the army and the police. After being formed in 1997, the AUC began operating as a loose confederation of disparate paramilitary groups, the largest of which is the Self-Defense Campesino Forces of Crdoba and Urab (Autodefensas Campesinas de Crdoba y Urab-ACCU). Other important paramilitary organizations include the Cacique Nutibara Bloc (Bloque Cacique Nutibara-BCN), the Central Bolvar Bloc (Bloque Central Bolvar-BCB), and the Middle Magdalena Bloc (Bloque del Magdalena Medio-BMM).

With the surge in US foreign assistance funding for Colombia in early 2001, the Government of Colombia engaged a number of local and international NGOs to assist the people of the area, focusing on those who had been displaced from their villages and homes by violence. These funds also helped the government hire more investigators for the Colombian Attorney General's office, which has worked diligently to reveal the extent of the massacres and those responsible, both in this region and throughout Colombia. In addition, technical training and funds for the police and military were provided by the U.S. government, and coordinated with support from U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami and the U.S. Military Group (MILGP) in Bogot.

In the first Uribe administration, beginning in 2003, the Colombian government adopted a population-centric approach to combating insurgency that focused on protecting and providing services to the local populace, as well as training its own personnel in human rights and the rule of law. As a result, the Colombian military established significant trust and credibility within the local population, many of whom had until recently been very suspicious of the Colombian military's methods and motives.

In July 2003, seven months after the AUC announced a unilateral cease-fire, the Uribe administration opened formal negotiations with the AUC with the goal of demobilizing it. On April 18, 2006, the government announced that the dismantlement process had been completed, with the formal demobilization, since 2003, of 30,150 paramilitaries, who surrendered about 17,000 weapons, 117 vehicles, three helicopters, 59 urban properties, and 24,000 hectares of land as part of the process mandated by the controversial Law of Justice and Peace of July 22, 2005.

The Uribe government accepted most of the AUC's demands, which included minimal or complete absence of prison time to be served; no requirement to provide details of economic, political, or drug-trafficking structures; and a shield, but not total immunity, against extradition. Moreover, in addition to allowing the demobilized paramilitaries to retain substantial financial assets, the government gave political status to the AUC. An Organization of American States observer has monitored the government's peace process with the paramilitaries, lending the negotiations much-needed international credibility, although critics have complained about the leniency of the terms of surrender.

By 2007 Colombia had greater security over the national territory, thanks to implementing the plan called Democratic Security and Defense Policy. Some 30,000 illegal paramilitary forces had accepted demilitarization and demobilization. Approximately 10,800 FARC combatants remained in the organization, down from 16,800 in 2002. Security improvements were impressive: 80 percent reductions in kidnappings, 40 percent in homicides, terrorist attacks declined from 1645 in 2002 to 349 in 2007; the murder rate was the lowest in 20 years, and the area of coca cultivation reduced from 163,289 hectares in 2000 to 77,870 in 2006. Moreover, 2.3 million Colombians rose out of poverty. With this momentum of strategic and operational success, the attack on the Reyes camp was immensely popular in Colombia, and would soon be followed by the elimination of other FARC leaders.

Some believe the country's ominous future has been reversed. For the first time in Colombia's modern history, said McCaffrey, every road in the country is open to civilian traffic, and for the first time in probably 30 years, every municipality in Colombia has a Colombian national police presence in the town.

Although the last of the big cartels, Norte del Valle, disintegrated in 2004, they have been replaced by hundreds of smaller, lower-profile cartels, many of which operate in association with the paramilitary and guerrilla groups. These smaller networks have continued to wield significant power, although they adopted discreet bribery and intimidation rather than the political assassinations that had resulted in government crackdowns and dismantlement of the larger drug cartels.

The demise of the Medellin and Cali cartels did not result in a reduction of cocaine production. If anything, the situation became graver in the 1990s as countless smaller trafficking operations quickly moved in and filled the void left by the cartels. In addition, successful anti-drug operations in Bolivia and Peru resulted in greater coca production in Colombia as growers moved their operations across the border into the largely ungoverned Colombian hinterlands. Thus, today, in addition to being the world's leading processor and trafficker of cocaine, Colombia has achieved a dubious hat trick by being the world's leading grower of coca leaf as well (Peru dropped to second in 1996) in spite of an ongoing, vigorous, and very expensive eradication campaign. The Colombian government has had more success in reducing poppy cultivation and heroine production.

Colombia remains the source of an estimated 90 percent of the world's cocaine. Because of success in U.S.-supported Colombian anti-drug efforts, farmers are now growing the coca crop in new areas, and countering other anti-drug measures by the Colombian government to stay in the coca-growing business. The growing of drug crops has been curtailed, but the method for growing them has changed, making it harder to destroy coca, the plant used in making cocaine.

Colombia still suffers from a long-running anti-government insurgency. By 2010 both FARC and ELN guerrilla groups had responded with the same four minimum conditions for a peace agreement. First, the GOC must be willing to give its unambiguous and unanimous support for the agreement. Signing a peace agreement was just the beginning of the process and the terrorist groups have, because of historical precedent, a deep distrust of the GOC's good faith. Second, the military must be included in the process, a reminder that the Colombian Army opposed and worked against civilian-led peace talks in the 1980s and 1990s. Third, both groups seek participation by the private sector, which they view as the true power behind Colombian politics. Fourth, the ELN and FARC want some form of international accompaniment for the process.

By 2010, Colombia's efforts, as well as those of the United States, had yielded mixed results. Both nations, however, can point to real progress, and the Uribe administration is justly proud of its accomplishments. The Colombian Defense Force is far more capable now than in the 1990s. Government security forces are now permanently stationed in all 1099 Colombian municipalities. As a result, FARC's capabilities had been seriously degraded. The murder rate, still shockingly high, has dropped by over forty percent since Uribe took office. The UAC was disbanded. Poppy cultivation has dropped. Colombia (with U.S. support) is transitioning to a civilian-first (as opposed to a military-first) approach to maintain stability, reduce violence, and stem trafficking. Colombia is doing more than just talking about a whole of government approach; it is "doing" whole of government, even if unevenly and fitfully. The Colombian-U.S. effort has served (in some respects) as a model for Afghanistan. Simply put, the first decade of the 21st century has been far kinder to Colombia than the final decade of the 20th century.

Uribe, who intensified attacks on the FARC during his two terms in power, thinning the rebels' ranks and pushing them into remote jungle areas, opposed peace talks.

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Page last modified: 18-03-2015 20:54:31 ZULU