The Counterinsurgency Strategy of President Álvaro Uribe: Plan for Victory or Recipe for a Crisis?

The Counterinsurgency Strategy of President Álvaro Uribe: Plan for Victory or Recipe for a Crisis?
Working Paper

The internal conflict Colombia has suffered from for decades appears now to have reached a critical phase. Up until recently Bogotá governments employed a strategy combining repression and negotiation to tackle threats ranging from left-wing guerrilla groups, extreme right-wing paramilitaries and a variety of narcotics organisations. In 2002, the collapse of the Pastrana Administration’s peace talks with the rebels and the election of Álvaro Uribe as incoming President marked a turning point in the situation in Colombia in two ways. In the first place, the multidimensional nature of the crisis crystallised into a straight fight between the State and the guerrilla of the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia –Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-), with other players remaining, for the time being at least, on the sidelines. Secondly, the contenders opted to fight the strategic battle in purely military terms, putting political negotiations on the back burner. Thus at the outset of the Uribe Administration, the Colombian conflict became a trial of strength between the government and the FARC, with the level of violence now likely to increase significantly. This working paper aims at determining where the escalation of the military conflict is likely to lead and what the consequences will be, both for the contestants and for security in Colombia.

Within this redefinition of the Colombian scenario, the election of Álvaro Uribe as President signified a sea change in the peace policies pursued by successive Bogotá governments. The direction of this change was clear from the election campaign, which led Uribe to power. His platform was based on the idea that a return to law and order would come from military reinforcement of the State, not from talking to guerrillas. The argument won him voters, fed up with insecurity and Pastrana’s inability to make real headway towards peace with the main guerrilla groups. In May of last year the Colombian citizens voted Uribe in on a landslide, obviating the need for a second round in the Presidential election. This victory meant a radical break with conventional Colombian policy, which saw the security issue as one to be handled by placating violent groups, by strengthening State institutions as a means to the pacification of the country.

Uribe’s ascent to power coincided with the consolidation of the FARC as the main challenge to State authority. With 17,000 men under arms and the means to spend 500 million dollars a year, this insurgent group, led by Pedro Antonio Marín, known as Manuel Marulanda or ‘Tirofijo’ (Dead-eye), constitutes the main political and military threat to the stability of the country. Operating throughout the country, the FARC is militarily sophisticated and controls huge swathes of Colombia. There are other guerrilla bands but for a variety of reasons, though complicating the strategic scenario, they do not pose a serious threat to the State. Surviving in a various dispersed areas, the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional) is a waning military force, practically on the verge of disintegration. The paramilitary groups, most of which belong in one way or another to the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia), have more men but have failed to overcome their chronic fragmentation. To date they have not posed a threat to the State as they concentrate on fighting left-wing guerrillas and alleged or real fellow travellers. New groups presenting a serious threat to the State may well appear, paramilitary organisations dependent on the narcotics industry. But this will probably not occur until a victor emerges from the confrontation between the Uribe government and the FARC.

To wage this war, Uribe and his men must make do with the political scene left by Pastrana, with some options still open but others apparently closed for good. The latter’s lack of leadership and the failure of peace talks with the FARC meant that many Colombians have written him off in security matters. But a more objective analysis of the situation Pastrana handed over to Uribe evens up the scales. True, the talks with the FARC produced no noticeable advance towards peace; the rebels used the negotiations as a means of enhancing their political stature and consolidating their military advantage. In particular, the decision to hand over to the FARC an area of 42,000 square kilometres as a framework for peace talks looked to most people like an admission of weakness on the part of the State, one that the rebels exploited skilfully. Thus, most Colombians supported Pastrana’s decision to break off talks in January 2002, in a political climate that favoured the rise of a tough-talking candidate, but curtailed any reopening of a peace process in the more or less immediate future.

In contrast to his bad handling of the negotiations with the FARC, Pastrana left his successor two strategic assets that will probably prove Uribe’s best tools in tackling the security issue. He modernised the security forces, i.e., the army and the police, by means of new equipment and training to make them more professional. Even more important, Pastrana’s attempt to find a negotiated solution to the conflict with the FARC and other guerrilla movements did sterling good for Colombia’s international reputation. His administration’s unflagging efforts to find a negotiated solution for the FARC problem ended up by convincing US and European leaders that Colombia was threatened in reality by what amounted to a terrorist organisation, more interested in imposing its views by force of arms than in finding a way to demobilise. Only by this means could Bogotá have obtained US Congressional approval for the military aid contained in the Colombia Plan and a receptive audience to its requests for aid from the governments of the European Union. This improvement in the terms on which Colombia is perceived internationally is largely responsible for the warm welcome Uribe receives in American and European Chancelleries.

This working paper looks at three areas. The first one is the strategy employed by the Uribe Administration to restore law and order and the counter plans of the FARC to escalate their military actions and dislocate the political and social life of the country; it looks at the strengths and weaknesses on both sides. It also looks at the opportunities of defusing the situation that might arise at any given moment between the Uribe administration and the guerrillas. Finally, it considers to what extent Spanish foreign policy can help to restore peace and stability in Colombia.

The Counterinsurgency Strategy of the Uribe Administration
The security policy pursued by President Uribe is essentially a reaction to Pastrana’s failures to restore peace. Public frustration at more than three years of fruitless talks with the guerrillas created a suitable climate for a counterinsurgency plan that, over and above differences in priorities and tactics, was based on policies radically different from those influencing the outgoing government. In talking to the guerrillas, Pastrana made a tacit admission that the legitimacy of the State was open to question. Only thus could it have agreed to permit the insurgents sovereign power over a substantial part of national territory to get the talks started. This same horizon of a weakened State power base underlay the government’s constant willingness to consummate the peace process with the guerrillas by means of a constitutional convention capable of radically revising the political regime. The Pastrana administration always assumed that it would have to make huge concessions if it wanted to demobilise the guerrillas.

The concept of “democratic security” presented by Uribe as the cornerstone of his counterinsurgency strategy is based on a radically different view of the nature of the State. For the incoming president and his advisers the legitimacy of the Republic resides in its condition as a democracy; it is under no obligation to discuss the future of the State with armed minorities. On the contrary, its first duty is to defend law and order against acts of criminal totalitarian aggression. In consequence, the extent to which the new government can make political concessions to the guerrillas is much more limited than it was under Pastrana. This leaves the State with two weapons at its command: military pressure by means of mobilising the army and the police; and dialogue, trying to persuade the rebels to desist in their efforts. ‘Democratic security’ does not rule out the possibility of dialogue, but it stops a long way short of letting the guerrillas model the State along their own lines. Military pressure and dialogue are, in fact, two sides of the same coin: the State’s effort to restore its authority, summed up in Uribe’s favourite expression: “Firm hand; big heart”.

The dual approach is reflected in the specific counterinsurgency reforms the Uribe Administration wants to implement: reinforce the army and the police, reform the intelligence service and strengthen territorial security; coupled with political initiatives aimed at encouraging the guerrillas to demobilise and rejoin a peaceful world.

On the military side, Uribe wants to increase the size of the armed forces to allow them to patrol every inch of the country – tropical jungles, mountain peaks and all. At present the government has only 191,000 men in the Armed Forces and 97,000 policemen[1] to do this with. His plan is to extend the duration of military service, thereby gaining 10,000 new recruits each year, and to take on 30,000 professional soldiers to add to the existing 55,000. Additional policemen will be trained and experienced officers will be encouraged to delay retirement; the immediate target being to reach a force of 140,000 men.

The increase in the size of the security forces is aimed at permitting qualitative changes. The additional professional soldiers in the Armed Forces will allow Uribe to create new specialist units. Two new mobile brigades will be added to the existing seven. As a result, each of the army’s six divisions will have its own counterinsurgency unit, alongside the three units assigned to the Rapid Deployment Force (FUDRA), employed as the strategic reserve of the chiefs of staff. There are plans afoot to train special operations platoons capable of conducting in-depth reconnaissance and search-and-destroy missions against key targets such as guerrilla command posts, logistic infrastructure, etc. Washington has already allocated funds for training a brigade to protect the Caño Limón–Coveñas oil pipeline. Finally, Uribe plans to set up Special Anti-Terrorist Forces, trained in urban warfare and guerrilla detection in major population centres in order to face the penetration of guerrilla groups in urban areas.

Within the modernisation programme, material requirements are not such a priority thanks to recent acquisitions, mainly helicopters. Colombia now has a fleet of 150 helicopters, including 70 UH-60 ‘Blackhawks’; from five to twelve more are expected to make the Caño Limón–Coveñas pipeline protection brigade fully operative. The idea is to provide direct air cover to forces on the ground and modify additional Blackhawks to join the 16 converted ‘Harpy’ gunship versions. The air force plans to add another AC-47 ‘ghost plane’ to the one now operational. In the longer term, senior Colombian officers consider they need at least three of these veteran transport planes, converted into gunships. Among the plans of the air force is acquisition of a significant number of Brazilian light tactical support aircraft, the EMB-314 or “Super Tucano”. Their use would contribute much to the ability of high command to project their military capability right across the country: a key requirement given the size and natural barriers of Colombia. Unfortunately, the plan to purchase these aircraft was frustrated: there were reports that kickbacks were about to be paid for political favours while, at the same time, the United States opposed the deal on the grounds that such a large acquisition of Brazilian military hardware would partially reduce Colombia’s dependence on Washington[2].

The government cancelled the order for the ‘Super Tucanos’, the first significant re-equipping of the Colombian air force (FAC) since the 1980s[3]. Efforts are also underway to improve the level of maintenance of both the Colombian Air Force’s and the army’s aircraft, currently at around 30%. The army’s airborne brigade is the worst affected and where the first remedies should be applied. Other earmarked investments refer to less expensive items –communications, night-fighting equipment, etc.– but ones that make all the difference in counterinsurgency operations. This plan for the development and modernisation of the country’s security forces should allow them to neutralise any major guerrilla initiative and destroy concentrations of guerrilla forces and their infrastructure.

The programme to strengthen Colombia’s military establishment faces a number of difficulties. There are serious contradictions between some election promises and the strategic needs that have to be met. In his campaign the president said that before the end of his term the army would have become a fully professional outfit and obligatory military service abandoned. However, military commanders cannot do without conscript troops, there being insufficient funds to replace them entirely with paid professionals. Uribe is faced with the choice of having to renege on his election promise, with the resulting loss of popularity that would entail, or gain a short-term political advantage that leaves the army undermanned. Also, the defence spending programmes pay insufficient attention on the need to protect government forces. There are no plans to purchase new armoured vehicles to allow troops and police to enter hostile areas with some degree of protection. Nor has anything been done to strengthen the programme to fortify rural police stations to improve the protection they provide against guerrilla attacks. Such measures are essential if the government wants to limit casualties among its own forces. Low casualty figures are a critical factor in two senses: they improve troop morale and they reduce the political flak received when operations involving heavy loss of life are reported. However, the present plans of the Uribe Administration do not appear to take these considerations into account.

Another major obstacle to Uribe’s plans is the Colombian economy: it is not in a position to support a major military build-up. Although there are no plans to acquire costly equipment, in terms of manpower the government wants to deploy a minimum of 110,000 new soldiers and policemen, forces that will require not only wages, but also equipment and operational expenses. Spending on security in 2002 totalled COP 8.6 billion (EUR 3.06 bn), the equivalent of 3.5% of GDP. A budget this size leaves little room for modernising and strengthening the armed forces, particularly when only 11% of the total is earmarked for investment. To finance his military build-up, in August Uribe imposed a new capital gains tax to bring in an extra COP 2.0 billion (EUR 710,000)[4] However, part of this will have to pay for costs already incurred by the armed forces, meaning that the amount available for military expansion is no more than COP 800 million (EUR 290,000). For a country with an economy that has produced flat growth in the last few years, it would be wishful thinking to expect much more than this meagre sum. Various stopgap measures have been taken to reduce the costs of increasing the size of the armed forces and the police. The decision to retain police officers of retirement age is driven by a cost-saving strategy given that part of their salaries would be charged to pension provisions rather than the defence and security budget. But this type of measure only produces limited savings which to little to alleviate the government’s restrictions on financing the war effort. The lack of resources is made even more acute by the fact that widespread corruption in the armed forces implies a high level of wasted funds.

At the same time, insufficient attention is being paid to critical problems in the functioning of the security apparatus, the solution to which requires determined action on the part of the civil authorities in ordering and articulating relations between the various corps and forces that take part in the struggle against counterinsurgency. One notes the lack of measures to improve coordination between the army and the national police, whose rivalry is proving a drain on the war effort. The appointment of an open-minded man such as General Teodoro Campo to head the police force is an opportunity of improving these difficult relations. However, on the other side of the equation, certain members of senior military command appear to favour army supremacy over the security set-up. Such an approach increased the difficulties in establishing effective cooperation between the armed forces and the police. Some groups in the armed forces appear tempted to consolidate their dominant position with respect to the police after the latter institution gained a leading independent role under the Samper administration thanks to the support of Washington. In any event, if the army decides to reaffirm its supremacy even at the cost of sidelining the national police, cooperation between the two institutions would be impossible, with extremely grave consequences for the fight against the guerrillas.

In this context significant problems relating to the strategic deployment of government security forces appear to have been ignored. Police and military personnel are concentrated in specific areas, leaving huge tracts of the country unprotected. The three most heavily populated departments – Cundinamarca, Antioquia and Valle del Cauca – house over 49% of the police force (more than 48,000) and nearly 35% of the military (over 67,000). Three areas, which together account for less than 9.5% of the surface area of the country, contain over 41% of the security forces. True, there are factors that explain this situation. The area contains Colombia’s three largest cities – Bogotá, Medellín and Cali – with 18.7 million people, over 40% of the total population. The present deployment is partly explained by a combination of strategic and institutional factors. The military maintain a strong presence in the main cities as a result of their historic deployment, their role in maintaining law and order and the time when they led the fight against the efforts of the 19 April Movement (M-19) to organise an urban guerrilla. On the other hand, the strong police presence in the three largest cities stems from their leading role in the fight against the narcotics industry. The police-town relationship crystallised in the mid 1990s with a move to make the National Police a demilitarised urban police force. This distribution is wholly inadequate for fighting armed groups, particularly the FARC. As with any guerrilla movement employing a strategy based on the Maoist concept of a prolonged peasant struggle, the organisation led by Marulanda occupies rural areas where State forces are very thin on the ground, before converging on targeted townships. The high concentration of public security forces in urban centres opens a window of opportunity for insurgents to consolidate their control over broad areas of the countryside from which to launch their attacks on the cities.

The current deployment of the police and the armed forces offers the FARC strategic advantages. Even in the event of rebel operations switching to the towns, the present deployment of security forces looks inadequate. To a large extent the possibilities of defending cities against terrorist campaigns depends more on the existence of efficient intelligence work than on a massive presence of armed security forces. The chances of preventing terrorist infiltration within city limits rely on the ability of security forces to maintain the initiative in preventing the appearance of so-called ‘liberated’ zones used by the rebels to launch their urban attacks. None of these strategic goals justifies concentrating manpower in the three departments mentioned; yet neither the Uribe administration nor the security chiefs have made any effort to rethink the issue. Again, the cost of deploying forces in remote areas is the main problem. Colombian business interests, too, take a dim view of moving large number of personnel of the National Police or the Armed Forces from town centres to rural zones where they may come under guerrilla attack.

Some of Uribe’s military modernisation plans pay scant attention to the real needs of the security forces. Given that in all probability the guerrillas will introduce changes to their tactical repertoire, the security forces will have to be very flexible to adapt accordingly. In particular, the switch of part of the insurgents’ operations to urban territory, or the intensification of sabotage and rural terrorism will require radical changes in the way the army and the national policy operate. To respond to such challenges, it will be necessary to increase and diversify the training the soldiers and policemen receive. However, in order to deploy the new units as quickly as possible, the period of military and police training has been reduced. One wonders how effective raw recruits will be without adequate training.

This is particularly true in the light of the chronic shortage of officers, especially in the armed forces. Commissioned officers make up only 5.5% and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) only 17% of total army manpower. The situation is even worse in the army: 4% officers and 14% NCOs . These figures are particularly low when it is considered that counterinsurgency campaigns require small flexible units relying heavily on individual initiative. This in turn requires large numbers of well-trained professional junior officers and NCOs to decentralise decision-making. The increasing presence of professional soldiers has helped to some extent. They raise average levels of soldiery and could provide a reserve of future well-qualified NCOs. However, these and other methods to fill the gaps in the security forces will not solve the problem overnight.

The situation in the police force is slightly different. Here, most men are full-timers, to the extent that 83% enjoy civil-service status. . The proportion of officers – both commissioned and non-commissioned – is 53% of total manpower, higher than in the military. The problem with the police is that the uncompleted reform movement of the mid 1990s, supposedly aimed at simplifying and modernising  the system of ranks, introduced an executive category, covering non-commissioned officer ranks, as part of the plan to turn the force into a purely civilian outfit[6]. Putting the project into practice has dragged on in time, and there are now two parallel chains of command, one conventional military, the other of more recent design. This duality has complicated and weakened the chain of command, creating additional difficulties for effective police operations. Whether the introduction of a civilian command system is appropriate for present conditions in Colombia, with the presence of rural guerrilla warfare of medium-intensity violence, is a moot point. Despite this series of handicaps affecting the operational capability of the police and armed forces, the new administration has so far not announced specific measures to correct them. The lack of initiatives aggravates problems that can only be solved by means of a sustained effort by the government.

As for the reform of the intelligence services, Uribe’s plans look very much like the failed initiatives of his predecessors. The showpiece project is the construction of a National Intelligence Centre (CENIT) to coordinate the activities of the six main agencies comprising the intelligence community: those belonging to each of the three armed forces, the Intelligence Department of the Armed Forces General Command, the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) and the Police Intelligence Command (DIPOL) of the National Police. At bottom it is a rehash of Samper’s idea of setting up the National Intelligence System (SINAI) to bring all the country’s intelligence effort under one roof; a plan that never progressed much beyond the statute book[7] due to infighting among those involved and the political tincture pervading it from the start.

There are a number of reasons why the CENIT will find it difficult to coordinate intelligence efforts. To begin with, there are fresh fears of political tendentiousness due to the fact that the germ of the idea appeared among the close-knit group of presidential advisers, with Pedro Juan Moreno[8] very much to the fore. This former Secretary of Public Order in Antioquia is reported as being one of Uribe’s closest advisers despite accusations of alleged links with the paramilitaries. Whether these allegations are well-founded or not, his involvement in the project fuels doubts among politicians and the general public as to whether the new intelligence organisation is sufficiently committed to respect for human rights. There is a real danger that intelligence officers regard CENIT as an external initiative designed to enlist them in the ranks of political interests. Rivalry among the intelligence agencies –particularly those of the three armed forces and the police– remains high; coordinating them requires an institution enjoying the kind of broad political consensus that CENIT has singularly failed to obtain. This does not imply that the CENIT initiative is stillborn; Uribe’s personal backing guarantees its survival and political relevance, as he no doubt intends to use it to obtain from its dependent agencies the information required for the administration’s decision-making. Moreover, the plan is to extend the activities of the centre beyond those of information evaluation to developing an autonomous operational capacity.

The Uribe Administration appears to ignore other critical problems besetting the intelligence apparatus. It remains incapable of shortening the time lag between the moment when valuable information is obtained and when police and military operations can be launched to exploit it. So many hours are wasted in processing tactical information that, by the time ground forces receive it, most of its usefulness has evaporated. This was one of the difficulties encountered in the campaign to recover the Détente Zone controlled by the FARC during the failed Pastrana peace process. It took the intelligence units so long to process information on potential targets that the guerrillas were able to slip through the military cordon with only minor casualties. In addition, the economic resources earmarked for intelligence are one of the budgetary items most exposed to wastage and corruption. The confidential nature of much information gathering makes it difficult to discover where money is being spent and even harder to evaluate whether such spending was cost effective. Thus, there is a strong chance that increased spending will not result in greater efficiency; money will oil cogs not geared to results. But the Administration does not appear to be addressing these problems, which are legion in the Colombian intelligence apparatus.

Uribe’s plans to enlist the population in the service of the armed forces are unlikely to prove effective, either. This project, known as the Armed Forces Co-operators’ Networks, is based on groups of civilians connected one with another by telephone or radio and linked to nearby military units. The plan is to establish informal guard posts along roads and in urban and rural areas to report any suspicious activity[9]. If the President meets his target of recruiting a million civilian informants, he will have to solve the problems associated with controlling these networks and handling the huge quantity of information they would produce. The absence of a solid, professional and coordinated intelligence community could impede this. One of the difficulties will be to distinguish genuine information from informer errors or simple misinformation. Again, sorting and evaluating such a huge amount of material will mean that much of it will be out of date by the time it reaches forces on the ground. The informant networks will be vulnerable to corruption and infiltration by insurgents and paramilitaries. An example of these weaknesses was the discovery of a false network of informants that tried to swindle money out of people keen to join[10]. It also remains to be seen whether informants will resist the campaign of threats and violence they are likely to be subjected to by the guerrillas.

But the most polemical aspect of Uribe’s security policy is his strategy of territorial control to put a stop to insurgent infiltration and protect rural communities from guerrilla attack. It hinges on setting up a militia force composed of locally recruited troops drawn from village populations to act locally with ad hoc support from regular army and police units. The militiamen would live at home and maintain their normal civilian activities. In theory, the idea is that this ‘peasant force’ receives basic training and acts under the supervision of regular forces, their main duties being to provide intelligence and defend villages in the event of a guerrilla attack. The plan is to build a force 100,000-men strong.

Support for this initiative comes in the main from the Armed Forces. With the militia under their direct control, Army chiefs of staff reckon they will have a tool with which to carry out the traditional rural security and territorial reconnaissance duties normally reserved for the National Police. Since the mid 1990s the army has tended to withdraw to large bases where troops are less vulnerable to guerrilla attack. Initially, the police undertook to maintain their presence in most villages by means of a network of rural police stations. However, the guerrillas singled out the most remote stations, forcing the police to withdraw. At present, 163 municipalities (14.7% of the total) lack a police presence. The army wants to use the militias as a back-up force in a bid to regain control of these remote areas and close off others where insurgent numbers are increasing. The planned ‘Democratic Defence and Security Policy’ being aired by the administration has high hopes of its armed villagers. According to the scheme, areas freed of insurgents would be handed over to “Local Security Forces”, tactical units of the Armed Forces, led by nuclei of professional soldiers and including police, army conscripts and the local militia. In this way the army would assume control of rural and territorial security, leaving the police with citizen security and a subordinate role in counterinsurgency operations. 

Training militia units began in October of last year. Army brigades recruited the first militia contingents who are to receive two and half months’ training for deployment in their place of residence in February 2003[11]. The role of the army in training, deploying and controlling this territorial militia force raises a number of questions. The concentration of the armed forces in major bases means that the number of troops stationed in the smaller villages would only be sufficient to ‘keep a rein on’ the militias. The likelihood is that many of them would be subject to only radio contact or periodic visits from nearby military outposts. Most of the time they would be operating alone, making them vulnerable to guerrilla attack and liable to ignore orders. This is particularly dangerous in view of the fact that paramilitary organisations and drug-running groups operate hand in hand in many regions. The chances of the militia being infiltrated by these elements and made tools of their ‘dirty wars’, both to attack the guerrillas and to protect the interests of local drug barons, are high. An alternative would be to transfer militia control to the National Police. Their much broader territorial deployment should allow them to maintain closer control over these auxiliary forces than the army is able to. However, at the moment, the Army regards the militias as part of its operation.

Finally, Uribe’s counterinsurgency strategy has a political side in its effort to negotiate with those armed groups willing to abandon violence. He has made a general offer of dialogue with both the left-wing guerrillas of the FARC and the ELN and the paramilitaries of the AUC. However the possibility of negotiations in the short term with the FARC appears to be nil. In fact, following the derailment in January 2002 of the talks with the Pastrana administration, the FARC’s latest pronouncements and its most recent actions point to military escalation rather than peace initiatives. In reality, the peace proposals of the Uribe government appear directed more at the AUC and the ELN.

With respect to the paramilitary movement, the government’s efforts to reach a peace settlement with the AUC appear to have made progress, and there is a chance of them demobilising at some point in the first half of 2003. At the end of November, the press reported on meetings between government spokesmen and the paramilitaries with the mediation of the Church[12]. At around the same time, the government pushed through a Congressional Act, number 418, on negotiations with armed groups to promote talks with groups having no political recognition such as the autodefensas. In response, the AUC declared a cease-fire. This was nothing new for this organisation that has called cease-fires for the last three Christmases. On this occasion the cease-fire was hailed as definitive, part of a move to dissolve the organisation in return for various negotiating rights as a recognised political force and the liberation of their imprisoned members. The start of negotiations revealed the splits in the paramilitary movement. The AUC leadership, headed by Carlos Castaño, which controls some 8,000 men, was mostly in favour. It was followed by the Central Bolívar paramilitaries and those known as the Victors of Arauca, whose 1,500 members had distanced themselves from the AUC in the previous year[13]. That left only 1,300 paramilitaries of the Metro and Casanare groups outside of the peace process.

Demobilisation of the paramilitaries will have to overcome major obstacles if it is not to unleash serious political destabilisation. To begin with, talks with the AUC will bring strong protest from pro-human rights and left-wing movements who are opposed to any amnesty for the autodefensas, seeking the trial of their leaders, notably Salvatore Mancuso and Carlos Castaño, for human rights violations. Even if the Uribe administration was prepared to concede such people immunity, the experience in Argentina and Chile, where human rights organisations have overridden government amnesties and pressed charges against military personnel accused of crimes against humanity, makes it doubtful whether it would be able to guarantee legal immunity. The AUC leaders may be considering what options they have. Rumours of Carlos Castaño’s acceptance of extradition to the United States may point to an attempt by the paramilitary leader to find a personal solution for his legal difficulties, thus implying an agreement with the US justice department for benevolent treatment in return for cooperation in the war on drugs. Be that as it may, it still remains to be seen whether the Colombian and US administrations have sufficient leverage to be able to reach an amiable settlement with an individual such as Castaño, who has earned the widespread hostility of people both inside and outside Colombia.

Similar difficulties arise with the ties linking the autodefensas with the drug rings when it comes to peace negotiations. For the last two years the paramilitaries have remained divided over rejection or otherwise of drug trafficking. To improve the movement’s image Castaño tried to impose on the AUC a code of conduct for the groups under its control including a ban on the use of drug money as a source of finance. However, groups such as the Bloque Central Bolívar refused to accept and, thus, have stayed out of the talks with the Administration. This does not imply that those paramilitaries involved in talks with the government are free from drug influence. Castaño himself, who has maintained links with the cartels of Medellín, Cali and Valle del Norte at various times in the past, casts doubts over the genuineness of the AUC’s much heralded break with the drug barons. The reality is that the drug connection could have grave consequences for security. A number of paramilitaries could be tempted to use the peace process as a means of wiping clean their records as drug-peddlers by means of an amnesty, with no real intention of relinquishing their involvement.

A third obstacle to paramilitary demobilisation refers to the rehabilitation of their 11,000 combatants. They are made up of young people who receive relatively high pay from the organisation, along with military training, and are often involved in criminal activities such as drug trafficking and kidnapping. Any rehabilitation programme would have to solve the difficult problem of finding these individuals a socially acceptable way out that prevents them from joining the ranks of common criminals. If they are given government jobs, they will be vulnerable to reprisals from insurgents as a result of their past activities. It is equally difficult to see how a country experiencing a profound economic crisis can offer employment to young people having no qualifications other than military experience, with wages sufficient to avoid them resorting to violence. The possibility of recruiting at least some of them for the security forces carries numerous risks, although it would not be the first time that armed Colombian guerrillas are recruited by the security forces. A group of former militants of the Maoist Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL) was incorporated into the Department of Security following rehabilitation in the early 1990s[14]. The sheer numbers of the paramilitaries is a problem in itself, aside from their backgrounds of abuse of human rights and involvement in the drug trade. There is a danger that their incorporation into government ranks would expose military and police forces to contagion, with a return to the arguments in favour of illegal methods to combat the insurgents, thus compromising the efforts of the last few years to try to make the Colombia’s armed forces more professional.

With respect to talks with the ELN, the Pastrana administration made significant progress towards its demobilisation. However, talks faltered on the guerrillas’ demand to be handed over a demilitarised zone as a goodwill gesture. They broke down finally in April of last year. The relative weakness of the elenos (ELN combatants) prevented them from responding militarily. They remain now in a critical position, having suffered heavy punishment from both the army and the paramilitaries. Although official estimates put their numbers at 3,000–4,000, other calculations give a figure as low as 1,500–2000. Their plight has been worsened by frequent desertions to the FARC or to the paramilitaries, in search of a personal solution to what militants see as the inevitable demise of the organisation. In the last few months, large numbers of ELN combatants in the oil-rich area of Barrancabermeja (department of Santander) appear to have joined the autodefensas. The FARC have attacked the elenos, particularly in the area along the Caño Limón–Coveñas oil pipeline, in their efforts to gain a stranglehold on the country’s energy resources. As a result the ELN has either been dislodged from strategically important regions or its combatants have simply changed sides and joined the FARC. With military disintegration of real danger, ELN leaders had no option but to begin talks with the Uribe government, which has held meetings with the representatives of the Central Command (COCE) of the ENL in Havana. However, those talks were broken off in December for what a guerrilla spokesman called the “authoritarian attitude” of the new government. However, the true reason appears to lie in disagreements on the means of demobilisation and the agenda for the group’s national convention, supposed to decide on a definitive end to armed violence and a return to legal politics. The danger now is that ELN disintegrates further and the COCE loses control over its subordinates, making a deal with the group irrelevant in practical terms.

Progress in the talks with the AUC and the ELN has gone hand in hand with a debate on the mechanics of negotiating with violent groups. Politicians and analysts favour decentralised talks in order to involve regional authorities and the regional leaders of the armed groups[15]. In principle, the government opposes this option, but its objections are lukewarm; its “not yet” is seen as leaving the door open to such a tactic at some time in the future[16]. There is a discernable match between such a move and the possibility of government–guerrilla talks. Both organisations have decentralised structures that in practice operate as coalitions of groups operating in different regions. Looking ahead, a government decision to complement top-level talks with the leadership by means of parallel regional negotiations cannot be ruled out. Such a strategy could help dismount the ELN and the AUC by means of a dual commitment by the leadership and the regional organisations. This would avoid deals agreed with the leaders becoming meaningless as a result of eleno field commanders or paramilitaries going it alone, and make demobilisation and rehabilitation more effective. Such talks would not carry significant political costs as they could be conducted discreetly, bartering personal assurances and, at the most, some form of power sharing at municipal or regional level.

The government’s interest in making progress in its talks with the AUC and the ELN is to a large extent politically motivated. An administration such as Uribe’s, accused of connections with the paramilitaries, is in a difficult position when it comes to rehabilitating the autodefensas. A quick deal would raise an outcry inside and outside the country. If the talks with the AUC and the ELN run in parallel, Uribe cannot be accused of favouring the extreme right. On the contrary, a deal with the autodefensas would be seen as part of broader scheme including the ELN. The search for a simultaneous agreement with paras and elenos would be acceptable as a strategic gambit. It would also reduce the number of armed irregulars in Colombia, while demobilisation of the paramilitaries would bring an end to a difficulty facing Colombian governments, the need to fight both left- and right-wing guerrillas with limited resources. The links between the paramilitaries and some members of the security forces has been particularly damaging, as it meant periodic purges among military and police officers accused of collaborating with the groups. Deactivation of the paramilitary movement would not only free the government’s hands for its campaign against the FARC; it would also end a difficult period for the security forces.

It should be noted that security strategy is largely determined by the President’s desire to obtain quick results. The head of State is banking on short-term counterinsurgency progress providing him with the popularity and prestige needed to undertake some of the political and economic reforms contained in his election prospectus and resisted strongly by traditional political and social groups. This need for visible results is doubtless stimulating an improvement in the operational effectiveness of the security forces but there is an element of risk involved. At times it leads to hasty decisions where disadvantages are not always weighed properly. One such is the plan to recruit villagers as a militia force. Arming such people requires careful planning and detailed pilot projects, neither of which appears to have been undertaken before the measure was announced. Excessive haste has also encouraged the idea among the military and the police that the key issue is to have something to show the public, regardless of the cost involved. This could lead to certain units flouting the human rights restrictions imposed on operations.

US policy towards Colombia could have a significant impact on the behaviour of the Administration in the field of security. For some time now, Bogotá has been receiving signals from Washington indicating a lessening concern over human rights. The exceptional measures taken in the US counter-terrorism campaign following the events of 11-S are interpreted by certain members of the Colombian security community as a sign that Washington is putting anti-terrorism before human rights. Recently, the White House requested the signing of an agreement under which US soldiers posted to Colombia would be immune to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court[17], thereby convincing many Colombian military and civilian security personnel that the US is no longer interested in subjecting its troops to the same humanitarian legislation that it has traditionally demanded of Colombian forces[18]. In early September of last year the Uribe Administration obtained from the US Department of State a clean bill of health on human rights, giving it access to a further military aid package. There is now a feeling among certain sectors of the Colombian administration that Washington will not now come down as hard on human rights issues as it did in the past.

The strategic options of the FARC
When it comes to evaluating the response of the FARC to renewal of the counterinsurgency effort, it is clear that the guerrillas were not surprised by Uribe’s election victory. It was almost as if it was a matter of indifference to them who occupied the Casa de Nariño; it even looked, once his election looked likely, as though they preferred Uribe as President. Ideologically, this attitude of the FARC is in accord with its Marxist-Leninist revolutionary doctrine, which seeks to exploit the contradictions of the establishment as a means to its overthrow. It is most unlikely that this insurgent group was unaware of the electoral effect of its military campaign in the months leading up to the presidential elections in May. However much the FARC leadership had lost touch with political reality, it could not fail to realise that that offensive, launched after the breakdown of peace talks with the Pastrana Administration, would shower votes on Uribe. It must be assumed that the FARC were banking on just such an outcome. Nor is it likely that they are surprised by the kind of counterinsurgency policy adopted by the incoming president, given that they were the prime target of Uribe’s security drive in his period as governor of Antioquia between 1995 and 1997. The likelihood is that the guerrillas knew in general terms what sort of political and military challenge they would face with Uribe’s election and had already worked out their strategic options beforehand.

The polarisation of Colombian politics as a result of Uribe’s election triumph could benefit the FARC in the short term. A heightening of the conflict could allow the guerrillas to recover the political and social base that has been slipping from their grasp. The policy of pacifying the insurgents adopted by the Pastrana administration had, indirectly, engendered doubts among many intellectuals sympathetic to the guerrillas’ cause as to the reasonableness of maintaining an armed struggle when the State was leaning over backwards to reinsert outlawed guerrilla fighters in legal political activity. However, Uribe’s triumph in the polls and his image as the candidate of the extreme right have strengthened the view among these circles that armed struggle is legitimate. As a result, the FARC will be able once again to count on the close-knit support of such sectors, thereby strengthening a political base that is crucial for insurgents intent on postulating their role as true champions of the people’s rights and valid political interlocutors vis-à-vis the authorities.

In the longer term, from the FARC’s standpoint, polarisation creates the conditions for their decisive victory over the State. The guerrillas consider that if they are able to triumph over a right-wing militaristic administration they will finally convince the social elite and pubic opinion that the State cannot win by force of arms, thus creating the conditions for negotiations with the authorities from a position of strength. The FARC’s announcement that it would only accede to negotiations with the Uribe administration if he accepted a demilitarised zone the size of two whole departments was part and parcel of this strategic view. The guerrillas must have known full well that there was no possibility of their obtaining such a concession. Their demands were directed at breaking down by force the resistance of the more conservative elements of the President’s circle, thereby creating a new political scenario in which a government with a more gentle approach would be prepared to make even bigger concessions.

With these objectives in mind, the FARC developed a long-term strategy that goes back to the rupture of the talks with Pastrana. Following that decision, the guerrillas carried out a campaign of urban terrorism and economic sabotage. As the months went by, their activities changed direction, focusing on less high-profile moves to recover the control of strategic areas: guerrilla operations in the Urabá region (departments of Antioquia and Córdoba), the Pacific coastline (Chocó, Valle del Cauca, Cauca and Nariño), the frontier with Ecuador and Peru (Putumayo), the corridors towards the frontier with Venezuela (Norte de Santander, Arauca and Casanare) and the middle course of the river Magdalena (Santander and Boyacá). These regions are of major strategic value thanks to the numerous cocaine plantations or other activities liable to extortion or as routes for exporting drugs and importing armaments. The efforts made by the FARC to recover these areas are aimed at consolidating their control over key resources and the logistic supply lines needed to sustain a future military onslaught. To date the guerrillas have been relatively successful in this aim, demonstrating military superiority over the AUC, on which they have inflicted heavy losses in their recovery of these strategic locations.

While shoring up their rearguard, there are signs that the FARC is planning on the introduction of new military techniques in the coming campaign. One can detect a change in their targeted objectives. Previously, guerrilla operations were mainly directed at the armed forces, but these attacks have proved more costly and less politically rewarding as the army improves its operational capacity. The FARC were unable to force the release of 300 of their combatants in government hands in return for several hundred policemen and military personnel captured over the last few years. Instead, the guerrillas have opted for direct pressure on the political elite with attacks and kidnaps of leading members of the elite itself. This was the thinking behind the kidnap of the senator Eduardo Gechen Turbay and the presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in January 2002. The same is true of the kidnap of twelve deputies of the regional congress of the Valle del Cauca in Cali in April. Such actions against high-profile regional or national political figures will tend to increase in the future. 

Part of this campaign to step up military pressure on the political elite was the repeated efforts to assassinate the candidate and later president, Uribe. The FARC leadership is fully aware of the key political position occupied by the head of State, not just from an institutional standpoint, but also by virtue of his personal capacity to rally social support for a firm hand with the guerrillas. The physical removal of the president will remain a key objective of the insurgents, in which they will continue to invest a large proportion of their resources. The risks Uribe faces were once again revealed in mid December when his motorcade had to make a diversion on a visit to Medellín[19]. Given the difficulties in assassinating the president himself, there is a strong likelihood that they will make targets of members of his close family.

The FARC are also intent on demolishing the State presence in rural areas. They issued a communiqué last June threatening to murder or kidnap mayors and other local civil servants throughout the country unless they resigned. A similar ultimatum –followed by the killing or kidnap of various municipal officers and their close families– caused a severe crisis at local-government level. A number of officials resigned, including 26 mayors of the department of Cauca, last July. Elsewhere, eleven mayors of Bolívar were forced to take refuge in the departmental capital from where they tried to administer their territories at arm’s length. Finally, in an indeterminate number of municipalities, the authorities have been simply co-opted by the FARC. It is impossible to tell how many places are involved, but an idea can be obtained from the fact that there is no police presence in 163 municipalities, where the insurgents may move around at their leisure. As time goes by, there is a likelihood that the collapse of municipal administration will worsen. The State lacks the resources to offer a reasonable guarantee of security for officials and mayors of the nation’s 1,108 municipalities. Increasing terrorist violence will thus force many of them to abandon their activities or submit to the dictates of the guerrillas. The result will be an extension of non-government, chaos and violence.

Within this strategic reorientation of the FARC, the attacks will probably focus on targets of economic value. For several years now the guerrillas have stepped up their sabotage activities against roadways, canals, electricity transmission networks and oil and gas pipelines. Between 1999 and 2001, the yearly number of such attacks against oil and product pipelines increased from 128 to 260. The sabotage of electricity pylons escalated from 244 in 1999 to 448 in 2000, stabilising at 254 in 2001. In the same period the number of bridges destroyed rose from two to 31. There is good reason to think that this demolition activity will intensify in the future. The targets are relatively easy to destroy at small risk to the saboteurs (the Caño Limón–Coveñas pipeline, which carries the bulk of Colombia’s oil exports, is some 800 kilometres long, extending over rugged terrain where effective patrolling is difficult). The number of bridges, tunnels, communications antennas or electricity pylons is so large as it is impossible to assign guard patrols to protect all of them. Economic sabotage produces strategic results for the insurgents. The damage to the economy reduces the amount of resources available to the State to sustain the war. The attacks on the main oil pipeline last year caused a revenue loss of 81 million dollars. Infrastructure damage debilitates the productive capacity of the economy, creating social unrest in a country where unemployment affects over 18% of the workforce and whose per capita income at the end of 2002 was the equivalent of that of 1993. This deterioration of the social fabric tends to create a popular attitude that is more receptive to the guerrillas’ message, thereby facilitating recruitment drives. It creates a sensation of chaos and mismanagement that is damaging to the president’s public image and that weakens popular support for his hard-line approach to the insurgents. All this adds up to the likelihood of an increasing number of sabotage attacks.

The FARC are preparing to increase their urban attacks over the coming months in what could be one of the major changes in direction in the conflict. In the past they have focused their efforts on the countryside, exploiting peasant populations to recruit the bulk of their militants and to obtain a good part of their revenue from kidnapping, extortion or drug running. Various factors have caused them to redirect their attacks against the cities. On one hand, Uribe’s security strategy threatens to increase the pressure on guerrillas in rural areas. On the other, support for the president is particularly strong among the urban middle class; putting pressure on these sectors of the population could weaken the executive. In addition, any action in an urban environment obtains much greater publicity, at both national and international level. The urban environment, densely populated by civilians, imposes major restrictions on the security forces in the use of heavy weapons, the army’s main advantage in guerrilla warfare. The combination of all these factors suggests that the urbanisation of the conflict will prove attractive to the FARC.

To enter the cities the FARC have two choices: launch semi-conventional attacks along the lines of the tactics employed by the Frente Farabundo Martí de Liberación Nacional (FMLN) in El Salvador at the end of the 1980s[20] –involving militarily organised guerrilla columns taking outlying districts and holding out against government forces as long as possible– or urban terrorist campaigns inspired by the strategy of the Shining Path guerrillas in Lima between 1988 and 1992[21]. The latter case involves a sustained series of attacks against State institutions, the armed forces and social sectors regarded as privileged. They aim at creating a sensation of panic to weaken government prestige and soften society’s resistance. In the last few months, the FARC have taken up positions from which to pursue either of these military alternatives in the country’s three main cities, Bogotá, Medellín and Cali. The likelihood is that they will go for a combination of both approaches by integrating semi-conventional attacks with terrorist actions in an effort to obtain the maximum strategic advantages.

The FARC possess particularly active urban guerrilla cells in Bogotá, Medellín and Cali. According to various sources, they have fought fierce encounters with paramilitary groups in recent months. These clashes, resulting in spiralling terrorist activity initiated by one side or the other, form part of the struggle to consolidate or maintain insurgent control over certain districts in what could be the prologue to large-scale urban campaigns; a preparatory phase to set up guerrilla hideouts within the urban population to be used as strategically located strongholds from which to launch operations against the rest of the city.

Semi-conventional operations on urban terrain would appear to be a feasible alternative in the major cities. The guerrillas have networks both within the cities and in the outlying suburbs. What they are trying to do is consolidate their control over strategic corridors through which to channel sizeable forces into the heart of the cities. The situation is worse in Medellín, where the presence of FARC guerrillas is highest. According to reports, the cells have established tight control over outlying suburbs where they have carried out rudimentary military engineering, such as systems of tunnels and fortifications similar to those used in the past by the FMLN. This tactic is seen as a result of the connections between the FARC and the Salvadoran guerrilla movement forged in the 1980s, when a number of FMLN leaders visited Colombia to exchange tactical know-how. There is every reason to think that Medellín is the city in which the FARC is most likely to attempt to occupy a district in the near future, a move that would have a devastating effect on the prestige of President Uribe and greatly enhance the image of the guerrilla movement both inside and outside the country. Something along these lines occurred last September in the battle for the Comuna 13, when the security forces tried to re-establish control over a district heavily infiltrated by members of the ELN and a local guerrilla movement known as the Comandos Armados del Pueblo (CAP). The bitter fighting that ensued, with significant casualties among the security forces and the civilian population, is seen as the forerunner of a major onslaught by the FARC in the Medellín suburbs.

In Bogotá, the capital, there is a strong likelihood that the FARC will step up military pressure with a campaign of urban terror. Three factors suggest this. In the first place, the army has large forces in the city centre and in the outlying districts, posing a significant obstacle to launching semi-conventional urban guerrilla operations such as occupying a suburb. Secondly, the capital, like any other metropolis in a developing country, offers ideal terrain for terrorist activity given its disorganised urban development, deficient public services, patchy control by public authorities, and wealth of tempting targets. Lastly, Bogotá’s status as the political and economic capital of the country makes it a key battlefield in which to further the aims of the conflict, enabling the guerrillas to demonstrate their strength in the eyes of targeted sectors of public opinion and gain international notoriety.

In the last few years the FARC have made great efforts to improve their technical know-how in urban terrorism by means of exchanges with groups such as the Japanese Red Army, ETA and the IRA[22]. The attacks on 7 August last year against the Palacio de Nariño and a district in the north of Bogotá were evidence of this, demonstrating a staggering combination of technical proficiency, logistic capacity and destructive intent. In the heart of the city the guerrillas were able to construct ramps capable of launching over a hundred 120 mm mortar grenades. Although they only managed to discharge 10% of their projectiles, they killed 21 people[23]. The operation demonstrated that the FARC had found a solution to the previous infiltration of their ranks by members of the security forces in Bogotá[24]. The attacks were carried out by commandos that entered the city, launched the attack and were then able to return to the countryside. This ability to move units into the heart of the capital and then evacuate them ensures the FARC a means of committing spectacular attacks and exerts great pressure on the political and economic elites of Bogotá. Waging a sustained terrorist campaign, capable of generating a political crisis in the country, will oblige the guerrillas to consolidate and maintain a permanent clandestine structure, not an easy task given that it requires a different organisational approach, applied by highly motivated and trained operatives capable of operating permanently in urban surroundings. It is worth recalling that in the 1980s the Medellín drug cartel built up a highly effective urban terrorist structure. There is no reason to suspect that the FARC will not prove equally capable.

A final factor to be borne in mind when considering the options open to the FARC in their response to the strategy adopted by the Uribe administration is the acquisition of heavy weapons, in particular, portable surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS). The guerrillas’ military options are so far restricted by their lack of supporting armament with which to face military units in the open field, other than in the brief space of time in which they enjoy the advantage of surprise. The key factor that places the insurgents in military inferiority is the airpower of the armed forces. The air-to-ground effectiveness of the AC-47 ‘ghost’ planes and the UH-60 ‘Harpy’ helicopters, combined with the helitransport capacity of the utilitarian version of the UH-60, UH-1N Huey II and the Mi-17, provide military high command with the ability to project devastating military force across all parts of the country. The result of this improved mobility, combined with better-quality electronic intelligence, succeeded in stalling the military escalation begun by the FARC in the form of their so-called ‘New Operation Technique’, NFO in Spanish, which achieved initial insurgent successes in Las Delicias, El Billar or Patascoy hill in the second half of the 1990s[25]. The successful response to that strategic initiative of the FARC –which encouraged the insurgents to transfer the conflict to urban centres– was based almost entirely on the air superiority of the government forces. If the guerrillas were able to obtain sufficient resources to threaten high command’s domination of the skies, the security picture would look much blacker. Hence, the FARC’s increasing desire to get hold of as many MANPADS as possible. By means of sustained anti-aircraft attacks the guerrillas would be able to reduce the government’s strategic advantage and renew the semi-conventional operations typified by the NFO. With even a small number of missiles, downing an aircraft with a single hit would produce two critical consequences. In the first place it would force the military to ground all aircraft as a result of the psychological shock and uncertainty generated by the FARC’s newfound capacity to intercept air traffic above 5,000 metres. In the longer term, the high command would have to completely rethink its air strategy, retrain its pilots and acquire sufficient countermeasures to contain the threat. It would provide the guerrillas with an opportunity to launch a major onslaught.

The Colombian insurgents already possess a number of these systems, including Russian-made SA-14s and SA-16s and a small number of US Redeyes[26]. Nevertheless the FARC appear to have decided not to employ these weapons for the time being[27], for a number of reasons. In the first place, they have only a few, meaning that the guerrilla command probably wants to reserve them as a last resort. Secondly, their deployment in the battlefield would mean a military escalation that the guerrillas would have to be able to sustain, at the risk of a reaction from the high command, with US support, that may overwhelm them. The temptation to use surface-to-air missiles increases in parallel with the success the FARC have in acquiring a strategically significant number of them. This would give them the opportunity not only to consume a certain number in training, but to have sufficient stock as to prevent possible failures or misfires from leaving them without air defences at critical junctures. Sufficient MANPADS would guarantee the guerrillas the ability to set up a ‘no-fly’ zone, thereby delivering a major strategic blow to government strategy. The greater or less possibilities of the FARC obtaining anti-aircraft defences in the future will, to a large extent, dictate which way the conflict goes.

That possibility is increasing. Despite the efforts of the US to control the proliferation of MANPADS on the black market, the spread of such weapons could increase in the future[28] as a result of arms manufacturers and governments capable of producing such systems being prepared to engage in illegal traffic for economic or strategic motives (a long list of possible sources includes arms manufacturers in eastern Europe experiencing economic difficulties and even rogue States such as North Korea) and peace processes in various regional conflicts generating significant surpluses of surface-to-air missiles available for clandestine trade. Such would be the case in the event of a peace agreement in Sri Lanka, where the Tamil Tigers (LTTE)[29] are well known for their contracts in the international arms market and their operational deployment of heavy weapons.

Even if the FARC obtain a sizeable amount of missiles, the difficulties in developing an air-defence capability and integrating it with their operations should not be underestimated. There are technical problems associated with the employment of MANPADS that the insurgents would have to solve if they wanted to obtain the desired strategic goals. It is essential to have adequate storage facilities to maintain such weapons in operational condition within easy reach of tactical units. They have to have sufficient trained operators, requiring simulators and safe training areas. Even if the insurgents acquired such capacity, it would not automatically guarantee superiority over regular troops. The example of the FMLN is relevant here. With the exception of the Nicaraguan contras, the FMLN is the only Latin American guerrilla movement to have had surface-to-air missiles and to have employed them systematically in their operations[30]. Although initially it gave them a substantial advantage over the Salvadoran armed forces, in the end it proved unable to gain them the upper hand. Two factors explain the meagre strategic results achieved by the systematic employment of MANPADS by the insurgents. The missiles deployed by the FMLN –similar to those acquired by the FARC– were less efficient than expected, achieving a success rate of slightly less than one in ten launches. Once the initial shock had been overcome, the Salvadoran air force equipped itself with adequate countermeasures and modified its operational methods, thereby substantially reducing the risks to their aircraft and recovering much of their operational effectiveness. If it is recalled that the FMLN enjoyed better conditions to develop its anti-aircraft capability thanks to Cuban and Nicaraguan support, we can deduce that in the worst-case scenario the FARC will never succeed in posing a serious threat to the air power of the Colombian armed forces. MANPADS in the hands of Colombian insurgents could play a significant role in altering the course of specific operations and even create a political and strategic scenario for negotiating with the government from a position of strength, but it will not in itself be sufficient to alter the balance of power between the guerrillas and the armed forces.

Aside from surface-to-air missiles, other FARC tactical innovations have to do with changes in the targets or scenarios of their activities in order to increase the cost to society of the conflict. This is the thinking behind intensifying attacks against members of the social elite, attacking civil servants or escalating infrastructure sabotage to aggravate the economic crisis. Foreseeable tactical changes will not aim at destroying the State’s military apparatus but in demonstrating the government’s inability to guarantee security, creating a sensation of chaos and whittling away at the public’s willingness to support the counterinsurgency effort. They indicate a strategic recognition by the FARC’s leaders that they are not in a condition to openly defy the State’s military dominance, much less to contemplate taking power by means of military victory. Under these circumstances, they are much more interested in breaking down the will of the government and of society to resist, forcing both to negotiate, from a position of weakness, the concession of substantial powers. It is the mental reflexes of the State, more than its material resources, that the guerrillas want to weaken. Such a strategy implies significant risk for the rebels, given that the psychological impact of a terrorist escalation is difficult to control. It could scare the population and its governors into granting rebel demands; it could equally well stimulate the populace’s rejection of terrorism, creating a social environment that is hostile to the guerrillas, thereby generating the conditions for their definitive defeat by the security forces. For insurgents, the decision to engage on a high-risk strategy could bring power within their reach; it could also lead to their defeat.

Together with strategic uncertainties, the military potential of the FARC remains dogged by a number of weaknesses. They are finding it increasingly difficult to find new members. Gradual migration from country to town leaves fewer young people from whom to recruit the numbers required for their plans on military expansion. Hence the tendency to employ younger and younger age groups. The FARC also suffers from a chronic shortage of middle-ranking officers of sufficient political awareness, making political cohesion and unity of action in a far-flung organisation operating in difficult terrain a very serious problem. The priority attached to liberating a series of kidnapped politicians and combatants is directly related to the insurgents’ need to recover middle-ranking officers to strengthen the weaker parts of the organisation and form the core of new units. Internal fragility is exacerbated by the lack of political training, weakening the ideological morale of the lowest ranks of combatants and creating disciplinary problems. In recent times the number of desertions has reached an all-time high. This absence of political conviction is particularly dangerous to an organisation that relies for a large part of its financial base on activities verging on common crime, such as kidnapping and drug running. Systematic criminal activities, combined with the lack of deep-seated convictions among the rank and file, lay at the root of a series of cases of corruption that the leadership punished by executing the alleged ringleaders, but nevertheless failed to eradicate.

Lack of motivation will be a strategically critical factor if the insurgents opt for intensifying their urban operations. Controlling an armed group operating in the countryside is relatively easy when combatants depend almost entirely on the leadership for meeting their basic needs, from food through social relations to information from the world outside their revolutionary group. In the field, the fact that militants lack political awareness is a minor disadvantage, given that individual autonomy is limited and disciplinary measures easy to apply. The position is radically different, however, in an urban environment. Terrorists have to live and mix in society, giving them considerable individual autonomy and weakening leaders’ control. For an armed group, the reliability of an urban militant depends on his ideological conviction, bordering on fanaticism. Here the lack of ideological training among FARC members becomes a serious obstacle to a systematic terrorist campaign in cities, making urban cells harder to control and more prone to infiltration by security forces. The same ideological flexibility that has made the FARC an organisation extraordinarily pliant to changes in the political and strategic scenario could jeopardise its ability to fight an urban campaign. This will not occur overnight, but it could well undermine its ability to escalate military action and make it vulnerable to counterattacks by the State.

Forward scenarios
From what has been said so far, three possible scenarios could ensure from an escalated confrontation between the Uribe administration and the FARC. From least to most likely, they are:

– Scenario 1: collapse of the Uribe administration and strengthening of the FARC.
This is the scenario sought by the FARC. The guerrillas confront and defeat the Uribe administration, strengthening their strategic position and allowing them to impose their conditions on the State. This insurgent triumph would be more political than military, given that the likelihood of the guerrillas outgunning the army is extremely remote. In this scenario, the FARC achieve three main victories. They resist the pressure of the armed forces and maintain their position as the dominant power across broad swathes of the country. They break the government’s ability to guarantee a minimum of law and order by means of systematic campaigns of terrorism and sabotage. And they carry their success into the cities, demoralising the social sectors on which the Uribe administration relies for its support. Under this scenario, Uribe himself, or the president that replaces him, is obliged to capitulate to the insurgents’ demands, thereby reconstituting the State by means of a constituent assembly, where the guerrillas enjoy significant representation with which to exercise a decisive influence of the country’s political and economic future.

This scenario of a government defeat is the least likely of the three. Recent history tells us that the Colombian State has always defeated terrorist or criminal challenges. Such was the case in the victories over the M-19 or the major drug cartels in the 1980s and 90s. It does not look as though the challenge posed for the government by the FARC is greater than that faced by the Gaviria government from the Medellín mafia. A priori, the State apparatus is sufficiently strong to contain and defeat the guerrillas. Two factors make the Uribe administration a difficult adversary to beat. The military modernisation programmes instituted by the Pastrana administration turned the armed forces into a formidable adversary, able to beat the rebels in any encounter in the open country, an advantage that the new president promises to intensify with the latest investments in defence. At the same time, the Uribe government will be in a position to concentrate all the State’s resources against the FARC if it is successful in demobilising the paramilitaries and the elenos.

– Scenario 2: pivotal counterinsurgency producing an outright defeat of the FARC.
The situation arises from a military escalation born out of an equally strong bid for victory from both sides. The government finds itself unable to prevent rampant guerrilla violence from sowing political chaos and destroying the economy. To deal with it, it adopts emergency powers, in many cases involving breaches of human rights, with strong protests from international public opinion in the United States and Europe that effectively puts a stop to cooperation with Colombia. Deprived of its main source of economic and defence aid, the government steps up its counterinsurgency strategy.

In such a context as this, it would be counterproductive to impose sanctions on Colombia. While chastising the government, sanctions would encourage it to adopt a more radical stance, making it more difficult for the international community to influence its activities. At the same time, a military escalation for total victory would leave a strategic vacuum to be rapidly filled by paramilitary forces associated with drug trafficking. Thus, instead of the challenge to the State posed by the FARC, a new threat would arise in the proliferation of guerrilla movements associated with the production and trade of narcotics. Such a turnaround in the strategic scenario would involve a huge cost in human lives, and a very real chance of the country’s social and political system collapsing completely.

There are a number of reasons making it unlikely for the security problem to degenerate into the crisis described. Despite their weaknesses, Colombian democratic institutions are deeply rooted in society. The powers responsible for upholding law and order (the judiciary, the ombudsman, etc.) would put up stiff opposition to any wave of indiscriminate arrests produced by overzealous counterinsurgency. Broad-based social groups, represented by unions, human rights groups and other NGOs, would exert their influence in demanding that any anti-terrorist strategy remain within the bounds set by the rule of law. Colombia is one of the Latin American countries with the widest economic, political and social ties with the international community and any law-and-order campaign threatening to harm its international reputation would come under heavy fire from powerful pressure groups, not only intellectuals, but also exporters. No Colombian administration is likely to allow its counterinsurgency campaign to overstep legal limits.

– Scenario 3: moderate erosion of the FARC and an increase in drug-based paramilitary lawlessness.
This is the most likely scenario, given the current political and military equilibriums. In these conditions, the Uribe administration launches a counterinsurgency campaign in which the guerrillas suffer significant casualties. At the same time the FARC deliver a number of successful blows against the government. As the conflict worsens, both security and human rights come under intense pressure. The Uribe government tries to maintain firm control of the fight against the guerrillas and avoid being forced into a campaign of mass repression. The result is a quantitative change in the relation of forces of the two main protagonists, but not a radical turnaround. The FARC is expelled from a number of key regions of the country, with the loss of influence and prestige that this implies. Yet, if the planned demobilisation of the right-wing autodefensas is not insisted upon, the success against the left-wing guerrillas will leave a strategic vacuum that strengthens the hand of the paramilitary groups associated with the drug barons as a means of gaining financial autonomy and military capacity. Drug-based paramilitary groups become the number-one challenge to the authority of the State. The government can boast to national and international audiences of having dramatically reduced the threat from guerrillas. But declining insurgent violence is replaced by the increasing activity of drug-running paramilitaries.

This prognosis admits of some variation, the first being the greater or less moderation of the Uribe administration’s security policy. Another variable is the position of the international community vis-à-vis Colombia. If the government pursues a defence policy that respects basic human rights and the rest of the world provides support for State institutions, the counterinsurgency campaign should go relatively smoothly. It should gradually whittle away at the guerrillas’ power base and reinforce the power of the State, without leaving room for organised crime and paramilitary groups to pick up where the guerrillas left off. This is in contrast to a counterinsurgency strategy that systematically violates the rule of law, repelling the international community and stimulating an all-out fight with the guerrillas. This would lead to wider activity by the drug-running paramilitaries, increasing instability and mass violations of human rights.

Spanish Policy towards Colombia
There are a number of reasons why Spain pays special attention to Colombia, an important country in the region both from a strategic standpoint and for its human and economic resources. Spanish multinationals have built up their presence there and will presumably continue to do so if political and security conditions permit. Spain would suffer the consequences of any major Colombian crisis, with a mass influx of illegal immigrants, the presence of criminal elements and a significant increase of drugs en route to other countries of the European Union. Spanish foreign policy has long held that the defence of human rights and the furtherance of democracy should be its leading principles. It is therefore hardly surprising that it works very closely with a country having a very similar culture, whose institutions are under threat from deteriorating security.

Spain’s policy on Colombia has suffered in two ways. There is a discernable lack of coordination among the various ministries and agencies involved, with different lines of dialogue and cooperation open depending on the subject area. This encourages overlaps and contradictions. Meanwhile, in terms of pacifying Colombia, Spain has in the past sought the role of mediator in peace initiatives between the Bogotá government and the various armed groups in the country. This tendency of Spanish foreign policy is a consequence of its experience in Central America in the 1980s and 1990s, when Spain obtained considerable mileage from its mediating role in civil conflicts, thereby gaining in prestige and influence in a region from which it had been practically absent for many years. Thus, the approach to Colombia has tended to repeat the same recipe. This was clear when Spain spoke out in favour of the peace dialogues of the Pastrana administration. However, Spanish diplomats fail to appreciate the differences in the nature of the conflicts. The trouble the Colombian government has had in pushing along the peace process with the FARC shows the extent to which the conflict is fuelled by drug trafficking, which has its own agenda, which to date does not include a peaceful agreement with the government.

The strategic changes that have taken place in Colombia as a result of the election of President Uribe would appear to suggest that Spanish policy on Colombia should also adapt. The new administration in Colombia is prepared to use peace talks as a basic component of its dealing with armed groups, but it also underlines the need to strengthen the military capability of the State if any serious effort at restoring law and order is contemplated. In these circumstances, Spain should broaden its policy, complementing its traditional role as mediator with efforts to help Colombia obtain the military and police resources it requires to deal with the security threat. Getting such a programme into gear is essential if Spain wants to maintain influence and prestige in Colombia. With the present emphasis of the Uribe administration on modernising the armed forces, only those countries prepared to cooperate will be seen as valid interlocutors on the subject of strategy. If Spain wants to retain some weight in the way the situation in Colombia develops, it must be prepared to offer military and police aid to the Colombian government.

On that basis, Spanish foreign policy towards Colombia should be directed along the following lines:

-Consolidation of its existing role in the peace process. Spain should continue to mediate in the peace talks between the new administration and the armed groups. Madrid’s activity in the talks between the Pastrana government and the FARC and the ELN placed Spanish diplomats in an excellent position from which to promote the continuation of such initiatives by Uribe. The opening of talks between the new Bogotá administration and the AUC sets the scene for another useful contribution from Spain, either as mediator, or as auditor of the agreements reached. In either event, Spain’s participation should avoid two possible errors. On one hand, it should be guided solely by its evaluation of what dialogue with the paramilitaries can contribute in terms of pacifying Colombia, without letting ideological criteria get in the way of what could be a peace initiative of enormous strategic importance. Equally, Spain must make sure it is not trapped into becoming the guarantor of policies associated with the negotiations with the AUC that are either potentially destabilising or in head-on collision with the basic principles of human rights.

– Security cooperation. Spain’s armed and police forces have been running cooperation programmes with successive Colombian governments for many years. In the new conditions prevailing in Colombia, these programmes should be stepped up. The first move should be to bring all the various military and police assistance programmes together under single control, while new areas of cooperation are discussed with the Bogotá authorities. They could include dealing with urban terrorists or related items, such as the detection and defusing of explosives. It should also be possible to help them develop and strengthen the administrative structure of the Ministry of Defence. There could be technical support for improving the logistical capability of the armed forces and the police. Then there is the reform of the intelligence service. Finally, training could be given to Colombian security forces in the field of respect for human rights.

– Strengthening Colombian institutions. Aside from cooperation on security matters, Colombia has long sought aid in consolidating the civil administration of the State. Spain already plays a significant role in this by means of assistance programmes sponsored by the Spanish International Cooperating Agency (AECI in Spanish) and other organisations. Looking ahead, this sort of support will continue to play a vital role, as many of the sources of instability in Colombia can be traced to the weakness of public institutions and the sparse presence of the State in much of the country. Spain could be a source of significant help in the reform of the legal system or the modernisation of local and regional administrations.

As these three lines of political action are fleshed out, the effectiveness of Spanish foreign policy will depend to a large extent on integrating them, avoiding contradictions and ensuring that any one programme synergises the other two. This will require setting up an interdepartmental committee to coordinate Spain’s activities in Colombia. This body should be entrusted with integrating the different tools to achieve shared objectives, improve the strategic potential of the various cooperation programmes and avoid any wastage of resources.

From what has been said, future events in Colombia will depend on two underlying trends. The present conflict will lead to more intense and widespread violence. This outcome looks all the more likely in view of how the end of negotiations between the State and the guerrillas was followed by government statements on the need for military pressure on the insurgents and calls from the guerrillas for a military escalation to defeat the State. Greater violence will also result from the new military strategies adopted by both sides. The guerrillas want to extend their campaigns to areas formerly relatively unscathed, the cities; employ new weapons systems, including missiles; and attack targets previously avoided, such as municipal and departmental administrations. At the same time the government wants to try out a strategy of recovering territory controlled by the insurgents and meet the FARC’s urban terrorism and sabotage campaigns head on. The clash between the two strategies looks like being of epic proportions.

However intensive the purely military struggle becomes, it is unlikely to affect the strategic scenario in Colombia, where present trends will tend to harden. However successful either side is, it is most unlikely that government forces defeat the insurgents or vice versa. For the FARC to force the government to open for it the doors of the State is not a foreseeable scenario. Thus the conflict will be measured in quantitative terms, with the relative advantage shifting from one side to the other. The absence of an outright result by either side has to do with a strategic balance between the two sides as a result of structural factors that can only be altered in the long term. The government appears to have the upper hand in that it controls the main cities, where most of the people and most of the wealth are housed. It also has a security apparatus that, despite its weaknesses, far exceeds anything an insurgent organisation can put into the field. However, the guerrillas do have some environmental advantages, such as the difficult terrain in Colombia, a relatively easy source of finance from drug-trafficking, extortion and kidnapping, making their total defeat by the government in the short term a remote possibility.

On the basis of these two underlying trends, the most likely result of ongoing confrontation is a gradual weakening of the insurgents. This fits in with the capacity shown by the Colombian State throughout its recent history of successfully rebutting conventional wisdom, which sees it as a structure verging on collapse. It has successfully seen off armed groups and criminal organisations whose activities had escalated to a point at which the State looked threatened. The defeats inflicted by successive governments on the M-19A, followed by the Medellín and Cali drug cartels show that the State can stand up to threats to domestic security. Today, there are other factors at work, which mean that the State could gain the upper hand militarily. Modernisation of the security apparatus has tended to ensure for the government a military advantage in confrontations in the open country. It may well be true that the Uribe Administration will not get to grips with the underlying problems affecting Colombia’s military and police forces, but there can be no doubt that it will curtail the guerrillas’ strategic manoeuvrability and guarantee for the State an overwhelming victory in the event of a semi-conventional attack.

The FARC’s sources of human and financial resources could dry up. They are experiencing increasing difficulty in recruiting young people from rural zones to replace combat casualties and build up their forces. The main lines of finance must be nearing their ceiling. The margins obtainable on cocaine and heroine traffic could come down in the future not simply as the result of massive campaigns to put an end to drug trafficking, but from increasing competition from synthetic drugs. The profits made from kidnap victims are probably on the wane, mainly because the geometrical multiplication of this form of crime over recent years has left few pickings to be had. This does not mean that the guerrillas are going to go into a financial tailspin. They will still have plenty of funds, but not enough to spend limitlessly.

The events of September 11 and the global anti-terrorist campaign have created an international environment that is favourable to Uribe and hostile to the FARC. In the present context, the political message of the Colombian guerrillas sounds slightly less outlandish in a continent that has swung to the left in the last few years with the appearance of governments such as that of Lula da Silva in Brazil or ones that call themselves revolutionary such as Hugo Chávez in Venezuela or Luico Gutiérrez in Ecuador. At present it may be easy for the insurgents to obtain considerable political and even some material support from some political quarters in neighbouring republics, but outside the region, the international environment appears to strengthen the strategic position of the Colombian authorities and weaken those of the guerrillas. The US has allied itself unashamedly with the new counterinsurgency policy of the Uribe administration. Equally, most European governments have given their blessing to the new no-nonsense attitude by Bogotá, including the FARC in the EU list of terrorist organisations. At a global scale, hardening of the measures taken against terrorist organisations will probably not be targeted specifically against the FARC, but they will not escape many of its consequences.

This combination of factors will lead to a gradual weakening of the FARC’s strategic position, causing loss of manpower and territorial control. The reduced threat of left-wing insurgency will not, however, entail a parallel improvement in law and order. Unless weakening the FARC goes hand in hand with a strategy to extend the presence of State institutions, a strategic vacuum will result to be filled by other irregular armed groups. This would mean the FARC being replaced by some other group as the main threat to the State. The likelihood of this happening has been strengthened by the emergence over the last few years of new paramilitary movements linked to drug trafficking. Some analysts judge the rapid growth of illegal right-wing paramilitary groups as the exclusive result of the reaction of a broad range of social sectors to the incapacity of the State to guarantee their security against guerrilla attack and common crime. Seen in this light, a reduction in the threat from the left should cause a corresponding reduction of the threat from the right. However, this analysis forgets that the right-wing paramilitary movement was heavily involved in drug running from the start, making this one of the mainsprings of its activities, regardless of the struggle with the Left.

It is not without the bounds of possibility that, in response to a weakening of the threat from left-wing insurgents, the number of paramilitaries increases independently, fuelled by the need of the drug barons for a military force capable of protecting their interests. A decline in the FARC would leave room for the growth of a certain kind of drug-based paramilitary organisation taking over the areas left by the guerrillas in terms of both control over territory and domination of the drugs racket. Such an outcome would be made more likely if the present peace talks between the Uribe administration and the AUC do not lead to the latter’s immediate and effective demobilisation, but to vague amnesties with insufficient funding to enable militants to lay down their arms and rejoin the ranks of law-abiding people. In this case, many paramilitaries would see it as an opportunity to exploit a temporary reprieve from police pursuit to strengthen their military and financial position. Thus, there is a very real chance that the strategic decline of the FARC gives rise to a threat from an equally destabilising, though much more diffuse, organisation loosely referred to as the narcoparamilitares.

Such an outcome largely depends on the attitude adopted by the international community. The United States and the European Union could encourage gradual stabilisation of Colombia if they combine diplomatic action with active support of the counterinsurgency effort and permanent encouragement of respect for human rights. On the other hand, if the major Western powers take a different stance or put too much pressure on the Colombian government, they may lose all the influence they have over the course of events there. Spain is obliged to assume a leading role in efforts to achieve pacification. Not only because furthering democracy and promoting respect for human rights is the backbone of its foreign policy; Colombian instability damages Spanish interests in various ways, from losses for Spanish companies with interests in Colombia, to the arrival in Spain of an increasing amount of Colombian drugs. On these two counts alone, Spain is extremely interested in encouraging stability in Colombia. It was with this objective in mind that Spain took on a mediating role in the peace talks between left-wing guerrillas and the Pastrana government between 1998 and 2002. Now, the recent changes in Colombia call for a rethink of the way Spain encourages this pacification process. The ongoing talks with the ELN and the start of similar talks with the AUC may well require international support, in which Spain could play a significant role. At the same time, the decision to cease talks with the FARC and the determination of this organisation to escalate its military violence oblige the Uribe government to seek external support to meet what could be a major military threat. It would seem reasonable to think that the new administration will be more receptive to the advice of countries prepared to offer it practical support in meeting a difficult law-and-order challenge. Only if Spanish foreign policy opts for practical cooperation in security affairs will it gain the attention of the Uribe administration on the question of political measures designed to stabilise Colombia in the longer term. Spain can only retain some of its influence over future events in Colombia if it accompanies its traditional support for peace with a programme of assistance to the Bogotá government in domestic security and the fight against terrorism.

Román D. Ortiz

Full-length studies
Las verdaderas intenciones de las FARC, Corporación Observatorio para la PazIntermedio, Bogotá, 1999.
Reconocer la guerra para construir la paz, Malcolm Deas and María Victoria Llorente (editors),Ediciones Uniandes-Cerec-Norma, Bogotá 1999.
Strategy and Tactics of the Salvadoran FMLN Guerrillas, José Angel Moroni Bracamonte and David E. Spencer, Praeger, Westport, 1995.
Shining Path of Peru, Scott Palmer (ed.), Hurst and Company, Londres, 1992.
Insurgencia sin revolución: la guerrilla en Colombia en una perspectiva comparada, Eduardo Pizarro Leongómez, TM Editores-IEPRI, Bogotá, 1996.
Colombian Labyrinth: The Synergy of Drugs and Insurgency and Its Implications for Regional Stability, Angel Rabasa and Peter Chalk, Rand, Santa Mónica, 2001.
Colombia: guerra en el fin de siglo, Alfredo Rangel Suárez, TM Editores-Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, 1998.

Working Papers
Thomas Marks, Colombian Army Adaptation to FARC Insurgency, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, January 2002.
Dennis M. Rempe, The Past as Prologue? A History of U.S. Counterinsurgency Policy in Colombia, 1958-66, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, March 2002.
David Spencer, Colombia’s Paramilitaries: Criminals or Political Force? Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, December 2001.

Specialist and academic articles
Jeremy McDermott, “FARC Gives Notice of an Urban Campaign”, Janes´s Intelligence Review, Coulsdon, Vol. 14, No. 9, September 2002.
Rohan Gunaratna, “LTTE Adopts Heavy Artillery”, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Coulsdon, Vol. 13, No. 6, June 2001.
Thomas B. Hunter, “The Proliferation of MANPADS”, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Coulsdon, Vol. 13, No. 9, September 2001.
Alfredo Rangel Suarez, “Parasites and Predators: Guerrillas and the Insurrection Economy of Colombia”, Journal of International Affairs, New York, Vol. 53, No. 2, Spring 2000.
David Spencer, “A Lesson for Colombia”, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Coulsdon, Vol. 9, No. 10, October 1997.

Press Sources
El Tiempo, Bogotá.
Semana, Bogotá.
Cambio, Bogotá.
Time, New York.

Official documents and statistics
“Personal Policía Nacional, 2002” published by the Colombian Ministry of Defence, Departamento Nacional de Planeación.
“Personal Fuerzas Militares, 2002” published by the Colombian Ministry of Defence, Departamento Nacional de Planeación.
“Decreto Nº 2233 de 1995 (December 21), setting up the National Intelligence System, Diario Oficial, Año CXXXI, Nº 42161.22, Bogotá, December 1995.

[1] ”Personal Policía Nacional 2002”, and “Personal Fuerzas Militares, 2002”, published by the national planning department of the Ministry of Defence.

[2] See “¿Aviones para qué?”, Semana, Bogotá, 18 November 2002 and “El casete de los ‘Tucanos’ ”, Cambio, Bogotá, 18 November 2002.

[3] See “Ganó la tesis de E.U.”, El Tiempo, Bogotá, 18 November 2002.

[4] See “Llegó la dolorosa”, Semana, Bogotá, 2 September 2002.

[5] “Personal Fuerzas Militares, 2002” , op.cit.

[6]  See María Victoria Llorente in “Perfil de la policía colombiana” in Malcolm Deas and María Victoria Llorente (editors), Reconocer la guerra para construir la paz, Ediciones Uniandes-Cerec-Norma, Bogotá, 1999, p. 421.

[7] The text of the decree establishing the SINAI can be found in “Decreto Nº 2.233 de 1995 (December, 21)”, Diario Oficial, Año CXXXI, Bogotá, December 1995, p. 6.

[8]  See “La inteligencia de Uribe”, Semana, Bogotá, 5 August 2002.

[9] The idea of creating networks of informants under the control of the armed forces has a long history in Colombia. For a description of its use in the early 60s as part of the Armed Forces “Noose” Plan, with US support, see the report by Dennis M. Rempe, The Past as Prologue? A History of U.S. Counterinsurgency Policy in Colombia, 1958-66, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, March 2002, pp. 15 et seq.

[10] ‘Destapan falsa red de informantes en Caldas’, El Tiempo, Bogotá, 20 September 2002.

[11] See ‘Campesinos al trote marrr…’, El Tiempo, Bogotá, 8 December 2002.

[12] “Negociación secreta”, Semana, Bogotá, 25 November 2002.

[13] “1.500 ‘paras’ más anuncian que cesarán las hostilidades”, El Tiempo, Bogotá, 30 November 2002.

[14] “Paz a tres bandas”, El Tiempo, Bogotá, 1 December 2002

[15] “Alternativas de paz”, Semana, Bogotá, 2 September 2002 and “Clamor por los diálogos regionales”, El Tiempo, Bogotá, 16 September 2002.

[16] “Por ahora no”, El Tiempo, Bogotá, 30 August 2002.

[17] “EU insiste en inmunidad”, El Tiempo, Bogotá, 24 September 2002.

[18] “EU certifica a militares”, El Tiempo, Bogotá, 10/9/2002.

[19] “Uribe cambia agenda por presunto ataque”, El Tiempo, Bogotá, 12 December 2002.

[20] See José A. Moroni Bracamonte and David E. Spencer, Strategy and Tactics of the Salvadoran FMLN Guerrillas. Last Battle of the Cold War, Blueprint for Future Conflicts, Praeger, Westport, 1995, pp. 115 et seq.

[21] See Michael L. Smith, ‘Shining Path’s Urban Strategy: Ate Vitarte’ en  Scott Palmer, Shining Path of Peru, Hurst and Company, London, 1992, pp. 127 et seq.

[22] For details of contacts with the IRA, ETA and other terrorist groups see “Global Networking Trading in Terror?”, Time, 3 September 2001 and “La IRA de las FARC”, Semana, Bogotá, 19 August 2001. On ties with the Japanese Red Army, see “Japan”, Jane’s World Insurgency and Terrorism, Jane’s Information Group, Coulsdon, Num. 1, January 1998.

[23] “Cambio de mando”, Semana, Bogotá, 12 August 2002, gives technical details of the artefacts employed.

[24] For recent developments in the urban cells of the FARC see Jeremy McDermott, “FARC Gives Notice of an Urban Campaign”, Janes´s Intelligence Review, Coulsdon, Vol. 14, Nº9, September 2002

[25] For a description of the tactics employed by the FARC in its ‘New Operations Technique’ see David Spencer, “A Lesson for Colombia”, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Coulsdon, Vol. 9, Nº10, October 1997. Another excellent study is Thomas Marks, Colombian Army Adaptation to FARC Insurgency, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, January 2002.

[26] See “Los misiles de las FARC”, Semana, Bogotá, 6 September 1999.

[27] There have been rumoured reports of missiles launched against helicopters of the armed forces, but they smack of conventional rocket launchers being employed as aerial weapons rather than MANPADS. See “Militares denuncian FARC atacó helicóptero con misil tierra-aire”, Efe, 20 January 2000.

[28] See Thomas B. Hunter, “The Proliferation of MANPADS”, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Coulsdon, Vol. 13, Num. 9, September 2001.

[29] See the excellent analysis of the arsenal available to the LTTE en Rohan Gunaratna, “LTTE Adopts Heavy Artillery”, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Coulsdon, Vol. 13, Num. 6, June 2001.

[30] For more information on the employment of missiles by the FMLN, see José Ángel Moroni Bracamonte and David E. Spencer, op.cit., pp. 149-50.

Román D. Ortiz

Written by Román D. Ortiz