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Latin America Blog

Is Colombia's FARC rebounding?

A Colombian think-tank argues that the guerrilla group has retaken the initiative in key regions, and that security forces have thus far failed to adapt to the conflict's changing conditions.

By Elyssa PachicoGuest blogger / July 21, 2011

A police officer stands in front of a police station that was damaged after being hit by a FARC car bomb in Corinto, Colombia, on July 12.

Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters

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Corporacion Nuevo Arco Iris, a Bogota-based think-tank that focuses on national security issues, released a 17-page report on Sunday which highlights several trends previously observed by InSight Crime. Most notable among these is that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) are increasingly resurgent in the country's southwest, employing tactics like sniper fire and the heavy laying of landmines to harass the army and police.

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InSight Crime considers there are four key points to be taken from the report:

1) FARC military actions have been on the rise since 2009, and there are no signs of the guerrillas relenting.

Nuevo Arco Iris counted 1,115 FARC actions in the first half of 2011, a 10 percent increase on the same period last year, according to data kept by the think-tank. That's up from 855 actions in the first half of 2009 and 1,012 during the same time period in 2010. If the FARC continue at the same pace, 2011 could finish with a total of 2,200 guerrilla attacks, which, by Nuevo Arco Iris' definition, includes the use of minefields, snipers, ambushes, infrastructure attacks, "combat" (defined as firefights that last more than two hours), and "harassment" (hit-and-run attacks, often involving grenades, that last less than three hours).

This would be significantly higher than the 1,947 actions registered by Nuevo Arco Iris in 2010. Last year, Colombian authorities argued that overall FARC-related violence was increasing due to the presidential elections, when the guerrillas typically step up attacks in order to prove their political relevance. But according to Nuevo Arco Iris, the rate of FARC violence appears to be increasingly steadily regardless, with election months not a significant influence over the rate of guerrilla actions (That being said, 2011 is another election year, with voters casting ballots for governors, mayors, and town councilors in October).

2) The FARC have changed their military strategy, focusing on more traditional hit-and-run guerrilla attacks.

This is a trend that analysts have been observing since 2008, when FARC leader Guillermo Leon Saenz Vargas, alias "Alfonso Cano," assumed control of the rebel army and implemented a new security strategy, known in some circles as "Plan Pistola." The plan involves the use of small rebel units, of between 25 and 35 people, operating in groups no larger than five. This allows the guerrillas to present the military with few big targets and to avoid the Air Force, still Colombia's most effective weapon against the rebels.

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