FARC Regains the Initiative
After several months of inaction, FARC forces have reclaimed the attention of the Colombian populace through various propaganda initiatives and specific threats against Bogot? infrastructure. A sustained campaign against Colombian military forces and local rural populaces is likely in the near-term, as FARC forces rebuild operational capability and seek to exploit the general lull in fighting. The Colombian military response to FARC attacks will determine the future course of the conflict for the remainder of Uribe?s term. Additionally, Uribe?s willingness to politically engage both the ELN and remnants of the AUC will allow Colombian military forces to concentrate solely on degrading the FARC. However, this process is fraught with difficulties as all rebel parties?including ELN and AUC forces?have violated past commitments, jeopardizing the recent climate of peace and de-escalation in Colombia. FARC Activities in the Last Week In the last week FARC leadership has issued several communiqu?s signifying their intention to continue the pursuit of a Marxist state through guerrilla combat tactics. Although this pursuit has not wavered since the FARC?s formation in 1960s, their ability to conduct guerrilla operations has been hindered by a relatively successful counter-insurgency campaign on the part of the Colombian government. The Colombian military has adapted to FARC tactics and has become a professionalized military establishment. The specific threats to Bogot? infrastructure and tourist destinations should temporarily deter travel to the area. For necessary travel, foreign nationals should avoid public gathering areas, specifically malls and nightclubs. FARC guerrillas have launched attacks against Colombian malls in the past, causing significant loss of life. Attacks against such targets are expected before the end of the year. Moreover, FARC guerrillas released a video of Colombian political deputies that remain in FARC captivity following their capture in 2002. The FARC leadership has signaled its willingness to conduct a prisoner exchange with the Colombian government in which it would release the 62 hostages, including three US defense contractors, in exchange for FARC prisoners and the withdrawal of Colombian military personnel from two municipalities. Additionally, the FARC is demanding the Colombian government grant it a 310-square-mile safe haven near Cali where negotiations could be held for the prisoner swap. A similar concession made by former President Andres Pastrana granted the FARC a military exclusion zone in 1998. But after talks collapsed the rebels were accused of using the Switzerland-sized zone for drug trafficking and the strengthening of their military capacity. The release of political prisoners is the largest task confronting Uribe during his second term. Uribe must avoid large concessions to the FARC that will allow FARC forces a safe-haven to rearm and cultivate coca crops, the revenue from which will serve to replenish their coffers. The Colombian military must continue an aggressive campaign against the FARC while the Colombian government continues to seek a peaceful resolution to the 40-year old conflict. The achievement of a lasting peace will not be possible as long as FARC forces retain the initiative against the Colombian military and dictate terms of negotiations with the government. Uribe must continue to demonstrate his unwillingness to negotiate with a FARC gun to his head.