Countryside First: Security Prescription for Colombia

Article excerpt

Once the Colombian Constitutional Court denied Alvaro Uribe a third presidential term in February, several candidates stepped forward, with former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos and Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus leading the pack. All candidates predictably campaigned on a more or less similar platform of continuing Uribe's hard line policy of cracking down on crimes and violence in the urban areas; after all, this policy has been successful and has earned Uribe a wildly high 70 percent approval rating from the public. But Colombia's new president must do more than simply continue Uribe's security policy: he must expand its scope from an urban-centric focus to include the countryside. The new administration can no longer afford to neglect the issues of growing violence in the rural areas, as the left-wing guerillas and right-wing paramilitias reestablish their power centers in the countryside along the Colombian border.

Colombia has been suffering from an armed conflict since the 1960s, and the resilience of violence is in large part due to the fact that the militant groups involved are fighting for control of the narcotics trade, especially of cocaine. Colombia supplies about 90 percent of all cocaine traded in the United States and 70 percent of all cocaine traded throughout the world. Left-wing guerilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) use profits from the drug trade to undermine the Colombian government, and right-wing paramilitary groups that were originally set up to combat the insurgency groups have increasingly become violent themselves. Recognizing that the Colombian civil conflict has repercussions outside the country's borders, the United States has poured over US$5 billion to the Andean country through Plan Colombia, an aid program aimed at security and antinarcotics efforts.

There was a significant reduction in crime and violence from 2002 to 2010, the two terms during which President Uribe has successfully instituted a hard line policy on urban security. No longer is the capital city of Bogota overrun by FARC, ELN, or a right-wing paramilitia. One of Uribe's major feats was the official demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a coalition of 37 paramilitary groups, in 2006. Reduced violence in the capital has inspired the country with a new life, renewing people's confidence in the country's potential. As a result, foreign direct investment in the growing Colombian economy is expected to rise to US$10 billion in 2010 from US$ 7.5 billion in 2009.

However, success in the cities has not translated into success across the country. US aid and the Uribe administration's efforts at combating terror groups like FARC with counterinsurgency troops and antinarcotics effort have only moved these criminal groups from the cities to more remote rural areas. The armed civil war continues in the countryside. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimates that 3.3 million of Colombia's 46 million people have been displaced by the civil strife. Extra-judicial killings and sexual violence run rampant. In March 2010, at least six people were wounded and over 30 injured in a car bomb accident suspected to be by the FARC guerillas in the port city of Buenaventura, a major cocaine smuggling point. Last year alone, the ICRC reported about 800 alleged human rights violations. According to the Colombian Defense Ministry, during the eight years of Uribe rule--even when the crime rates have decreased--a total of 20,915 people were killed in combat alone. …