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Latin America Blog

Colombia's new security push

President Juan Manuel Santos announced a strategic shift in Colombia's struggle against guerrilla rebels and narco-paramilitaries, in part via improved cooperation between government agencies.

By Jeremy McDermottGuest blogger / August 9, 2011

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos speaks during Army Day, the 192nd anniversary of the Battle of Puente de Boyaca, in Boyaca, August 7, 2011.

Fredy Builes/Reuters

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Amid accusations that the security situation in Colombia is taking a turn for the worse, President Juan Manuel Santos has announced an overhaul of security doctrine, to counter new tactics adopted by the Marxist rebels and the increasing threat presented by narco-paramilitary gangs.

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The president made the announcement as he looked over the ground where 192 years ago, the Spanish were decisively defeated at the Battle of Boyaca. Even as he celebrated the definitive moment in the liberation of the Americas, he must have wondered what it was going to take to bring an end to the current 47-year civil conflict.

President Santos has recognized, perhaps belatedly, that the civil conflict has entered a new phase. The Marxist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberacion Nacional - ELN) are now presenting fewer targets for an army geared up for a traditional counterinsurgent war. The rebels are relying more and more on militiamen, who operate in civilian clothing and hide amongst the civilian population, rather than uniformed and heavily armed guerrilla fighters.

Their relationship between the rebels and the new generation narco-paramilitary groups, called BACRIMs ("'bandas criminales" - criminal bands), means that all illegal actors in the conflict are now united not only in the interests of resisting the advance of central government, but for the drug trade.

"We have to adjust our doctrine, our operations, and our operating procedures, without falling into the trap of undermining the efficiency and vigor of the operations that we will continue to conduct against them, be it in the depth of the jungle or the altitude of the mountains; wherever is necessary," said the president as he looked over ranks of soldiers, many dressed in colonial-era uniforms.

The president did not talk about increasing the security forces yet further, but rather mimicking the actions of the rebels, by operating in small units. He placed particular emphasis on intelligence, announcing the creation of the Center for Fusion of Intelligence of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. While its title may be long-winded, the mission of the new Center is short and necessary: to unify intelligence gathering, and to overcome rivalries between the different intelligence agencies that at the moment sees duplication of effort and a resistance to the sharing of information. Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera later said that the personnel within the armed forces dedicated to intelligence gathering would be tripled, while the police would see its intelligence staff doubled.

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