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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.

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The FARC's new modus operandi also involves increased reliance on militia networks, part-time fighters who operate in civilian clothing and are often based in the cities. These militias are able to more easily access police stations or military bases in towns, leading them to favor urban guerrilla tactics like car bombs. The growing importance of the militias may become even more evident in 2011, which has seen 12 car bomb attacks to date.

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3) The security forces are lagging behind.

How the FARC conducts the war has changed, but it's not clear that the military and police have been able to evolve their tactics to match. The rebels' increased use of explosives and snipers means that the security forces are absorbing a high number of casaulties: 2,540 members of the military were killed or wounded in 2010, 300 more than in 2002, when President Alvaro Uribe took office.

4) The strategy of eliminating the top levels of FARC command is not enough.

Colombian authorities are following something like a "kingpin" strategy, focusing on taking out the highest levels of FARC leadership. This has resulted in high-profile successes like the death of Julio Suarez Rojas, alias "Mono Jojoy," in 2010. Now, the government says that the coming months may see the death of rebel leader Saenz.

But as Nuevo Arco Iris rightly points out, the death of Saenz will hardly mean the end of the FARC. While the elimination of the top levels of FARC command delivers important military victories, the "decapitation" of each FARC "kingpin" means that the government is losing another member of the FARC old guard with whom it could be possible to negotiate an end to the conflict. As the FARC is stripped of its key military and political leaders, the organization becomes more fragmented and similiar to a criminal gang, focused on drug trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion. There is already evidence that the FARC are deepening their cooperation with Colombia's new generation of criminal gangs, known by the government as "bandas criminales" or BACRIMS, and formed out of the ashes of the AUC paramilitary organization. If the government succeeds in its efforts to kill off the top level of rebel command, one of the effects could be to deepen this partnership between the FARC and the heirs of their old enemies, the paramilitaries.

--- Elyssa Pachico is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of her research here.

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