September 26, 2010


Billions of U.S. dollars later, Colombia gets the upper hand in battle on rebels, drugs (Chris Kraul, 9/26/10, Los Angeles Times)

But for Colombians, the situation is far improved from the late 1990s when a Pentagon study warned that their country could become a narco-state in five years. In the words of one observer, Colombia's armed forces were "playing for a tie and losing."

Colombia's economy now ranks as one of Latin America's most vibrant, according to the World Bank. The government released statistics this month showing that year-to-date foreign investment, airline traffic and car sales have all increased by double-digit percentages.

The power of the FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, was implicit in the election of President Andres Pastrana, who won office in 1998 promising he would negotiate a political settlement. He handed over control of a demilitarized "clear zone" as an act of good faith, but the rebels used the area to gather strength. Pastrana's successor, Alvaro Uribe, campaigned promising to defeat the rebels.

FARC greeted Uribe on his inauguration day in 2002 with a mortar and rocket attack. But most of Plan Colombia and its progress came during Uribe's eight years in power, which ended last month.

In recent years, Plan Colombia's emphasis has shifted somewhat. Military aid once made up about 80% of the funding; now it's closer to 60%, said Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a left-leaning think tank.

Supporters of Plan Colombia say military gains are not irreversible. Hearts and minds remain to be won, especially in the rural areas where poor youths have few alternatives to growing coca or joining an insurgency or drug trafficking gang.

"A pill won't do the job, a long-term treatment is needed," said marine Capt. Cesar Martinez, a base operations officer at Leguizamo.

The FARC now relies more on hit-and-run tactics than brazen assaults. Rebels launched attacks this month in remote areas across the country that killed 37 police officers and soldiers. Eight were police at an outpost not far from Leguizamo. But unlike a decade ago, the Colombian armed forces struck back. They reported killing 22 guerrillas in an airstrike Sunday, including a top regional commander.

The aggressive military response has been accompanied by human rights violations. A study released this year by the New York-based peace group Fellowship of Reconciliation found that the Colombian military may have committed 3,000 extrajudicial killings from 2002 to 2009. Many were so-called false positives that involved the slayings of innocent civilians who were tagged as rebels killed in action.

Many were committed by units that had received U.S. military funding even after "credible evidence" of human rights violations had been presented, said John Lindsay-Poland, the organization's research director.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted by Orrin Judd at September 26, 2010 11:49 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus