Author: Marcus Sales

No pause in FARC peace talks for elections


Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos yesterday dismissed opposition calls to pause peace talks with FARC guerrillas promising to “press down the accelerator” to build on the “real progress” to end the nation`s 50 year conflict.

Former President Alvaro Uribe demands an end to discussions he sees as a farce, while others have argued for a pause during the election campaign that begins later this month.

But Santos is now increasingly confidence of a successful outcome to the negotiations he began last October.

Following yesterday`s agreement on a framework for the guerrilla group`s incorporation into the democratic system, Santos has gone on the offensive:

“There has been talk of breaking or pausing the talks, we are not going to do this…As we move forward and you see results, it is not time to stop, but just the opposite; to accelerate and continue with more courage and more excitement to end this conflict indefinitely.”

Santos will hope further agreements propel his re-election campaign.

Although the full details of yesterday`s agreement are unlikely to be made public until all points in the general accord for the termination of the armed conflict are agreed upon, Colombia Politics can confirm they include rights and guarantees for the exercise of the political opposition, democratic mechanisms of citizen participation, and effective measures to promote greater participation in national, regional and local policy.

Humberto De La Calle, the government’s chief negotiator, hailed the agreement a “new opening for democracy”.

“The agreement today represents a new opening for democracy, an open road for peace to take root after the end of the conflict, to free our government from violence and intimidation.”

“The agreement will create an important mechanism for turning armed groups into political parties and movements.”

FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez, labelled the agreement “perhaps one of the most important achievements so far [in the peace talks].”

As expected, Alvaro Uribe, slammed the announcement, tweeting “Colombia is the only democracy that accepts negotiating its democracy with terrorism.”

While most commentators have welcomed the agreement, concern has been expressed about the lack of clarity on what has been agreed upon. According to this publication`s editor, the fundamental issues such as whether Timochenko and co will seek election, and or directly given seats in congress have been parked.

For Ginny Bouvier, Senior Program officer for Latin America at the United States Institute of Peace, any accord on political participation should look to provide more access to politics for marginalised sectors of society.

“Given that political, economic and social exclusion form parts of the root of the conflict, it will be important to undertake political reforms that allow the expression of these as well as other dissident voices.”

Bouvier also spoke of the challenge of integrating the rebels into political life:

“The stigmatisation of the guerrillas and the highly polarised electoral environment in Colombia add to the challenge of integrating FARC rebels into the political arena.”

Without details of the agreement it is impossible to know how these issues have been tackled.

The next item to be discussed at the peace table is the illicit drug trade; problematic in its own right.

According to organised crime website Insight Crime, the FARC control approximately 70% of the country’s coca crops, while many FARC fronts “earn millions of dollars from the drug trade”.

We have argued before that it is unclear whether Ivan Marquez and co represent the guerrillas` rank and file members. If not, it is highly likely FARC splinter groups will emerge to continue this lucrative business.

“It is perhaps inevitable that a new generation of criminal groups, the FARCRIM, may be born should a peace deal be signed,” argue Insight Crime.

Only time will tell how the delegations tackle this issue.

Photo, Fernando Vergara / AP

Colombia`s infrastructure; one of Latin America`s worst


Colombia’s infrastructure is one of the worst in Latin America, according to the World Economic Forum.

Of the top twelve economies in the region, Colombia has the tenth poorest provision of vital infrastructure; this, despite the promise by President Juan Manuel Santos to make the issue a priority of his administration.

In Santos`first year in office he created the National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) to push through the works identified as catalysts for economic growth.

Last week the president defended his track-record:

“In three years we have invested 22 billion peso ($11.7 million) in infrastructure development. That shows the magnitude of the efforts that we have made,” insisted Santos.

Despite slow progress, the ANI last Wednesday received nine bids as part of the “Fourth Generation” (4G) investment programme.

4G promises much. It is Colombia’s largest ever public investment project, designed to “improve connectivity between the principle centres of production and exportation to make Colombia a more competitive country and overcome the historical drag in transport infrastructure”.

According to the ANI, the project will provide an estimated investment of 44 billion peso ($23.2 million) under a public – private partnership scheme:

“With this initiative, the length of roads throughout the country is expected to nearly double, from 6,000 km to 11,000 km in the next six years.”

Undoubtedly good news if these promises are delivered. Few disagree that the current lack of infrastructure in Colombia is a major threat to the country’s economic competitiveness, domestically as well as internationally.

Colombia needs better roads, railroads, ports and airports. Cities are poorly connected to both internal and external markets, largely because of the extreme topography of the country.

Cutting transport costs is crucial to the country’s manufacturers, especially the coffee farmers, who continue to struggle from significant production costs. Crucially, it is key to overcoming the isolation at the root of the country’s socio-economic inequalities.

According to financial analyst James McKeigue, the 4G investment project should boost the country’s GDP by 1% per year, with a further 0.5% coming from a multiplier effect. The planned works will create approximately 200,000 direct jobs across Colombia, with a further 250,000 indirect ones. Importantly, many of these will be created in the remote areas where jobs are most needed.

But infrastructure improvements will bring security improvements as well as economic benefits.

The Colombian government has never been able successfully to control all of her territory. The majority of the population lives in the country’s largest three cities, Bogota, Medellin and Cali.

Outside of these major areas, a combination of jungles and mountain plains remain largely uninhabited, with limited infrastructure, resulting in a weak state presence in and around surrounding regions.

The resulting economic inequality throughout rural Colombia is severe, in part explaining the conditions which helped spawn criminal organisations known as BACRIM, and guerrilla groups, such as the FARC and ELN.

These groups fight for control of lucrative resources such as oil, gold, marijuana and coca.

Without significant infrastructure development throughout the regions where the conflict rages, the government cannot begin to solve the underlying problems of inequality and lack of development.

Indeed, any peace accord with FARC guerrillas would be vulnerable as illegal armed groups will seek to fill the vacuum left by the rebels in areas lacking state presence.

Photo, Colombia Noticias

End of impunity for Colombian military murders?


Colombia’s Constitutional Court last week ruled that the Military Justice law – a controversial bill that expanded the jurisdiction of military tribunals over crimes committed by the armed forces – is unconstitutional, citing “procedural defects” with the bill`s passage through Congress.

Human rights activists` criticism – who argued the reform would grant impunity for military accused of killing  innocent civilians – was not enough to prevent Congress in June approving the legislation.

The Santos Government and Congress argued for the military’s need for “confidence and judicial security.”

But in a ruling not subject to appeal, the Constitutional Court nullified the legislation, ensuring all subsequent cases are tried through the civilian courts. Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon labelled the ruling “a blow to the morale of the military forces that without doubt will affect Colombians’ security.”

The main concern for human rights organisations in relation to this legislation, was the prosecution of members of the armed forces guilty of killing innocent civilians, in what is known as the false positives scandal.

According to the Prosecutor General’s office, 3,896 civilians have been assassinated and subsequently presented as combat kills by members of the armed forces since 1986, with an alarming 3,470 deaths recorded in between 2002 and 2008 alone – a period military personal were known to receive rewards for high rebel body counts.

The scandal came to light in September 2008 after prosecution investigators linked the bodies of unidentified rebel fighters found in the north of the country to people who had been reported missing in Soacha, a city south of the capital Bogota.

As of 2013, 4,625 members of the armed forces were under investigation or on trial in the civilian justice system for numerous human rights crimes, including false positives.

According to Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security at the Washington office on Latin America, Colombia owes such progress to the civilian justice system, which since 1997 has been given increasing jurisdiction over military human rights abuses.

“Virtually all convictions of military personal for human rights crimes were handed down by civilian judges,” said Isacson. “Colombia’s military justice system, which frequently challenges civilian courts jurisdiction over abuse cases, has a far poorer record of holding soldiers and officers accountable.”

By 2010 however, the armed forces were demanding that human rights cases involving the military be tried solely by military tribunals, claiming that civilian prosecutors and judges did not understand the context of combat and were thus undermining their efforts against the rebels.

To the dismay of numerous human rights organisations, President Santos agreed, and in 2011 introduced legislation that would ensure all military human rights abuse cases be tried under military jurisdiction, despite their far poorer record of holding soldiers and officers to account.

While this law was amended to ensure the most serious crimes return to the civilian courts, “the UN high commissioner for human rights, Human Rights Watch and the Colombian Commission for Jurists were worried that past and future cases of serious human rights abuses could end up transferred to, or starting in, the military justice system where punishment is unlikely,” according to Isacson.

Such fears were realised recently, as news broke that a high magistrate received 400 million Colombian pesos to transfer a military official involved in a false positives case from a civilian court to a military tribunal.

For Isacson, the significant backlash regarding the Constitutional court’s decision is likely to arise post conflict, assuming a peace agreement is established.

“Officers are expressing concern about the possibility of a wave of post conflict trials for human rights abuses, which even in the context of transitional justice, would amount to a severe strain on the reputation of a military that will be expecting gratitude for having weakened the guerrillas.”

More important than the reputation of the military however, is the reparation to the victims of such crimes. Rather than fight this decision or conjure up a new Military Justice bill – something the government has suggested – efforts should be made to reduce the military’s impunity rate and support the civilian justice system in its effort to bring those responsible for such heinous crimes to justice.

FARC peace talks start up again – time for results


The 16th round of negotiations between the government and FARC guerrillas began Wednesday amidst increasing concern at the pace of the Havana talks.

Both President Santos on one side, and Andres Paris (a FARC negotiator) on the other promised the  delegations will work together to accelerate the process.

12 months have passed since negotiations began, and despite President Juan Manuel Santos’ claim that talks would take “months, not years,” agreement has been reached on only one of six items on the agenda – rural agrarian development.

The second item on the agenda – political participation – is into its fifth month and seventh round of negotiations.

Simultaneous to the slow progress in Havana, FARC related attacks in Colombia have increased.

According to Jane’s Intelligence Weekly “as the FARC seek to enhance their bargaining power at the negotiating table, it is likely to continue its current terrorist campaign until at least the end of 2013”.

Consequently public support for the talks is fading, while rumours of a breakdown in trust between government and terrorist negotiators, combined with the possible suspension of talks are plenty. Furthermore, the November 25 deadline for Santos to announce his candidacy for a second presidential term draws ever closer.

Indeed, Santos on Sunday conceded that progress had been slower than he had hoped for, stating: “I thought that in one year we could have finished the agenda points we agreed upon, but that hasn’t happened”.

The head of state continued, blaming the slow progress on the rebels` attempts to negotiate issues not agreed upon in the general accord for the termination of the armed conflict.

Unsurprisingly however, “Timochenko”, supreme leader of the FARC, accused Santos of playing politics, claiming that he is “seized with the need to show results to justify his reelection” and that he has consequently “intensified his smear campaign”.

The truth is, Santos does need results to justify a re-election campaign. Following nationwide multi sector strikes in August, the head of state’s approval rating dropped to as low as 21%. Results at the peace table are a must for his chances at occupying the Casa de Narino for a further four years. The next month is could decide his fate.

Photo, Colombia Confidencial

Santos´ fight against guerrillas and BACRIM

Interpol 01

President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday hailed the benefits of external co-operation in Colombia’s fight against guerrillas, drug trafficking and criminal gangs.

The head of state was speaking at the 82nd annual meeting of Interpol, the intergovernmental organisation for international police cooperation, which began Monday in the northern city of Cartagena.

“If Colombia can say today that these large and sinister drug cartels, with a capacity for action and influence beyond our borders, are a thing of the past, then it is thanks to external co-operation,” said Santos before the Police Commanders of 190 countries.

“Not only do I believe in the importance of sharing knowledge, experience and information, but we have been doing so for decades because we know it works,” added the commander in chief.

Santos continued, assuming responsibility for Colombia’s continued commitment to international security.

“[The National Police and Interpol-Colombia] work with sacrifice, dedication and discipline to curb all manifestations of crime…They do so by sharing information and their experiences inside and outside of our country.”

“Such shared knowledge is an indispensable asset as we work together to make the world a safer place.”

Santos stated that Interpol-Colombia had participated in 16 transnational operations against crime within the last year alone.

“We affect supply chain precursors, goods and counterfeit medicines and we capture those responsible for these crimes. Cooperation produces results.”

Furthermore, General Rodolfo Palomino, Colombia’s Director of National Police, on Sunday expressed his confidence that the meeting will lead to greater global security.

“Cooperation is vital for the success of effectively containing transnational criminal activities.”

The Interpol General Assembly will run until Thursday and has the theme, “Interpol: 190 countries, one goal for a safer world.”

During these four days global security experts and police leaders will discuss crimes ranging from trafficking of goods and arms, to terrorism to the illicit trafficking of persons.

The meeting will see an additional 2,500 police officers patrol the city throughout the week.  In addition, extra security measures include seven helicopters, four drones, a team of experts in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and explosive sniffer dogs.

The police chief expressed his delight that Colombia has been chosen to host this meeting and believes that it is in “recognition of the effort of the government in the fight against all forms of crime.”

“Colombia today is a country that has advanced in competitiveness, a country where investment is not only a possibility but a certainty of success,” concluded Rodolfo.

Colombia Politics view 

Public safety and law and order are key pillars of the election strategy both for Santos and for opponents – particularly the Uribistas. Santos claims Colombia is a safer place on his watch while those loyal to former president Alvaro Uribe, argue official statistics have been manipulated, and that the situation is deteriorating.

President Santos is often accused of being most at home in an international setting. Conferences and set piece events are bread and butter for the regime. The problem for Santos is Colombians are losing faith in his administration. He will need to work more on translating the statistics into realities for ordinary Colombians. His re-election depends in part on his ability to do just that.

A new Colombian countryside?


Nine rounds of negotiations, six months later, the Colombian government the FARC  have finally something to show for the talks in Havana.

Agrarian reform was perhaps the most tricky of the five points on the agenda ‘for the termination of the conflict and the building of a stable and lasting peace’, but last week agreement was reached between the two parties.

‘Toward a new Colombian countryside: Integral Rural Reform.’

To recap, the agreement claims to promote ‘radical transformations of rural and agrarian reality in Colombia’, seeking to reverse the numerous effects of the conflict.

While the accord went into little detail explaining the mechanisms that will be put into place to achieve such results, President Santos did reveal part of the  deal while on the radio:

  • Lands for peace fund. Farmland that has been obtained illegally through violence, displacement or any other such means will be placed in this fund and subsequently redistributed to farmers with little access to land.
  • The government will increase decentralised development programmes for rural areas, thus hoping to secure stability for these regions.
  • The infrastructure in poorer communities will be improved, thus making it easier for the government to provide potable water, healthcare and education. Such measures should bridge the gap between urban and rural communities in respect to basic amenities.
  • Schemes will be produced to link crop production and food security.

Will these proposals make a difference?

Transitioning these proposals from theory to action will be tough, but it is essential, in particular, that the Colombian government redistribute illegally acquired land to their rightful owners.

Failure to do so will only add to the conflict dynamics.

Decentralised programmes for the rural communities are, too, imperative if these areas are to grow economically.

And, finally, infrastructure development is key. Colombia´s topograhpy means central government often fails to reach many of its citizens. Many rural communities remain isolated. Improvements in basic amenities, housing and education are urgent.

Uribe’s criticisms

Former President Alvaro Uribe has continued his criticism of the talks in Havana. His resorted to his favourite battleground, Twitter to proclaim:

´Terrorist FARC kills our soldiers and policemen and the Santos government rewards them with a land agreement.’


‘It is unacceptable that the Santos government negotiate the model of the Colombian countryside with narco terrorists.’

Uribe claims Santos has turned his back on Colombian farmers, leaving their fate in the hands of the FARC.

Time trial stage to begin

Colombia’s Congress President, Roy Barreras hailed the agreement as a historic step. He claims: ‘…we have won the mountain stage prize. Now comes the time trial stage until November.’

Time is running out and Barreras, like Vice-President Angelino Garzón, was sending out a warning to the FARC that they will have to hurry up if Santos´ November deadline for talks´conclusion is to be met.

The government are desperate for the talks not to extend beyond the end of the year and into the period of presidential and congressional elections.

Still much to negotiate

However, as much of a  breakthrough as last week´s announcement was, there remain  many points for the two sides to agree upon.

They are yet to discuss the FARC’s political participation, the practicalities of the end of the armed conflict, drug trafficking and the rights of the victims.

Talks on the FARC’s political participation will begin next Tuesday.

The prospect of the FARC in Congress is hotly disputed and polemical. We expect political tensions to heighten and the polarization to continue.

Plan Colombia and the FARC

farc group


Plan Colombia’s success reducing coca cultivation and strengthening Colombia´s democracy was tackled in two earlier articles, here I ask how it helped the fight against the FARC guerrillas.

When Plan Colombia started in 2002 the terrorist group stood 18,000 strong. Today they are a much smaller, more dispersed, yet still dangerous guerrilla group, currently in negotiations with the Colombian government to end their near 50 year fight.

While Plan Colombia originally focused on stemming the flow of illicit substances into major American cities, the events of 9/11 and the election of President Uribe, who campaigned for hard line measures against guerrilla groups, changed the rhetoric. And over 75% of Plan Colombia’s funding has been devoted to military and police assistance.

A success?

But despite this spending and while there have been high profile successes against the FARC throughout this period, the illegal group´s ability to adapt, innovate and remain a significant threat is notable.

When Plan Colombia began, Colombia was considered a failing state, and there were those who saw the FARC as a serious challenge to the authority and longevity of the Colombian state. The ability of the armed forces to halt the guerrilla´s progress was far from guaranteed. They were fighting against a well oiled and well funded military machine in the FARC.

Academic Jim Rochlin explains Plan Colombia´s work as a process to transform the Colombian military from an immobile, vulnerable and predictable force into a rapid, all terrain military machine capable of defeating a highly successful and well funded guerrilla group.

Plan Colombia sought to provide the Colombian military with a better level of equipment, training and intelligence capabilities. It was essential the military were trained for fighting in difficult terrain; high mountains and rivers.

Plans Patriota and Victoria

In 2004, President Uribe responded by enacting Plan Patriota which saw the deployment of 17,000 soldiers in an effort to debilitate the FARC. Plan Patriota´s success was mixed. During the operation of this plan, the FARC´s military capacity was shown with devastating effect. A 2006 attack on a bus full of innocent civilians in southern Colombia became an emblem of the group´s ability to strike at the heart of the nation.

Plan Victoria however, had far greater success. A key factor in this success was the role of intelligence and surveillance. A long standing problem in the Colombian military´s fight against the FARC was their inability to locate and target the guerrilla’s group’s senior leadership.

Colombian officials would often use the ‘impenetrable jungles’ as an excuse for such limited action where raids were impossible and bombing attacks too indiscriminate. Under Plan Colombia however, real time surveillance equipment was available to the Colombian military and included the use of heat sensors capable of detecting human activity, land radar systems, command and control systems for radar, the translations of intelligence analyses, improved logistical support and night vision goggles.

Such increased capabilities came to fruition in 2008, a year in which the FARC suffered numerous losses. An attack by the Colombian military on a FARC camp in Ecuador of that year saw the killing of the group´s second in command, Raul Reyes. The attack relied heavily on Plan Colombia’s heightened intelligence and surveillance capabilities and remains one of the msot successful hits against the rebel group.

The FARC suffered further serious setbacks in March 2008 when the group’s leader, Manuel Marulanda died of natural causes and the secretariat’s youngest member, Ivan Rios was murdered by one of his own bodyguards in exchange for a monetary award offered by the Colombian government.

The Santos regime has continued where the Uribe administration left off in terms of hitting the FARC secretariat. In September 2010, top military chief Mono Jojoy was killed in one of the first acts of the new government, and a year later Alfonso Cano, then leader of group was also taken out by the army while many assume Santos was negotiating in secret with the FARC to establish the talks today ongoing in Cuba.

The FARC’s control and command communications has also been weakened as a result of Plan Colombia, and the FARC’s declining membership can be attributed to this, along with demobilisation programmes. In 2002 for example, FARC soldiers numbered approximately 18,000 while today they are estimated at 8,000.

Despite such a drop in numbers, and a four year period in which the FARC suffered severe military setbacks, the guerrilla group still pose a significant threat (if not to the state itself as they once did). They have adapted to the increasing capabilities of the Colombian military and continually launch counter attacks due to their weaker position. (i.e. they are less able to launch military offensives).

This is highlighted by their response to the military’s successes of 2008. The FARC adapted, dispersing into smaller units in an effort to avoid surveillance and initiating more defensive, guerrilla like attacks. These include multiple pipeline bombings in the Putumayo municipality immediately after the death of Raul Reyes, and the execution of Luis Francisco Cuéller, the governor of Caquetá in December 2009.

In 2010, the FARC were responsible for the killing of 460 members of the security forces – and alarmingly – 2011 produced more casualties than 2002, when their membership was at its height.

Such attacks included a bomb blast in Antioquia, the use of mortars at a police station in Cauca and the continued use of mine’s throughout rebel controlled areas. In February of this year, seven members of the Colombian military were killed by the FARC and only this week, the FARC are accused of kidnapping two Spanish nationals, although they deny this.

What next?

The topography offered by Colombia is a key reason that the FARC have been able to successfully adapt their tactics in the face of Plan Colombia, and remain a live threat. Despite significant funding, the Colombian military have found it very difficult to control the remote and sparsely populated regions.

As such, despite the FARC being the military weaker side, Colombia´s geography mitigates the government’s advantage somewhat, thus making the rebels able to endure for longer periods. The rugged terrain of Colombia, with its high mountains, dense forests and other inaccessible landscapes, favours smaller guerrilla units as they are harder to detect and defeat. They can retreat to such terrain where they are protected from an enemy with increased capabilities and thus find it easier to regroup, rearm and continue fighting.

The FARC´s current leader, Timochenko has taken the rebels into negotiations with the Colombian government (although it is understood Cano himself initiated these talks) in an apparent effort to bring an end to a conflict that stems beyond the FARC’s inception in 1964.

That this is a sign of weakness by the FARC or by Santos himself is arguable, yet while negotiators mediate in Havana, the FARC and the Colombian military continue to battle back home. There is a long way to go before Plan Colombia objective of defeating the FARC can be realised. Many see the current state of play as a form of stalemate in which a negotiated end to the conflict is the most effective way out.

Plan Colombia years: A tainted success?


Plan Colombia was sold to the US public as a counter narcotics initiative, a plan to reduce the flow of cocaine from rural Colombian to urban America.

But the blurred distinction between the drug trade, the guerrilla groups and the paramilitaries (a distinction that virtually disappeared post 9/11, as President Bush launched his ‘War on Terror’), meant Plan Colombia was never solely about cocaine, but also about taking the fight to the illegal armed groups of the right and the left.

Particularly so following the inauguration of Alvaro Uribe as president in 2002, who unlike his predecessor Andrés Pastrana was unwilling to negotiate with the guerrilla groups and set about using the money to push the FARC back.

Almost as soon as it began to function, Plan Colombia had evolved into a strategy to secure Colombian democracy, reducing the production of cocaine meant cutting off the “gasoline” which fuelled the guerrillas and helping to defeat those had left the international community to view early 2000s Colombia as a failing state.

Plan Colombia´s tainted success?

In my first article on Plan Colombia I showed how production of cocaine has been reduced, and in the third article I will explore how the policy achieved success in reducing the threat posed by the FARC.

But while both these successes are undeniable, Plan Colombia will always also be tainted by the numerous human rights abuses that were carried out in its name – abuses by the Colombian military, the paramilitary groups, and the politicians with links to the latter.

These abuses ensure that while, yes, the immediate threat to democracy has passed, lasting and real damage has been done to the country´s institutions.

I will look briefly at three key criticisms – the Justice and Peace Law, the Parapolitics, and the False Positives scandals.

Justice and Peace Law

In 2005, President Alvaro Uribe passed the Justice and Peace Law in an effort to demobilise the paramilitary groups. Such groups were generated from wealthy land owners in the 1980’s in opposition to the leftist movement of the FARC and ELN. They soon became actively involved in the drug trade, however, and have only added to the complexity of the Colombian conflict.

The Justice and Peace Law called on demobilised paramilitary soldiers to provide a full record of their crimes in return for conditional amnesties. Failure to provide this detailed account would render the amnesty void and thus result in full punishment.

Supporters of the law point to its impact in achieving the successful demobilisation of several thousand paramilitary soldiers.

Critics on the other hand, argue that despite these achievements, the law has allowed – 1. High level drug traffickers to bypass prosecution, 2. Former paramilitaries to legalise properties that they acquired by violence. And worse still, civilians continue to be victimised by newly formed neo-paramilitary groups, such as the Aguilas Negras.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) has expressed concern at the ‘institutional frailty’ of the Justice and Peace Law. The report cited failure in the following areas:

A lack of interest in victims’ rights by the Uribe government.

Inadequate support for the institutional response

The persistence of the armed conflict – that the violence has not abated

And the inability to prevent the emergence of the new illegally armed groups.

Human Rights organisations remain concerned that the paramilitaries have not been held accountable for their crimes, and that by underreporting their illegally obtained assets, the militants have avoided paying adequate justice to their victims.

Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, argues too that the law has been incredibly slow in its implementation, revealing that until 2009, the law had not punished anybody, and that it had failed to return land and property that paramilitaries stole from hundreds and thousands of families.

And finally, in March 2010, a UN report claimed that ‘…the Justice and Peace Law has not achieved the transitional justice intended for paramilitary crimes.’


Links between paramilitaries and politicians were uncovered in late 2006, in a scandal known as Parapolitics.

Initially 3 congressmen were arrested for their role in establishing paramilitary groups in the department of Sucre. Of the 268 congressmen from the period between 2006 and 2010, a staggering 128 were accused of having paramilitary ties.

Alvaro Uribe’s second cousin, Mario Uribe was arrested and convicted in early 2011, while the total number of politicians, businessmen and officials being investigated runs into the thousands.

False Positives

The False Positive scandal is the extra judicial killing of innocent civilians by the Colombian military – civilians who once murdered were later dressed in guerrilla uniforms (as a way of  increasing their body count against the FARC).

The motivations for such atrocities were said to be the awards offered by President Uribe for successes against the guerrilla group.

A report by the International Federation of Human Rights indicates that there were over 3000 cases of extra judicial killings in between 2002-2008. It must be pointed out, however, that these figures are disputed.

The most shocking case is alleged to have occurred in 2008. 19 young men from the Soacha region were said to have been promised employment by the Colombian military, driven hundreds of miles from their homes, only to be executed as if they were guerrilla soldiers.

No full marks for Plan Colombia

So despite the military advances, the Plan Colombia years do not emerge as a spotless success.

If the universal truth of political science that the primary role of the state is to provide security to its citizens then Plan Colombia can be said only to have had partial success.

The execution of innocent civilians as False Positives, the links between the ruling class in congress and the paramilitaries, and the legally questionable demilitarisation of these paras all taint the period which began in 2002.

Democracy is build on justice and on institutional stability, impunity and injustice are her enemies.

Without justice for the victims, Colombia will only fragment further.

Photo, Confidencial Colombia