[Translation of an article from La Jornada of Mexico City for August 6.]
by Blanche Petrich
Bogotá, August 5 – In the view of a wide sector of Colombian society – 70 percent according to the polls – President Álvaro Uribe, who will move out of the Casa de Nariño [the presidential residence] this Saturday, is practically a hero, who defeated “narco-terrorism,” eliminated insecurity in the major cities and restored the citizens’ ability to travel on the South American country’s highways without the risk of kidnapping or extortion, with which the guerrillas and the paramilitaries had ravaged the country until just a few years ago.
An aura of legendary proportions built up around Uribe moved his former adviser, José Obdulio Gaviria – known as his “musketeer” – to express himself in exalted language in his article in El Tiempo last Wednesday: “Heaven has granted us a superior intellect, a guide to lead his people across the desert,” he declares.
What is certain is that, according to serious studies of the question, President Uribe’s popularity, which he owes in large measure to his Seguridad Democrática strategy, is more a phenomenon of social perception, the result of solid official propaganda carried out with the concurrence of the powerful media – “patriotic journalism,” as Spanish journalist José Manuel Medem calls it ironically – than a reality that can be confirmed with hard data.
In an interview with La Jornada, Ariel Fernando Ávila, coordinator of the Observatorio del Conflicto Armado of the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris (CNAI), focusses much more sharply on the much vaunted Seguridad Democrática: “It is a counter-insurgency policy and directed almost solely against FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). And nothing more than that.”
Despite official pronouncements, the “snake” is still alive
An accounting of guerrilla activity of the past year and a half and of army casualties, and of the new areas insurgent troops had moved into, demonstrate that Uribe has not satisfied his obsession of detroying the guerilla militarily, in his own words, of “finishing the killing of the snake.”
For the most part, balance sheets of these eight years hold that FARC has suffered a historic defeat and that all that remains to do in the oldest guerrilla war of the American continent is to kill off the remnants of rebel columns isolated in remote areas. But a more careful study leads to a very different conclusion.
This in the form of a report, “La Guerra contra las FARC y la Guerra de las FARC” [“The War against the FARC and the FARC’s War”], which the CNAI published in its annual magazine Arcanos. Authored by Ávila, the investigation by the Observatorio del Conflicto Armado shows that in the last two years FARC, and to a lesser degree the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), have been strengthened in areas making up a third of the national territory. These days the government’s army controls only 50 percent of the country.
Despite the talk of a “military defeat” of FARC, Ávila concludes that the armed conflict has “bogged down” and that in the last months of 2009 FARC “began to retake some territory.” He explains that in spite of the tendencies in 2008 of severe blows against the rebels, in Operations Jaque and Fénix, today the guerrilla maintains a “strong capacity to wage war.”
With statistics, graphics and maps, he shows that “the policy of Seguridad Democrática reached a limit in military results” in 2008, and in 2009 began a reversal. “This is evident principally in La Guajira, Guaviare, Cauca and Nariño, which in the past had not been war scenes but are today.”
–Are there no triumphs to attribute to the government in the struggle?
–Yes, well, its achievement is to have taken FARC out of the center of the country. But in the periphery the war is a different story.”
The error of defining the rebels as narco-guerrillas
–In your opinion, is the government’s coining of the term “narco-guerrilla” correct? To what degree does the FARC control the drug trafficking routes?
Ávila leans on the maps: “Most of the coca comes through Tumaco (southwest, on the Pacific), which goes to Mexico; through the Tapón del Darién, to Mexico via Panama, and through Buanventura (Pacific), which also goes to Mexico. All these routes are controlled by paramilitary and neo-paramilitary groups and the new drug cartels. There are others, like the routes that go toward Venezuela in Arauca, but these also belong to the paramilitaries, Águilas Negras and Señor Cuchillo.
“There is another route, which is to Brazil, which is the one FARC controls. Fifteen percent leaves through that one. It is not correct to label them as drug traffickers, and not because they are good or bad. It’s just that they don’t know about the business. They don’t launder dollars or invest. They don’t allow it because it would corrupt the troops, they know that if it were to expand internally, that would be the end of them.
–Is it true that they support themselves logistically with drug money?
–Forty percent. The rest comes from kidnapping and extorsion.
–Did FARC break up and decentralize, as did the narcos and the paras?
–Yes. They saw what happened to Abemael Guzmán (Sendero Luminoso) in Peru. When they captured Gonzalo, the next year they were finished. FARC divided the country into seven blocks, each one with its commanders, who act as commissars: Mono Jojoy (second in command), Pablo Catatumbo, Timochenco, Mauricio, Alfonso Cano (Manuel Marulanda’s successor in the general command), Iván Márquez, Joaquín Gómez.
“So when there is a hard strike against one block, the people in the other blocks are not demobilized. That happened when they killed Raúl Reyes; it was a severe blow, but it did not incapacitate the other fronts.”
Nobody is convinced they can win the war
–Can any of the groups win this war?
–Not the way things are. The one to ask now is Juan Manuel Santos. For now, FARC knows they are not winning. Last year more than 1,300 soldiers were out of combat (470 dead). This year the figure is going to be much higher. This is a terrible war, what is happening is that it is not visible.
–Could it be that with Santos in the presidency the question of a negotiated solution could be on the table at some time?
Society has a negative image of negotiation because of what happened in Caguán (failure of the negotiation Andrés Pastrana advanced). Here it is very difficult to argue that that process had anythong positive about it. I believe that before the end of 2011 it is going to be very difficult to begin a process of negotiation. It will be later, with the economic crisis, with the international context, because the neighbors are very uncomfortable with the conflict.