Editorial, EL TIEMPO, October 6, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

It’s fundamental that there has to be government presence in the areas where the criminals are recruiting their new members.

Knowing that there are now more than 7,000 members of the ELN and the dissidents of the now-defunct FARC is doubtless a reason for alarm. Those are added to the more than 8,000 that make up the other illegal armed groups, according to the recently released report “The Focal Points of the Conflict in Colombia”, prepared by the Institute for the Study of Development and Peace (Indepaz).

That X-Ray contains another series of statistics and patterns showing what is going on now with those generators of violence. They call our attention, above all, to behaviors that mark a clear difference between those actors and those that were the protagonists of the armed conflict a few years ago. The most striking of these is that now we are not facing organizations with political demands and a project, in medium or long term, to take power in the country. That would necessarily have to include open and constant confrontation with the Armed Forces, as was going on until we were well into this century. Today, the interest of these organizations, even including the ELN, is more in controlling subregions, in order to assure access to the profit that they extract there, fruit of illegal economic activity, all the way from drug trafficking, smuggling, illegal mining, and human trafficking, along with many others.

It’s also worthwhile to focus on times past when there seemed to be veteran commanders with strong backgrounds in the organization because of their criminal history. Today, with few exceptions, those groups are commanded by young people with no greater ambition than to consolidate their domination, not caring at what cost or with what methods, in a particular territory. It’s very important to emphasize also that the growth of the dissident groups has not come from recruitment of the former combatants. The report is clear that of the 13,000 guerrillas who availed themselves of the peace process, there are only 795 whose whereabouts are unknown. The rest of them, 95%, are continuing to comply.

And the fact that the dissidents specifically, but also the other organizations, have been able to incorporate thousands of young people into their ranks is what is most worrisome, besides remembering the enormous challenge that the government is facing here. And it’s that in the areas where some of the links in the chain of the drug traffickers require a large number of people to furnish security, and for that, the illegals can count on gushes of money. That coincides with the huge social debt of the government in those territories, a reality that materializes in the very few options that young people have in those places. So, unfortunately, whether it’s of their own will or the path of forced recruitment, they end up filling the ranks of the criminals.

It’s a very complicated situation, and the government is obliged, as it’s doing now–the Minister of Defense, Diego Molano, reported 5,000 people captured, demobilized, or killed in combat—to combat those groups in the way that furnishes the most effective results. But it has to realize that the key question in the territories is to find out what will conquer the hearts of the young people. And here, as is well known, the key role does not belong to the Armed Forces.

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