Since the completion of the second Colombian coca-harvesting season in late June, FARC forces have increased their attacks upon Colombian police, military, and citizenry. The July 14, 2006 killing of 10 Choco province residents and subsequent kidnapping of an estimated 170 more is by far the largest FARC incursion in 2006 and may symbolize a renewed commitment by FARC forces. Since the beginning of 2006, FARC guerrillas have engaged Colombian forces sparingly. The Colombian government and military attributes the lull in FARC attacks to the aggressive counterinsurgency campaign being waged and the debilitating effects these campaigns are having on the FARC’s fighting capabilities.
Recent FARC incursions into Choco province, a former stronghold for AUC paramilitaries, could be due to a power vacuum that has ensued. FARC guerrillas are seeking to gain territory in Choco unchallenged by AUC forces. However, this endeavor will prove difficult, as large contingents of AUC forces have begun to rearm and are forming new defense forces . The largely unsuccessful process of AUC demobilization should hinder the ability of FARC forces to secure control over large swaths of Choco territory. The presence of AUC and FARC forces will destabilize the area and cause increased friction and bloodshed while simultaneously encouraging other former AUC personnel to rearm .
Control over Colombia’s lucrative arms smuggling and narco-trafficking routes into Panama will cause increased bloodshed as 2006 progresses. The Colombian town of Riosucio is a prime location for both the FARC and the AUC. Contrary to statements made by the Colombian government, AUC personnel have remained in control of former AUC narcotics operations and are seeking to consolidate their enterprises.
The Colombian military wishes to regain control over the Panamanian border and curtail drug and arms smuggling operations in the area. Beginning in 2005, President Alvaro Uribe (see photo in previous column) and the Colombian government began publicly requesting military assistance from the Panamanian government since Colombian military personnel are restricted from pursuing FARC forces across the border. FARC forces routinely enter Panamanian territory and have established transitory bases. Joint military efforts have worked in the past and should be increased in magnitude.
On July 19, 2006, Colombia’s National Hydrocarbon Agency announced its intentions to further oil exploration and production in western Choco sometime in 2008. General lawlessness and rampant bloodshed in the province could deter possible foreign investment, hindering Colombia’s ability to maintain petroleum self-sufficiency.
The second half of 2006 will be increasingly difficult for the Uribe administration and the Colombian military.