82% of Colombia Free from FARC Say MinDef. Really?

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Authorities in Colombia claim guerrilla group FARC’s presence has been reduced to only 18 percent of national territory, an assertion that appears to be based more on political motivations than an accurate appraisal of the country’s security situation.

On May 28, Colombia’s Defense Ministry stated that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) no longer have a presence in 82 percent of the country, reported El Espectador. The National Liberation Army (ELN), a smaller guerrilla group, now operates in less than four percent of national territory, according to the ministry, while 86 percent of the country is free from narco-paramilitary groups known as BACRIM.

Vice Minister of Defense Jorge Enrique Bedoya said the figures indicate that Colombia is moving closer to the end of its armed conflict, reported El Espectador. Officials also pointed to the numbers as proof that the military has continued to combat the FARC even though the government is engaged in peace negotiations with the guerrilla group.

However, the deaths of two important FARC leaders could complicate the peace process, which has stumbled in recent weeks. On May 22, the FARC declared an end to their unilateral ceasefire after the military killed 27 guerrillas, including Pedro Nel Daza Narvaez, alias “Jairo Martinez,” one of the leaders of the guerrilla group’s Southern Bloc. Three days later, on May 25, Colombian security forces killed Alfredo Alarcon Machado, alias “Roman Ruiz,” the commander of the FARC’s 18th Front and interim leader of the Ivan Rios Bloc, one of the rebels’ seven fighting divisions.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Defense Ministry’s figures appear to be a significant underestimation of the reach of the FARC in Colombia. InSight Crime has registered a FARC presence in around 295 municipalities, which represent 26 percent of the country’s municipalities and far more than 18 percent of the national territory given the guerrilla group’s significant presence in the vast Eastern Plains region where the municipalities are far larger than elsewhere in the country.

While the government’s assertion that BACRIM are only present in 14 percent of the national territory is more in line with InSight Crime’s estimations, this figure would likely be significantly larger if smaller groups affiliated with BACRIM were taken into account. Criminal organizations like the Urabeños and Rastrojos rely on the support of local criminal groups, operating more as franchises than monolithic structures, meaning they exert influence in areas where they may not have a permanent presence through proxies.

SEE ALSO: FARC News and Profiles

Meanwhile, the recent deaths of two important FARC leaders could complicate the peace process. Jairo Martinez participated in the peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba, while Roman Ruiz was put in charge of the Ivan Rios Bloc when leader Felix Antonio Muñoz, alias “Pastor Alape,” traveled to Havana in October 2014. The FARC will likely respond militarily in some capacity to these attacks, which could further increase tensions. At the same time, the Colombian government is under immense pressure to demonstrate to a population increasingly skeptical of the peace process that security forces have continued to make strides in combatting the FARC.

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