Colombia’s Civil War has ebbed and flowed since the 1960s. The democratic government has weathered the storm.
Colombia needs to militarily win and follow this victory with political and economic reform. They have made great progress on the battlefront and in domestic politic arena. But, like many democracies, it cannot win the Information War against its brutal and deceptive enemies.
Smuggling and black markets always plagued Colombia. In the 19th century, gem smuggling played a similar role drug smuggling plays today.
Colombia’s economy faces a number of structural difficulties. It’s a “dual-economy” like a number of countries in Latin America. Essentially there are two separate economies. One consists of advanced industries and has access to international trade through ports. The other is impovished farmland. Most property rights are informally held, so they cannot use their capital in formal markets. This only results in a widespread informal market that encourages crime and corruption.
Drug smuggling is relatively easy in the Caribbean. Drugs from the Andean highland are sent to Central America and Mexico or Caribbean islands like Jamaica. Smugglers split up their cargo into many small loads. A few will be intercepted, but the vast bulk bypasses linear defenses. Kidnapping and Ransoming is the second largest crime industry in Colombia. Each victim is ransomed for roughly $20,000, and thousands are abducted annually.
Colombia faced Criminal Insurgencies. The Mandellin Cartel, led by Pablo Escobar in the 1980s and early 90s, launched the most concerted assault on the government. The criminals try to intimidate the government into tolerating their crimes. Basically, they try to create vacuums of power.
Starting in the 1960s, a number of Communist Insurgent organizations tried to overthrow the Colombian Government. These groups, over time, solidified around FARC and ELN.
Communist insurgents controlled the forested highlands. From this base of operations, they attacked Colombian cities. They used assassination, terrorist attacks, as well as classical insurgency tactics. They received most of their funding from the Soviet Union and Cuba. This kept them reliable allies of the USSR and ideologically pure.
The collapse of the Soviet Union cut off insurgency’s logistical source. FARC and ELN turned towards the drug tade to make ends meet. They charged a tariff for all drug production and transport through their territories. In return, Communist paramilitaries provided protection for the smugglers. FARC and ELN collect up to $1billion annually. They buy weapons from the Russian Mob, hire ex-Provisional IRA bomb experts, work with other communist insurgent groups across the region and so on. They have the money and the means to access the global black market.
This led them into direct conflict with the Colombian Drug Cartels – particularly the Cali Cartel. FARC pushed into new rural areas and took over towns and villages. They routinely massacred civilians if they countered resistance.
Starting in 1996, FARC and ELN went on the offensive against the Colombian government. They used classic insurgency tactics to take the countryside. FARC also favored car bombs to terrorize major cities. FARC increasingly uses landmines. With the aid of experienced bomb-makers from the IRA and Hamas, it can produce mines for as little as $3 a unit.
Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia is formed in response to the Leftist insurgents. These paramilitary vigilantes fought off attacks by FARC & ELN and retaliated. The AUC was heavily supported by the Cali Cartel and other criminal organizations, but it also drew support from former military and police men and regular volunteers.
This was the basic situation in the 1990s. The Colombian government and security forces did not control the countryside. Individual villages and towns were left to their own devices. Communist insurgents attacks nearby towns and massacred elements of the population. So who do you turn to for protection? Whoever had guns. Thus the AUC.
The AUC had no real coherent organization or political objective. In some areas it consisted of ex-military and police officers acting as vigilante guardians of their towns. In other areas, the AUC were enforcers for the Cali Drug Cartel. Criminal gangs and the local mafias fought on behalf of their their community against an external foe. Sometimes criminals discover some patriotic spirit too, since defending a community justifies robbing it. This is not a desirable situation by any means, but it is better than being subjugated by communists.
The US and Colombia reacted to the new situation. Plan Colombia was a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign to retake lost territory, cripple FARC, and cut off the drug funding to the insurgents. It was reasonably sucessful and improved the situation on the ground.
FARC and ELN were beaten back to their strongholds and their overall income appears to have fallen. The communists are becoming drug warlords over time. The ideologues lost power while the pragmatic drug lords are taking over. This further weakened FARC’s political position.
The Colombian Military performed very well given the circumstances of this style of warfare. Military officers, on a case by case basis, dealt with the AUC. The saw the enemy of their enemy as their friend – at the moment.
As the Colombian government restored rule in the countryside between 2002-2006, it moved to dismantle the AUC militias. By 2006, the Government demobilized and disarmed 31,000 AUC members.
Implicitly working with rogue militias against a common enemy is not a new strategy. During the Kosovo War, President Clinton refused to commit US infantry to battle. NATO forces were forced to rely on the terrorist KLA for ground operations. Or today in Iraq, US forces are doing joint patrols with Iraqi-insurgents against al-Qaeda. The US is working with members of the 1920 Revolutionary Brigade, Islamic Army, and Sunni Tribes who committed war crimes in the past.
In the end, this is the one of the best way to win dirty wars and end the violence faster. Once the main enemy is defeated, then you can disarm the militias.
Colombia is defeating FARC but FARC counterattacked with an international propaganda campaign to de-legitimize the Colombian government by exaggerating its connections with the AUC and other militias. They are joined by Col. Chavez’s government in Venezuela which is seeking to supplant Colombia in regional importance. In reality, the AUC militias formed to stop Communists from massacring civilians, and the government needed to engage militias on some level to rationalize the provincial security system. This is downplayed in the propaganda campaign, which does not mention worse communist atrocities.
Information Warfare can undo a lot of progress in a very short period of time. Today, Colombia has dismantled the paramilities and largely defeated the insurgents. It needs to solidify its gains by training local police and developing the economy. Colombia is very eager to enter a free trade agreement with the United States.
The US Democratic Party appears to believe FARC propaganda and cut off financial support for America’s strongest ally in the region. Democrats intend to give FARC support and opportunities to regenerate their forces and prepare a counterattack.
Having lost so much popular support in Colombia, FARC is trying to win a victory in the United States. With Democrats back in control of Congress, FARC now has a chance to seek cuts in military aid to the Colombian government. FARC lobbyists stress right-wing atrocities, civilian casualties and the futility of trying to stop the drug trade, to leftist American legislators. This often works to get cuts made to anti-drug and anti-FARC operations in Colombia. If FARC can get these cuts, the government offensive against FARC will be weakened, giving FARC more time to come up with a plan to revive itself.
Strategy Page called it. The Democrats froze $55 million in military aid to Colombia and refused to enter a free trade agreement.
The answer is that Colombia’s efforts, backed by U.S. aid, not only have managed to get the AUC to disarm, but they also have put FARC and ELN on the ropes. FARC has, in recent months, fled across the Colombian-Ecuadorian border, seeking a safe haven. While a number of left-leaning parties and officials in Europe have abandoned FARC and ELN, recognizing their status as terrorists, they still draw a lot of sympathy, particularly among the American left. In the 1980s, that sympathy manifested itself in two forms: One was the Boland Amendment and other restrictions. The other was a series of leaks that were intended to undermine the Reagan Administration’s policy in Latin America.
That residual sympathy, combined with reflexive opposition to Bush Administration policies, means that FARC now has a chance to recover. How bad has FARC had it? In recent moths, they had to shift to bombing attacks due to the need to conserve their trained gunmen. With the reduction in military aid to Colombia by sympathetic Congressmen, they now have the chance to replenish their forces.
The human rights groups and those in Congress who support their agenda have once again shown that they have more concern about terrorists and their support networks than they do about the people that FARC and ELN kill, kidnap, or maim. This is despite the fact that for years, the State Department has considered FARC and ELN terrorist groups. This means the war in Colombia will go on longer, with more casualties.
The reasons cited are not specified in an intelligent way. The Democrats cited vague levels of “violence” and minor ties to the AUC that occured last century. They protest that many union members were killed (what this has to do with anything is beyond me). Current trade union deaths dropped 90% and are only measured in the dozens a year.
Colombia is seeing its lowest level of violence in twenty years. It’s murder and kidnapping rates have plunged, and the number of terrorist attacks have dropped dramatically.
One has to wonder why the Colombian people should be denied economic opportunities.
Colombian President Uribe responded to the “Democratic” Party.
“It is positive for the U.S. Congress to express its worries, and we respect that they express sometimes their uneasiness, but we also demand that they recognize where we used to be, where we are going and what we had done to be where we now stand. They must understand that they can’t proceed unfairly against us misinformed, because it is their duty to understand what Colombians had been suffering. They must make this clear that our relationship must be based on mutual respect as allies, as we deserve it, as Colombia has been treated by both President Bush and President Clinton, and that it won’t be ever replaced by one of domination in which the United States will perform the role of master and Colombia as its servant.
A relationship based on imposition and domination, even if U.S. Congress finally supports our FTA, would be more harmful for our democracy and even more harmful for the wrecked relationship between the United States and the rest of Latin America, which it’s no lie for anyone that it is in its most critical point today.
We are not telling the United States to look after Colombia as its only solid ally left in Latin America; we are instead telling the United States to respect Colombia and Colombians. We do not care if we are the only ally left or another of its few allies, what we all care about is that we had been a respectful ally and that we had accomplished as the results of this strong alliance had proved to date”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Congress act with such imperial arrogance towards our allies while being so receptive to enemy propaganda. Que sera, sera.