By Yamid Amat, EL TIEMPO, June 16, 2024


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Iván Velásquez, Minister of Defense in the current administration, states that there has been an increase in the number of troops and in the capacity of intelligence operations to confront the armed groups.

“Thirty-six thousand more men and women have joined the Army and the Police in this country, for peace or for war.” With such a statement, the Minister of Defense, Iván Velásquez summarizes for this EL TIEMPO writer the objective of the military offensive that’s approaching.

“Since March of 2023 we have been launching an offensive in Cauca Department to recover the government’s legitimate control of the District (corregimiento) of El Plateado in the Municipality of Argelia.”

But does territorial control by the Armed Forces really exist?

“We’re continuing the consolidation of territorial control, particularly since the end of March when the national government suspended the ceasefire with the so-called “Central Command Staff” (EMC in Spanish) in the departments of Nariño, Cauca, and Valle del Cauca. That decision has generated a reaction on the part of that criminal organization of terrorism directed at the public and the Armed Forces.

How have the Military Forces reacted to that?

Along with the President of the Republic, we have ordered the augmentation of all of our capabilities for a military offensive; that includes taking more action against illegal mining and drug trafficking, the sources of enrichment for the illegal armed groups.

Why were those attacks transferred from Cauca to Valle del Cauca?

What happens is that the order issued to the Armed Forces to consolidate territorial control in Cauca has also been being carried out in the northern part of the Department, which borders on southern Valle del Cauca and especially on the Municipality of Jamundí, where the Jaime Martínez Front of the EMC has been present. An unfortunate decision was made by the previous administration to retire the Alta Montaña (High Mountain) Battalion that was doing important work in the region from the Municipality, and the Dissidents took advantage of it to build their strength. The territory the Battalion had occupied was invaded, and along with the Governor of Valle del Cauca and the Mayor of Jamundí, we are making urgent efforts to take back a territory that would be a good location for the Battalion to return to. So the terrorist violence in Jamundí has at least three explanations: they aim to distract the Armed Forces and get them to reduce their permanent activities in Cauca; to pressure the administration to re-establish the ceasefire, and to impede the return of the Battalion.

And how is the government responding?

The ceasefire with the EMC in the southeastern part of the country will not be put into effect again, and its re-establishment is not even being considered or evaluated; the President’s order to increase offensive operations with all of the factions of those Dissidents is being carried out appropriately, and that will continue until we get complete control of all the territory in the region.

What’s the real objective of the succession of attacks by the “Central Command Staff”?

There’s no doubt that these are difficult times. We understand the anxiety generated by the terrorist attacks on people, but we ask that we unite as a nation to confront these criminal groups. The Armed Forces are augmenting their presence, their activities, and their control in the region. They are increasing their capacities; their military and police intelligence are very active and coordinated. But we require maximum citizen collaboration to locate EMC explosives, detect the terrorists’ intentions, and obtain the capture of members of those terrorist groups.

Why the summit of generals on Thursday and Friday?

The objective of the generals’ summit was to analyze, coordinate, and strengthen security strategies and be able to meet the current challenges efficiently in different regions that have a high presence of illegal armed groups.

What are the generals thinking about the public order situation in the country?

We have to separate the security situation in the large and medium-sized cities and department capitals where criminal gangs are active and affect the peace of the community and the people’s enjoyment of their rights. On that aspect, the new model of policing that’s being carried out has generally produced good results.

Good results. Like what? People are complaining a lot about insecurity.

Look: the rate of intentional homicide has fallen by almost 3%; theft from persons has been reduced by 17.4%; theft from residences by 22%; massacres by 33%. We have nearly 430 municipalities in the country where there has not been a single homicide this year according to statistics reported at the beginning of June.

But there are also a lot of negative statistics.

It’s been the National Police that released statistics that registered an increase in three crimes in particular: injury to persons has increased by 13%, extortion has increased by 28%, and intrafamily violence has increased by 45.8%.

That last figure is absolutely alarming.

The figure represents a crisis in living together that is influencing the society profoundly. The problem seems to be exacerbated by ordinary disputes between neighbors, and that increases when there is a perception of insecurity. It reflects surroundings that are tense and lacking in harmony among the citizens, which is demonstrated by the survey published a few weeks ago by the Statistics and Concepts firm.

And how about security in the rural areas?

The situation of public order is especially impaired by the illegal armed groups operating in regions where they are able get rich from illegal activities like drug trafficking, illegal mining, extortion, illegal extraction of natural resources, and human trafficking. The combat with them is not only through military operations, but also when we interfere with their illegal income.

Why are localities like Jamundí, El Plateado, and the Micay Canyon the objective of the so-called EMC?

Because those coca-growing regions concentrate the significant income that comes from cocaine and illegal mining. That also explains the armed combat between the EMC Dissidents and the “Segunda Marquetalia” in their death struggle for the control of the territories that generate immense wealth and are also, as happens with the Micay Canyon, strategic points for sending drugs to international markets.

Is there combat between “Iván Márquez” and “Iván Mordisco” for territorial control?

Naturally, the combat still taking place is in populated centers, without the least respect for the people that live there, and that directly affects the communities. Because of the combat, they have to displace or remain confined permanently, and it’s even worse when their criminal practices include the installation of land mines which on not a few occasions have injured the humblest residents, children, and old people, as well as members of the Armed Forces.

Do the Army and the Police really exercise control over the countryside?

We can say yes, in most of the country. Unfortunately, after the Peace Agreement with the FARC, most of the countryside was abandoned, leaving the people to the mercy of the Dissidents and other armed groups who were fighting each other while the government was absent. Specifically, in order for complete control of the territories to exist, not just in the countryside but also in the cities, we are developing plans for the strengthening of the Armed Forces, like the incorporation of 16,000 new professional soldiers to the Military Forces, and 20,000 more men and women into the National Police, and we will be continuing the process of augmenting the guarantee of total coverage.

What are the men and women that are joining the Armed Forces going to be doing?

This strengthening of the Armed Forces is indispensable, not only for peace, but also for war.

Why for peace?

Guaranteeing their presence in every corner of the country impedes the repetition of what happened in the past, so we can generate conditions of security that will make possible the processes of countryside transformation that are necessary to guarantee a stable and lasting peace, not in empty words, but in reality.

And why for war?

Making sure that the Armed Forces have sufficient capacity to fight off the threats and dismantle the organizations, or weaken them so that submitting to negotiations will be their only alternative.

To what extent is the opposition claim true that says the administration has handcuffed the Armed Forces by its policy of “total peace”?

That’s absolutely false. If that’s what the administration was trying to do, why would they spend more than a billon pesos (roughly USD $140,000,200 at current exchange rates) to strengthen them with the incorporation of 36,000 new members that we are now training? Certainly, the ceasefire that is still being maintained with some armed organizations, like the EMC, which operates in different territories in the southeast of the country, and the ELN, don’t allow going forward with offensive operations, which are those that are directed toward armed combat; that doesn’t stop us from being present throughout the countryside, putting a stop to criminal actions against the communities, making arrests for flagrant criminal activity or carrying out arrest warrants, or combating drug trafficking, illegal mining, or extortion, etc. In addition, the Armed Forces have full capability to combat other expressions of armed criminality, like the Clan del Golfo.

But, with regard to the preceding question, there are other forces saying that the Armed Forces don’t have confidence in the President . . .

That’s not true either. I have seen first-hand that the commanders respect and follow the leadership exercised by President Gustavo Petro; in the Armed Forces they recognize and are grateful that this administration has shown a concern for their wellbeing that they have never seen in the past. Their food ration has been augmented significantly, by 57.8%; with the support of the Congress, we have been able to increase benefits for the soldiers, sailors and police auxiliaries that are drafted into service, and recently Congress passed a bill that definitely and unquestionably establishes the allowance 14 for veterans and civilian employees of the Armed Forces. We are advancing a project that, for the first time in history, will enable the professional soldiers to enjoy their own recreation centers, and we are carrying out broad skill-building programs and technological and university training.

There are sectors that say that due to the effort for “total peace”, the Defense Minister has lost any real control of public order.

Public order in Colombia requires a balanced and objective analysis of multiple factors. For many years, the country has experienced peaks of violence and criminality with the increase in armed conflict, drug trafficking, and social problems that has tested the effectiveness of our forces to maintain order. The Defense Ministry has not stopped designing and carrying out strategies and acting with all of its capability to put a stop to these threats and is making significant progress in some areas. The situation of public order In Colombia is complicated and dynamic, and influenced by political, social, and economic factors, but that doesn’t mean in any manner that the Defense Ministry has lost control of public order.

How far will the cutbacks in public spending that you have to apply in the Defense Ministry affect the security of this country?

We won’t touch funds allocated to our functioning or to investments related to maintenance of military equipment. Supplies of fuel won’t be affected by these measures, and in general, I can assure you that neither the Military Forces nor the National Police will suffer any impairment of their normal operations.

What’s the origin of the call to “assessment of services” issued to several Army generals?

We are trying to see that services are performed with the greatest efficiency, absolute transparency, and complete respect for human rights, and therefore, the retirement of certain officers, including generals, will have various different origins.

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