The Ecuadorean military has claimed there has been a significant drop in the presence of the FARC near the Colombian border, contradicting evidence collected by InSight Crime that shows the guerrillas continue to operate with ease in the region.
The new commander of the Ecuadorean army, General Jorge Peña, told media that the presence of illegal armed groups in the border region was “much less” in recent months.
The general attributed this drop to a change in strategy by the FARC brought on by the current peace talks between the guerrillas and the Colombian government.
In 2012, the Ecuadorean military captured 19 members of Colombian illegal armed groups, destroyed 19 bases and nine hideouts and destroyed over 170,000 coca plants and 3,000 poppy plants, according to Ecuadorean security forces.
InSight Crime Analysis
In December 2012, InSight Crime carried out a field investigation in the Colombia–Ecuador border region. The investigation’s findings stand in stark contrast to the pronouncements of the Ecuadorean military.
According to sources consulted by InSight Crime, the FARC are more active in Putumayo and the border region than ever. The FARC’s 48th Front, which also operates on the Ecuadorean side of the border, has notably reduced its uniformed presence, but continues to operate with ease by utilizing guerrillas in civilian clothing.
The guerrillas retain the ability to cross the poorly monitored border with near complete impunity and, according to police intelligence sources, have cut at least one and possibly more Ho Chi Minh trail-style supply routes through the wilds of the border region on the Ecuadorean side.
There were also reports of operatives from Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel buying drugs directly from the FARC in the region.
Official announcements over the FARC’s border region operations should be viewed in a political as well as a security context. The FARC’s presence in Ecuador has been a politically sensitive point since the Colombian military’s air raid on a FARC camp in Ecuadorean territory in 2008, which killed FARC leader Luis Edgar Devia Silva, alias “Raul Reyes,” but sparked a diplomatic incident over the violation of Ecuadorean sovereignty. The raid also led to the recovery of documents that suggested the FARC had contact with Ecuador President Rafael Correa, charges Correa vehemently denied.
As with Venezuela, which has also been accused of facilitating the FARC’s operations in its border region, diplomatic relations and security cooperation have improved considerably since Juan Manuel Santos replaced Alvaro Uribe as president in 2010. However, the extent to which the FARC continues to operate in both border regions and whether the Venezuelan and Ecuadorean security forces aid or turn a blind eye to the guerrillas remains a highly contentious point.