With a mere 18 days remaining before Colombians are scheduled to go to the polls, FARC rebels have escalated attacks against the population and local government administrations. Part of the FARC’s ideology is that attacking local city council members is far easier and more dramatic than a large-scale attack on hardened government targets in Bogot?. However, pre-election day violence and rampant fear is not a new phenomenon in Colombia by any means and does not do justice to the increased levels of security being felt among many Colombians. The Colombian populace has witnessed a 37 percent decrease in homicides and a 73 percent drop in kidnappings since President Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002, yet near daily reports from Colombia still portray the often thought of image of guerrillas running amuck through the streets of Bogot? and Medell?n, terrorizing the populace. Although such reports to not properly credit the Uribe government for the vast counterinsurgent improvements made within the Colombian military, they do adequately demonstrate the inherent fear still felt by the majority of Colombians who have resided in a war zone for the last 40+ years.
Although attacks have decreased significantly during Uribe’s tenure, a dramatic attack that specifically targeted Colombian city council members ahead of the March 2006 legislative elections has prompted an entire Colombian city council to resign in fear of their lives. Such a result aptly defines true FARC intentions as of 2006. FARC forces are less inclined and far less capable of waging a continued urban terrorist campaign than in past decades, primarily due to Uribe’s successes. Instead, the FARC have chosen to perpetrate direct assassination missions and indirect bombing campaigns against Colombian city council members and civilians, thereby indirectly influencing both the wider public as well as influential, elite decision makers. A.P. Schmid in “Political Terrorism: A Research Guide to Concepts, Theories, Data Bases, and Literature” observed the following when attempting to evaluate the goal of the act of terrorist violence:
It is very important to differentiate between the target of the violence and the target of influence; what distinguishes terrorism from other forms of political violence is the differentiation of the target of violence, that is, the innocent victim of noncombatant, from the target of influence, that is, the broader public or elite decision makers.
Politically-orientated violence has become a fixture of Colombia’s civil war, and although assassination campaigns against local city council members is far less dramatic than the 2002 kidnapping of presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt , the results are nonetheless the same: fear is struck into the hearts of the Colombian citizenry. Ironically, however, FARC attacks will most likely result in the overwhelming re-election of President Uribe, as their attacks will deter non die-hard Uribe supporters while doing little to discourage Uribe’s base of support. Such was the case in the March legislative elections, when those parties and candidates most in line with Uribe policies won a large majority.
Although the Colombian military insists that such massive fears are unfounded, it would be unwise for the Uribe government to assume that assassination and bombing campaigns will not occur in the run-up to the May 28 election. Violent attacks will most assuredly occur in some form. The key for the Uribe government is to minimize such attacks while simultaneously demonstrating to local citizenry that the Colombian military and security forces are doing everything in their power to ensure the safety of voters and politicians. However, the campaign to assuage the fears of the Colombian citizens will take many years and will suffer severe setbacks, as every time the FARC perpetrate a successful attack against the general populace that fear resurfaces. Relatively non-violent elections will, however, alleviate this fear and symbolize the success Uribe and the Colombian military are having against FARC forces.