Colombia’s Top 2 Security Priorities in 2011

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The two major security challenges facing the Colombian government is rising urban crime rates and the resurgence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the southwest. InSight Crime looks at some of the strategies that the Army and Police have outlined for 2011.

In Colombia, the army’s primary role is confronting the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), while the police are responsible for handling the war against the drug-trafficking criminal bands known in Colombia as BACRIMS. Here are two overall strategies that the security forces have articulated for the coming year:

1.) Securing southwest Colombia. In an interview with daily newspaper El Pais, the top commander of the armed forces Admiral Edgar Cely Nuñez, said this area is a “major concern” for the military. After the death of top military leader Jorge Briceño Suarez, the FARC are likely to continue shifting resources from the Eastern Bloc to the Joint Western Command, active in Cauca, Nariño, Caqueta, Tolima and Huila. These departments saw the highest indices of guerrilla activity last year, accounting for 1,800 of the military’s dead and wounded last year. There is already a military special task force deployed in southern Tolima, dedicated to finding top commander Guillermo Leon Saenz Vargas, alias “Alfonso Cano,” thought to be hiding in the Central Mountain Range. In northern Cauca alone the army has deployed about 4,000 troops.

The military’s number one articulated priority is capturing or eliminating the top levels of FARC command, including Leon Saenz and the Joint Western Command leader, alias “Pablo Catatumbo.” The second priority is consolidating security in northwest Colombia around the Paramillo mountain range, running through northern Antioquia. The guerrilla have already been greatly weakened in this area (in no small part thanks to a sustained offensive from paramilitary groups in the late 1990s) but there are some Fronts that remain wealthy from drug trafficking and extortion, including the 18th and the 36th. In terms of military resources, it is possible that consolidating security Cauca and Nariño could supplant Antioquia or even Meta, where the Eastern Bloc is struggling.

2.) Expand the police force in the smaller cities. On the urban crime front, police director Oscar Naranjo has announced the continued implementation of a block-by-block, community policing plan, accompanied by a surge in the police force. Last year the emphasis was on police reinforcement in Colombia’s four major cities, Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Barranquilla. Police divided up each city into districts – 713 in Bogota, 187 in Cali and 179 in Medellin, according to El Tiempo – and deployed small, mobile police patrols for each area. Besides increasing the police force, President Juan Manuel Santos’ security plan also calls for the creation of six metropolitan police departments in the next four years. 

This year the “Vigilance by Block” plan looks to be implemented in smaller cities that may not necesarily have seen dramatic upticks in crime, including Ibague, Risaralda and Pereira. But the increased measures will be especially welcome in Villavicencio, Meta, Cali, and Medellin, all which are seeing increased micro-trafficking and “micro-extortion” by street gangs. Within Colombia, gangs who depend on small-time drug dealing or extortion and “freelance” their services to international drug cartels like the Rastrojos are becoming greater instigators of urban violence than the larger drug trafficking organizations. 

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