War between the guerrillas. For the last ten months the National Liberation Army
(ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been engaged
in a bloody war. Their tacit 40-year-old alliance, which has never been officially
agreed on even though they are fighting for the common goal of overthrowing the
present regime in the name of a new Colombia, is collapsing.
Towards the abyss.
The situation is slowly getting worse. The internal battle that began with a
few sporadic assassinations in the remotest regions of the Colombian forests,
has now culminated with the murder of Ramirez, the commander of the “Jose Gonzalo
Sanchez” eighth FARC front, who was killed in an ambush by a unit of the ELN commanded
by Oscar, in the Barranquilla area between Palomas and La Claera in Cauca. Even
though this terrible insult took place on December 1st, it was only made public
many weeks later.
What has happened between the guerrilla armies that for years have been fighting
shoulder to shoulder against the paramilitary forces and the army, even though
they have always maintained their independent identity, is not known. What is
known is that the number of assassinations is increasing and the pleas to stop
that initially were made by both sides have now almost ceased.
In a statement issued seven months ago, the FARC invited the ELN to join them
in a “united march” in the name of “the long road travelled up to now, made up
of confrontations and shared experiences”. Denouncing the “irregularities” noted
in the ranks of their revolutionary “brothers”, they demanded an explanation for
the aggression they had been subjected to for weeks and asked for a “response
that would help to reconstruct fraternal relations”. Reasserting the “respect
of the popular masses”, they ended by calling attention to some ELN commanders
in the Arauca region “who treat us like the enemy”. The statement then ended:
“We invite the ELN fighters and commanders who are aware of the gravity of this
aggression to use their arms to benefit the revolution and not against their brothers
in the fight”. But since then the situation has got worse.
The common feeling in the ELN, however, is that: “They [the FRAC] have a dominating
attitude that makes them believe they are the only ones who can legitimately fight
for the revolution in Colombia”. In fact according to the ELN, the FARC are the
ones who have assassinated three-hundred ELN fighters and sympathisers in five
months in the Arauca, Cauca and Narino area. As usual the biggest price is being
paid by normal people who now have another source of fear and violence to contend
with, as if the battles between the guerrillas and the army and paramilitary forces
wasn’t enough. The result is that so many people are being forced to flee that
in recent months the Catholic Church has been heavily involved in trying to arrange
Wherever the truth lies, the result doesn’t change – the situation in that area
is disastrous. What is certain, however, is that the area in question is very
rich and strategic, partly for control of the drugs traffic, so controlling it
is very important for the future. For this reason the situation is even more unclear
as there are two other actors in the drama, the paramilitary forces and the army,
who are pointing their finger at the guerrillas in an attempt to cover their own
traffic, and the fact that the guerrillas are eliminating each other plays right
into their hands.
Despite the well-publicised demilitarisation of paramilitary forces, which has
officially resulted in 30,000 handing in their guns, the death squads still continue
to pile up the victims and sow violence, just as before. In every part of the
country where there is a guerrilla to shoot, drug traffic to organise or mineral
resources to exploit.
. In the meantime, in Bogotá president Alvaro Uribe has re-launched the military
offensive and shelved all negotiations for a humanitarian exchange of hostages
in the hands of the FRAC. “We’ll free them by force”, he promised in a declaration
that caused panic among their families and in particular among the relatives of
the 61 political hostages whose fate for some time now has been hanging in the
balance. Uribe’s remarks “make me very worried”, announced Yoland Pulecio, the
mother of Ingrid Betancourt, the Franco-Colombian presidential candidate kidnapped
by the FARC on 23 February 2003. And in fact it’s difficult not to think of what
happened in 2003 when military forces failed in their attempt to liberate two
political prisoners, the governor of Antioquia, Guillermo Gaviria, and the former
Defence Minister, Gilberto Echeverri, who together with eight soldiers were killed
in the operation.
In the meantime Plan Colombia, the programme for providing the South American
country with US military aid, has expired and George W. Bush has already decided
to prolong it and has requested new funds of $705 million per year, 90% of which
are destined for the military sector. This figure is in line with the previous
Plan, the only difference being that $10 million has been taken away from the
military budget and added to the budget for development, human rights and reinforcing
the judicial system.
The human tragedy of Colombia cannot be denied. The country’s three million war
refugees and the forty-year long war has now been made official with a summit
about the problem held in Cartagena de Indias and attended by the UNO.