January 18, 2008


Colombia's military toughens up: U.S. aid has helped the once-outmatched force gain strength and retake territory. But the change has been marked by rights abuses and security breaches (Chris Kraul, 1/18/08, Los Angeles Times)

Seven years and $4.35 billion since the advent of a massive U.S. aid program, the Colombian military has been transformed from an outmatched "garrison force" that had yielded huge swaths of terrain to leftist guerrillas, to an aggressive force that has won back territory.

The transformation, however, has had a dark side. Soldiers and police officers have committed rising numbers of human rights abuses, even as U.S. training intensifies, rights groups charge. During the five-year period that ended in June 2006, extrajudicial killings increased by more than 50% over the previous five years, according to figures compiled by human rights groups. [...]

But even critics don't dispute that the military has become a more professional and capable fighting force. And that's quite a turnaround for an institution that a decade ago was dismissed by Colombian and U.S. observers as no match for the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

One U.S. Embassy official once referred to the armed forces as "the Apple Dumpling Gang," after the Walt Disney movie starring Don Knotts as a bumbling outlaw.

In the late 1990s, the army was best known for its disasters. Half a dozen bases, mostly in southern jungle and border states, were overrun by the FARC, resulting in the killing or kidnapping of hundreds of soldiers. The names of the bases, such as Patascoy, Las Delicias and El Billar, became emblematic of the military's ineptitude.

When President Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002, rebels had encircled the capital, Bogota, and the military seemed impotent to do anything about it. His predecessor, Andres Pastrana, had ceded a Switzerland-size chunk of Colombian jungle to the FARC in the vain hope the move would lead to a peace agreement.

Now the military seems to have the upper hand, say analysts at the Pentagon's Southern Command headquarters in Miami.

In a recent interview, Santos said the military had "fundamentally been transformed. . . . Before, the Colombian army was only on the defense. Now it's totally on the offense and gaining great prestige."

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 18, 2008 9:07 AM

It is always interesting that human rights groups are always more concerned with the killings by the army than the obvious extra-judicial killings done by the FARC and their ilk.

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 18, 2008 2:08 PM

"His predecessor, Andres Pastrana, had ceded a Switzerland-size chunk of Colombian jungle to the FARC in the vain hope the move would lead to a peace agreement."

Wouldn't this merit a "There Is No Colombia" title?

Posted by: Just John at January 18, 2008 7:25 PM