Colombia's Borders: The Weak Link in Uribe's Security Policy
Colombia's Borders: The Weak Link in Uribe's Security Policy
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  1. Executive Summary
Atrapados por el conflicto: cómo reformar la estrategia militar para salvar vidas en Colombia (Bogotá, 27 September 2022)
Atrapados por el conflicto: cómo reformar la estrategia militar para salvar vidas en Colombia (Bogotá, 27 September 2022)
Report 9 / Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia's Borders: The Weak Link in Uribe's Security Policy

President Alvaro Uribe's security strategy is driving the conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) toward the country's extremely fragile borders.

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President Alvaro Uribe's security strategy is driving the conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) toward the country's extremely fragile borders. The goal is to force the insurgents to negotiate by making them take military losses, but the border regions are the weak link, since relations with Venezuela and Ecuador are not strong enough to absorb the pressure of an ever more intense armed conflict and associated drug eradication measures. The Uribe administration needs to engage its two neighbours in far stronger terms to forge a joint policy to contain the conflict and advance Andean security and border development cooperation.

Having evicted the FARC from areas near Bogotá with an aggressive campaign that began in mid-2003, the army is now operating with much less certain results in the southern jungle strongholds -- some of Colombia's most remote regions -- where the insurgents have historically exercised unchallenged control.

Meanwhile, despite ongoing demobilisation negotiations, there is overwhelming evidence that the far-right paramilitary groups (AUC) have not withdrawn from their fiefdoms on the Atlantic coast. Indeed, over the last three years, the AUC has expanded its grip on strategic regions, including departments bordering on Venezuela.

These border regions which are increasingly the focus of military attention have historically been forgotten by the central government. Compared with the rest of the country, they show consistently higher levels of poverty and structural underdevelopment. Effective abandonment of state responsibility has increased their vulnerability, and many have become platforms for illegal activity, including gun running, drug trafficking and contraband.

The illegal armed groups (including the ELN, the smaller of the left wing insurgencies) frequently cross over into Venezuela and Ecuador, either to escape an army sweep, to rest and restock supplies, or to raise funds through extortion and kidnapping of wealthy Venezuelans and Ecuadorians. Further contributing to the climate of criminality on the frontier, drug cartels have linked up with the armed groups to move chemical precursors for drug processing into Colombia and ship refined illegal drugs back across the borders for export to the U.S. and Europe.

It is no coincidence that the largest centres of illicit crops have traditionally been in these border regions. Joint Colombian-U.S. counter-narcotics policy has focused on eradicating illicit crops through aerial spraying. Since the accelerated eradication started in 2001, this supply-end policy has not been complemented by equivalent programs to develop rural regions hard-hit by poverty, structural socio-economic imbalances and aggressive counter-narcotics measures.

The governments of Presidents Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Lucio Gutierrez in Ecuador are both concerned about the impact of Colombia's conflict on the institutional stability and security of their countries. While each came to office favouring a negotiated solution, they now distance themselves, focusing on their own grave internal political situations.

Disengagement and reliance on band-aid measures to deal with the spillover effects of Colombia's troubles, however, will neither provide constructive long term solutions to the problems that fuel the armed conflict nor keep their own societies safe.

Colombia will not be able to resolve its conflict without extensive support from Ecuador and Venezuela. To get that support, it will need to take its neighbours concerns and needs seriously and offer them genuine cooperation in the planning and execution of both military and counter-drug activity and of development programs in the sensitive border regions.

Quito/Brussels, 23 September 2004

Atrapados por el conflicto: cómo reformar la estrategia militar para salvar vidas en Colombia (Bogotá, 27 September 2022)

Launch event of Crisis Group’s report Trapped in Conflict: Reforming Military Strategy to Save Lives in Colombia, based on extensive fieldwork in different regions of Colombia and dozens of interviews with the military and communities. It was held in Bogotá on Tuesday 27 September 2022 at 8:30 am. In the report, Crisis Group analyses why military strategy in Colombia’s rural areas has failed to contain the conflicts that arose following the 2016 peace accord with its largest guerrilla movement (FARC). Crisis Group also proposes new civilian government leaders to prioritise community protection in rural areas and embrace new indicators for gauging the military’s success. The panel was composed of Martha Maya, Latin America Program Director at the Institute for Integrated Transitions (IFI), Elizabeth Dickinson, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Colombia, and Ivan Briscoe, Crisis Group's Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Alberto Lara Losada couldn't attend. 

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