Colombia: Army Incentive Program Backfires Badly

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November 5,2008:  The government amnesty program has aimed at the senior leadership of FARC, and connected with its target audience. So far this year, over 300 FARC veterans (with at least ten years experience) have surrendered. The most senior ones can get close to half a million dollars and sanctuary in Europe (to escape vengeful kin of their many victims). This loss has left the FARC adrift, unable to effectively oppose more aggressive operations by army and police. The loss of leadership also made FARC less useful to the drug gangs, who are now a major source of income for many FARC units (unable to get by on extortion and kidnapping anymore). The drug gangs have found it easier to just hire the more competent FARC people, leaving the others to desert or get rounded up by the police. Many FARC units, normally composed of several hundred gunmen, have simply dissolved, largely because of captured or deserting leadership leaving the organization with no glue.

The death toll from the operations against FARC and the drug gangs is expected to be higher this year. In 2007, nearly 1,500 civilians were killed in the war between FARC and the army. About 20 percent of the civilians were killed by soldiers. The violence caused over 300,000 civilians to flee their homes. The deaths and refugees were 50 percent higher in 2007 compared to 2006, and a similar increase is expected this year. The current  "murder for  promotion" scandal in the army may have accounted for ten percent of civilian deaths over the last year or so.

The recent scandal in the army is the result of a struggle within the military between U.S. trained, and influenced officers, and the more traditional minded. U.S. Army Special Forces trainers and instructors in U.S. military schools have, for decades, stressed to their Colombian students the importance of  winning the trust and loyalty of the civilian population. The more traditional Colombian approach, fostered by over a century of civil conflict, is to ruthlessly apply terror and intimidation to any population that does not support you enthusiastically. This included a lot of casual murders, killing any civilian who gave you a hard time. The struggle between the reformers and traditionalists has largely been kept out of public view, but now it is out in the open. The government has been forced to take sides, and is promoting reformist officers to replace the traditionalist officers caught up in the "murder for  promotion" scandal.

November 4, 2008: The head of the army was forced to resign, after it was admitted that the army policy of favoring the promotion of commanders who kill the most FARC rebels, led to some commanders kidnapping poor, or homeless, young men, killing them and making it look like the victims were FARC members. Based on missing persons reports, several hundred men were believed to have been victims of the ruthless army commanders.

October 31, 2008: Venezuela has increased pressure on NGOs to keep quiet about the increasingly police state atmosphere in the country, or else. Venezuelan secret police are watching foreign activists, even leftist ones, and expelling those who prove too troublesome to the governments reputation.

October 29, 2008: The army dismissed 29 officers (including a general) and enlisted personnel as a result of an investigation into illegal activities. The troops were accused of kidnapping young men from poor neighborhoods, then killing them elsewhere and accusing the victims of being FARC or from other criminal organizations. It is believed that reform minded officers tipped off the media about these practices.

October 28, 2008: FARC has offered to resume negotiations to exchange 150 high profile kidnapping victims, for 500 imprisoned senior FARC officials. FARC wants to negotiate with a committee of civilian intellectuals and journalists, to keep the talks high profile, and enhance their chances of forcing the government to take the deal and release a large number of FARC's most able leaders.

October 27, 2008: In the west, an army patrol came upon a FARC hostage of eight years, who had escaped with a FARC commander (of the unit that was holding him) who was defecting. Oscar Tulio Lizcano, a politician (member of Congress), was kidnapped eight years ago. Both reported that FARC morale was bad and desertions and defections were increasing. The army and police

 

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