« on: November 10, 2006, 04:26:32 PM »
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Colombia's Multifaceted Security Problem
Colombia's Supreme Court issued arrest warrants Nov. 9 for three high-ranking lawmakers suspected of conspiring with right-wing paramilitary forces in the country. The suspects, Sens. Jairo Merlano and Alvaro Garcia, and Rep. Erik Morris, are believed to have logistically and financially assisted paramilitaries in Sucre province beginning as far back as 1997. The move comes close on the heels of the suspension of peace talks between the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the leftist group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Those events, along with recent attacks against military targets, are indicative not only of the ongoing unrest in Colombia, but also of the wide range of actors whose actions will prevent Colombia's violence-weary citizens from finding a measure of peace any time soon.
Peace talks between FARC and the Uribe government had been progressing smoothly in October. Then, a car bomb detonated outside the Nueva Granada military university in Bogota on Oct. 19, injuring 23 people. Another car bomb targeted the base of the Colombian army's 7th brigade Oct. 29, killing two people and wounding four. The Colombian government quickly blamed FARC for both the attacks -- a charge the group denies -- and suspended the peace talks. FARC then claimed responsibility for a Nov. 1 attack against a police station in Cordoba. In that attack, some 150 gunmen opened fire on police, killing 17 officers and two civilians.
It seems unlikely, given the optimistic outlook of both sides regarding the talks, that FARC would have conducted the two bombings, which took place while its demands were being negotiated. However, the list of other potential suspects is long. For example, rival drug cartels in direct competition with FARC could have felt threatened by the progress of the talks and sought to induce a government crackdown on the group by using car bombs against military targets -- a method of operation used by FARC many times in the past.
Dissident factions of the Colombian military might also have been responsible for the attacks. The military has been fighting this war for decades and has sustained heavy losses; there are sure to be some hard-liners who adamantly oppose any settlement and want to continue the fight. Military units upset with the progress being made in the negotiations with FARC could have perpetrated the attacks as a way to justify crackdowns on the group.
In the case of the military college bombing, the vehicle carrying the device managed to pass through security checkpoints without raising suspicions. Surveillance cameras showed a man in a naval uniform exiting the car and leaving it parked in the lot for several hours before it exploded. This suggests a large degree of military involvement in the attack.
Corrupt military officials also might have been a factor in the bombings. Similar to the drug cartels in Mexico, Colombian cartels have long had high-ranking military personnel on their payrolls, and military units have conducted operations on behalf of the cartels. In May, 10 narcotics police were ambushed and killed in Jamundi by elements of a Colombian army platoon. An investigation into the incident, which originally was considered a case of friendly fire, concluded that the platoon's commanding colonel and more than a dozen soldiers had ambushed the police unit on behalf of local drug traffickers. Not wanting their cartel kickbacks to run dry, corrupt military officers and corrupt government officials will likely interfere with any moves by FARC to shift the power balance in the country.
The lawmakers' arrests, meanwhile, put the spotlight on other actors who contribute to Colombia's ongoing turmoil. The paramilitaries are right-wing militant groups created and financed by wealthy landowners and drug cartels to counter attacks by the populist forces. Although not official forces of the state, their interests often converge and the paramilitaries are effective in enforcing state policies, particularly those that target leftist movements.
The arrests of the lawmakers, as well as the Jamundi incident, illustrate how the Colombian government can be influenced by forces such as drug cartels, paramilitary organizations and dissenting military factions. The problem for Colombians fed up with violence is that these forces have reasons to oppose any compromise with FARC that would result in a peaceful settlement.
There had been glimmer of hope in October that FARC and the Uribe government would reach some accord after decades of violence. Instead, following the attack against the police station, Uribe pledged to defeat the FARC and other guerrillas, and urged neighboring governments to aid Colombia in the fight. With that battle back on, and the ongoing actions of the paramilitaries, there seems little chance of a break in the violence.
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