Small, but numerous and frequent, accomplishments will be the legacy of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe . In just under four years, Uribe’s triumphs continue to mount. He has relegated the paramilitary AUC , diminished the capacity of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, Group Profile), gained control of both the Colombian Senate and House of Representatives, secured the unilateral ceasefire of the ELN during the upcoming legislative and presidential elections, and is posed to secure the ratification of a free trade agreement with the United States . If he has not already, the next four years will undoubtedly secure Uribe’s place in Colombian history, which has been dominated by war and insurrection. Perhaps the best symbolic representation of Uribe’s successes came this past week when the 70-member La Gaitana Company of the FARC demobilized, handing over 63 weapons and a small aircraft to Colombian officials. Although a fraction of the much larger 12,000-strong fighting force, the symbolism of FARC guerrillas demobilizing, in small but significant contingents, is devastating to the morale of the larger FARC force and further portrays Uribe as the omnipotent leader of Colombia.
For Uribe effectively to destroy the FARC and/or injure to such a degree as to make the FARC irrelevant, he and the Colombian military must seek the demobilization of small, isolated pockets of FARC guerrillas. According to the Associated Press, La Gaitana stated their belief that the larger Colombian populace wished peace as their prime motivation for demobilizing. Unfortunately, the main contingent of FARC forces remains lured by drug profits and the belief that their actions will ultimately result in a social revolution that they have sought for the last 41 years. Although the ideological component of the FARC is far weaker than in past decades, the core cadre continues to seek the redistribution of the country’s wealth. The Colombian government will be unable to curtail the activities of the FARC vanguard, but through incentives the former can court the various companies that have grown tired of guerrilla warfare.
The next four years will be imperative to the Colombian people and government. Continued economic growth and the diversification of the Colombian economy will provide the population with increased wealth, mitigating the appeal of FARC propaganda. Continued reductions in FARC capabilities by the Colombian government and military will further reduce the allure of guerrilla units and will dramatically increase the desertion rates among FARC combatants. The Colombian military, assisted by the US military, will further perfect their counterinsurgency practices, demonstrating the futility of the FARC’s struggle.
However, numerous challenges will persist for the Colombian government and for Uribe during his second term. Drug proliferation continues at a rampant pace and is the greatest cause of Colombian instability. Plan Colombia has failed to have the dramatic effect that the Colombian and US governments were anticipating. Manual eradication continues to be dangerous, as FARC forces regularly ambush eradication teams. Demand for cocaine in the US remains high, propagating the proliferation of coca fields within Colombia. The Colombian economy remains dependent on primary product exports, a dependency that has long been problematic for Latin American nations; however, the ratification of a free trade agreement with the US and the diminishing ability of the FARC to strike at their discretion should attract increased foreign investment in Colombia, which has been hindered economically by the precarious security situation. Reintegrating AUC and FARC forces into Colombian society must also be a priority of the government, ensuring that demobilized forces are retooled to be productive and peaceful citizens who will not slip back to their old ways.