By: Mary Kate Patterson ’13
Within the past three months FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the rebel group that produces about 50% of all cocain on the world market and 60% of the cocain smuggled into the United States, has increased its acts of violence against the Colombian government. The attacks on Colombian military and police forces has been on the rise, a potential response to the death of Alfonso Cano, the leader of the rebel group.
BBC reported on February 1st that an attack by FARC members resulted in the death of eleven people and the injury of about seventy-nine more. The following day a secondary attack in the southern part of the country resulted in the death of at least six people and the injury of twelve more. Both attacks were on police headquarters where the commanders of said police stations were present. In light of the two attacks Colombian forces have stepped up attempts to thwart the continued violence. On February 11th Colombian forces seized over three tonnes of explosives discovered in a rebel camp in the southern region of the country. This acquisition marks one of the largest seizures of FARC supplies in years. Among the three tonnes was over 3,000 sticks of explosives, land mines, and several hundred grenades. BBC reported that early on the day of the seizure three soldiers were killed in a grenade attack in a nearby province.
Despite continued efforts by both Colombian forces and help from abroad, the FARC and rebel groups similar to it remain highly active and effective at their illicit activities. In Sight, an organization documenting organized crime in the Americas reported that the United States alone has contributed close to $8 Billion to end the reign of the rebel groups over the jungles of Colombia, but with little result. The rebel groups have instead adapted to the new threats and continue to function, reaching further into the urban and poverty stricken populations of the surrounding area in South America.
In the past few years FARC operations have spread into the nearby jungles of Peru and Ecuador. In July of 2010 Ecuadorian forces discovered a 74 foot long Kevlar coated submarine which was found in a swamp near the border of Columbia. Although it was not clear that the vessel had connections to any particular group, as NPR writes, it is a sign in the changing methods of drug runners. While new methods to prevent the growth of the coca plant that cocain is made from and movements to end the smuggling of drugs throughout the world increase, combative tactics are just as quickly being produced by rebel forces.
In accordance with the “Plan Columbia,” brought about under the Clinton administration , Colombia and the United States work together to fumigate coca fields using crop dusters. However, as Matthew Bristow of the Guardian reports, this manner is not precise and often takes out large amounts of food crops rather than coca. As a result, farmers have decreased the size of their coca fields from about two hectares per field to less than one, and instead plant smaller fields over a larger area. This makes it more difficult for the crop dusters to be accurate and increases the chances of a loss in crops as opposed to loss in coca.
With the crops destroyed the already poor jungle farmers must rely more on the production of coca for income than they might have previously. These farmers are often left with little choice but to continue production of the drug as the threat the guerillas pose is just as dangerous, if not more so than the threat of government intervention and arrest. In many of the remote jungle areas where coca is grown there is little if any government intervention and most law is created by the guerillas. In some areas these rebel fighters see themselves as defenders of the poor and justified in their actions, particularly if they are able to protect the food crops as well as the coca by shooting crop dusters.
Contact Mary Kate Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.
Photo courtesy of businessweek.com