In November 2011, the Colombian military achieved one of its greatest successes when it killed Alfonso Cano, the supreme commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in the southwestern department of Cauca. Cano was quickly replaced by secretariat member Timoleon “Timochenko” Jiménez. With Timochenko believed to be operating in the northeastern department of Norte de Santander, in a remote, drug-producing area known as the Catatumbo region, the primary focus of Colombia’s military operations shifted northward. This part of Colombia is unique because, in addition to the FARC, two other guerrilla groups—the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the People’s Liberation Army (EPL)—operate here.
Tag Archives: drug war
The Colombian military has had numerous successes targeting high-ranking leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in recent years. Its two greatest successes were the killing of secretariat members Raúl Reyes in 2008 and Jorge Briceño, alias “Mono Jojoy,” last year. But the guerrilla leader that the military most wants to capture or kill is the FARC’s supreme commander Alfonso Cano. In an effort to achieve its objective, the Colombian army has deployed 5,000 troops with the sole mission of locating Cano. But the task of tracking down and targeting the FARC leader is proving to be far more challenging than the killing of Reyes and Mono Jojoy due to the high altitude and rugged mountain terrain prevalent in the department of Tolima in central Colombia, where the FARC was founded in 1964.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently compared Mexico’s drug violence to that experienced in Colombia twenty years ago and claimed that drug trafficking networks were “morphing into or making common cause with what we would consider an insurgency in Mexico and in Central America.” President Barack Obama and Mexican government officials were quick to correct her, claiming that the contemporary Mexican reality does not reflect that of Colombia in the late 1980s. What they failed to correct, however, was her misinterpretation, or conscious revision, of Colombia’s history in order to justify an increased U.S. military role in Mexico and Central America.
The streets of the remote village of La Cooperativa in the La Macarena region of eastern Colombia were bustling with people going about their daily business. The restaurants were full and stores had no problem selling their wares to a steady stream of customers consisting of local peasants and leftist guerrillas who had controlled this region for more than four decades. There was plenty of work for everyone and local businesses were booming. At the heart of this robust economy was coca, the plant whose leaves provide the raw ingredient in cocaine. But that was in 2006. Today, La Cooperativa is a virtual ghost town. The coca is gone, the guerrillas are gone; and so has more than 80 percent of the population. “Life is worse now than it was three years ago; the situation here is critical,” says one local resident. “In six more months there might not be anyone left here.” From the Colombian government’s perspective, however, a pilot project that utilizes a carrot and stick approach towards combating both the insurgency and coca cultivation is paying dividends as the state is finally establishing a permanent, and comprehensive, presence in a traditional stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Several hours up the Tapaje River from the Pacific Ocean, the monotony of the lush green rainforest is broken when we round a bend and the remote village of San José comes into view. Most of the buildings on the riverbank are fragile wooden structures precariously perched on stilts. Afro-Colombian women busily wash clothes in the river while their children splash around in the fast-flowing brown water. The motorboat slows, glides past the women and pulls up to the crumbling cement steps that constitute the dock. There is little to distinguish San José from hundreds of other remote jungle villages in Colombia that have suffered from goverment neglect in the social and economic spheres. And, like many other rural communities, San José has also been devastated by the US-backed counternarcotics initiative called Plan Colombia.