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Old 02-25-2007   #1
Wildcat
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Default Colombia

Moderator's Note: On 18th April 2011 seven threads merged to this re-named thread Colombia, FARC & insurgency (merged thread). Seeven SWJ Blog threads merged in today. Six threads merged in 8th October 2016 (ends).

I posted this AAR on SOCNET after several of the guys there gave me help prior to my trip, and Jedburgh suggested I post it here as well.

Last semester I took a polisci seminar entitled "Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies," and had the good fortune of traveling to Colombia with my classmates and our professor for a weeklong research trip. Most of our time we spent going to meetings all over Bogota, but we also spent two days and two nights in the Eje Cafetero, going canopying, whitewater rafting, and horseback riding. In the interests of time and space, I'll limit this AAR to the more relevant aspects of the research trip.

We flew into Bogota on the 12th of December and had our first meetings on the 13th. Spread out over the course of the week were meetings with several NGOs and other organizations, including:
- CODHES
- Fundacion Seguridad y Democracia (FSD)
- National Democratic Institute (NDI)
- Transparencia por Colombia
- Corporacion Nuevo Arco Iris
- OAS mission in Colombia
- Professors at Universidad de los Andes and Universidad del Rosario
- Former mayor of Bogota Enrique Penalosa

Our discussions with those largely revolved around internally displaced persons (IDPs) and demobilization of paras and guerrillas. The most interesting of those, in my opinion, was the Corporacion Nuevo Arco Iris, as it was headed up by two former guerrillas who demobilized and were involved in promoting peaceful DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration) for guerrillas and paras. I'll go into more detail on the bigger meetings, however.

We started off meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the 13th, discussing not just HR, but also the dimensions of narcotrafficking and historical ties b/w guerrillas and peasants in rural departments. The afternoon of the 14th we met with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, discussing many of the same issues. We had a meeting with Juan Forero, who is the Washington Post's correspondent in Colombia. He had interviewed our professor before for an article, and he turned out to be one of the most interesting people on our trip; urbane, witty, articulate. He even met us for dinner the next night at a nice restaurant, where we talked about Colombia's security situation over mojitos and Club Colombia beers.

The 15th was our biggest day. We began with a meeting with ARD, the Agency for Rural Development, which was contracted by USAID. Our next meeting was with some of the editorial board of El Tiempo, Colombia's most circulated newspaper and, arguably, its most controversial, seeing as the director of the investigative unit, Martha Soto, with whom we talked for a while, was working on uncovering ties between members of the Colombian Congress and the paras/guerrillas. Their office (or compound, rather) had incredibly tight security because their previous office was hit by a car bomb a few years back. Rafael Santos, the adjunct director of the paper, was among the people talking with us. For those not familiar with Colombia's domestic politics, he belongs to THE Santos family, one of the most prominent families in the country.


Next we were off to the US Embassy, where first we met with representatives from USAID (US Agency for International Development). One lady wasn't too pleased when I posed a question to her about the perceived failings of Plan Colombia and the effects the aerial spraying of supposed coca fields has had on rural peasants. She seemed to be pretty much spitting out the "party line" the whole time we were there. We also met with a Foreign Service pol-mil officer, but before that we met with two Army SF officers with the PATT (Planning-Assistance Training Team) and two of their NCOs; the LTC was the PATT chief, the MAJ his deputy. I won't mention names in the interest of PERSEC. The two NCOs (I didn't see their rank insignia clearly from where I sat) had apparently just returned that day from training CAF troops. We got them to address issues like the current troop cap in Colombia, ROEs, force protection, et cetera. That was, of course, the most fun for me.

Findings
There are many differing opinions (of course) on the current nature of the guerrilla war. Because of FARC's extensive ties to the drug trade, most people believe they've shed their Marxist/Maoist roots and become opportunistic businessmen in some way, and that the only reason the FARC still exists is its revenues from the drug trade which it uses to buy weapons and support itself. Some of our speakers suggested, however, that the ideological roots were still there because the FARC still maintained power primarily through wielding weapons, not through narcotrafficking.

According to FSD, there have been remarkable gains in security: kidnappings, homicides, and attacks on national infrastructure have significantly fallen in the past four years. But, to some people, a peaceful solution still feels over a decade away, if not further. The paras are easier to negotiate with because they are not as ideologically driven, but it's hard for the government to make its case because the paras originated as local militias to protect peasants from the guerrillas when the government forces could not adequately do the job. To this day, government presence in some of the rural departments is scarce, or even non-existent.

Security problems are exacerbated by the plight of IDPs, some of which results from the paras and guerrillas, some of which results from the aerial spraying program associated with Plan Colombia, which targets coca fields, but also often ends up destroying the livelihood of many peasants and galvanizing further support for the guerrillas.

Other stuff
We were saddled with so many meetings that we had very little downtime. Most nights I didn't get to bed until 1:00 or 2:00, and then we'd be back up at 5:00 or 6:00 to eat breakfast and get back on the road. I was sick for a few days as a result, and didn't get any decent sleep until we flew to the rural areas, then I felt fine. I'll say this: the coffee was amazing, and so was the food. The best meal I had was in the Eje Cafetero, the rural coffee-growing region of Colombia, at the finca where we stayed.

Our second night in Bogota we went to a bar known as the Bogota Beer Company (which was hit by a grenade a couple years ago) and proceeded to drink, including my professor. We suddenly started arm-wrestling after several drinks, and after I beat a friend of mine, my professor challenged me and, after a minute-long battle, finished me off to howls of laughter and cheering. It was a great night. And, yeah, the women are gorgeous. We played a drinking game with a group of girls from the Universidad de los Andes.

In the Eje Cafetero we went whitewater rafting the first morning, then canopying in the afternoon. As we were doing the last quarter-mile stretch of water, our Colombian guide slapped his paddle on the water with a loud BANG and our professor ducked and went, "Oh, ####!" When he looked up and saw us laughing, he admitted for a moment he thought we were taking small arms fire. He gave one piece of standing advice: if we ran into trouble, we were not to surrender to, but to run without stopping. Methods the guerrillas used on captives including tying them to trees and letting fire ants eat them, so it's supposedly better to take a 7.62mm slug to the back of the head while running away than to risk capture.

Armed soldiers were everywhere. Nothing makes you feel secure like a CAF soldier in full combat kit standing on a street corner with a Galil slung across his chest.

Last week we gave a presentation at the college on the trip, and I discussed the security situation. Afterwords, a Colombian student at our school came up and thanked us, saying we seemed to have a better grasp of her country than she did.

That's my summary. Feel free to comment. I'd be more than happy to elaborate on certain parts of the trip if anything was too vague, or if people might like to know more specifics. If anyone has questions about individuals, particularly embassy personnel with whom we met whose names I didn't want to put in this public forum, please PM me.

Last edited by davidbfpo; 10-08-2016 at 10:22 AM. Reason: Mod's Note added and updated after more merging today.
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Old 02-26-2007   #2
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Default FARC, Suppressed Uzis and Gorgeous Women

When I saw the 4 troopers bunched up, wearing no Kevlar and looking all togather in one direction most likely smiling at a woman passing by, I couldnt' help but think of FARC doing a drive-by with a silenced Uzi. FARC has made alot of hits on police and security forces.
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Old 02-26-2007   #3
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Originally Posted by goesh View Post
When I saw the 4 troopers bunched up, wearing no Kevlar and looking all togather in one direction most likely smiling at a woman passing by, I couldnt' help but think of FARC doing a drive-by with a silenced Uzi. FARC has made alot of hits on police and security forces.
Some were more attentive than others. When we got into the area around the presidential residence in Bogota, they were all-business. Magazines were inserted, though I doubt they had racked rounds into the chambers yet. There were even quite a few plain-clothes security folk around with earpieces and probably concealed sidearms, and no pictures were allowed. It was intimidating, to say the least.
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Old 03-07-2007   #4
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Thanks for the AAR. I really appreciate your on-the-ground insights.

To expand on Columbia, here's an article from the current (Mar-Apr 07) Military Review:

A Model Counterinsurgency: Uribe's Columbia (2002-2006) vs FARC
Quote:
...What bears repeating is the point to which this analysis has returned often: the present effort is both correct and sustainable; it is the right strategic posture required for progress and popular security. Hence, continued care must be exercised to ensure that Democratic Security remains a multifaceted approach—a strengthening of the state’s governance, finances, and democratic capacity enabled by the ever more powerful and capable shield provided by the security forces. By themselves, these facets are not the solution—that lies in the use of legitimacy to mobilize response against those using political violence for illegitimate ends—but they will certainly enable it.
..and older background from SSI:

Columbian Army Adaptation to FARC Insurgency (Jan 02)

The Past as Prologue? A History of U.S. Counterinsurgency Policy in Colombia, 1958-66 (Mar 02)
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Old 03-07-2007   #5
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Is there any analysis available about the impact of the AUC militias on FARC? I think any analysis that focuses exclusively on FARC vs Colombian Army is very incomplete.
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Old 04-17-2007   #6
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Default Colombia and the United States--The Partnership: But What Is the Endgame?

Recent release by the US Army's Strategic Studies Institute - Colombia and the United States--The Partnership: But What Is the Endgame? By Ambassador Myles R. R. Frechette.

Quote:
American Ambassador to Colombia, 1994-97, Myles R. R. Frechette provides authoritative, eloquent, and impassioned perspectives on both the achievements and failures of American and Colombian efforts. He argues that American policy made analytical errors that need to be rectified, including underestimating the long-term complexity and interrelated nature of the problem, while both nations overestimated the amount of support that Colombia would receive from the international community. Moreover, nation-building and the rule of law are strategic imperatives which American policy must take seriously. Finally, it is critical to appreciate that Colombian cultural characteristics sharply influence what Colombians will do on their own behalf.
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Old 05-09-2007   #7
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Default Looking for people with experience training Colombian Military

I am working on a study of international training cultures. We are looking for people who have spent a fair amount of time training the Colombian military during the past 10 years. If you would like to share your knowledge or know of anybody, please let me know.

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Old 05-09-2007   #8
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Wildcat, are you the dude that promised me beer, then blew me off? Nice AAR.

goesh,
It don't work that way.
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Old 05-09-2007   #9
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Originally Posted by tequila View Post
Is there any analysis available about the impact of the AUC militias on FARC? I think any analysis that focuses exclusively on FARC vs Colombian Army is very incomplete.
Do you read Spanish? There is some material, but I don't think it's been translated.
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Old 05-09-2007   #10
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Since 1985 in LATAM.

Last 4 years, 6 days a week, 50 weeks a year, from LTCs to privates, military and police, everything from classroom theory to high risk practical do ya?

Will work for Copenhagen and beer.
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Old 05-10-2007   #11
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Wildcat, are you the dude that promised me beer, then blew me off? Nice AAR.
Affirmative, sir. That was me. Sorry again, but as you can tell from the AAR, we were slammed with wall-to-wall meetings. The only break we had while in Bogota was the night we went to the BBC to get smashed and armwrestle each other and play drinking games with hot Colombian university chicas. Good times...

If I ever return to Bogota, or you get back to the States, you may have some beer (or some Cope) inbound.

P.S.: Dectac03 over at MarineOCS.com just gave me a heads-up on your post here (I believe his handle here is "jcustis"), which is good because I didn't have email notifications turned on at the SWC, and I haven't been here in weeks, so your post would have gone unnoticed for a long time if he hadn't made me aware of it.
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Old 05-10-2007   #12
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Default How to Lose an Ally

10 May Washington Post commentary - How to Lose an Ally by Robert Novak.

Quote:
Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe, returned to Bogota this week in a state of shock. His three-day visit to Capitol Hill to win over Democrats in Congress was described by one American supporter as "catastrophic." Colombian sources said Uribe was stunned by the ferocity of his Democratic opponents, and Vice President Francisco Santos publicly talked about cutting U.S.-Colombian ties.

Uribe got nothing from his meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders. Military aid remains stalled, overall assistance is reduced, and the vital U.S.-Colombian trade bill looks dead. Uribe is the first Colombian president to crack down on his country's corrupt army officer hierarchy and to assault both right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing guerrillas, but last week he confronted Democrats wedded to outdated claims of civil rights abuses and rigidly protectionist dogma.

This is remarkable U.S. treatment for a rare friend in South America, where Venezuela's leftist dictator, Hugo Chavez, can only exult in Uribe's embarrassment as he builds an anti-American bloc of nations. A former congressional staffer, who in 1999 helped write Plan Colombia to combat narco-guerrillas, told me: "President Uribe may be the odd man out, and that's no way to treat our best ally in South America."...
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Old 05-10-2007   #13
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Uribe is the first Colombian president to crack down on his country's corrupt army officer hierarchy and to assault both right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing guerrillas
Amnesty and "demobilization" (light or nonexistent prison sentences) for the paramilitaries is an interesting way to define "assault." Novak also omits the fact that the AUC funds itself almost exclusively through drug trafficking to the United States --- that is, they are the problem, at least as much as the FARC, in terms of U.S. interests in Colombia.

That the paramilitaries/narcotraffickers enjoy widespread connections through Colombia's security hierarchy and with President Uribe's administration, up to (at least) President Uribe's brother, is worth some concern. Uribe remains, for instance, unwilling to sanction extradition of any of his paramilitary/narcotrafficker allies to the U.S. You'd think that a free trade deal would be worth sacrificing one or two drug kingpins.
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Old 05-10-2007   #14
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Or, alternatively, we could be seeing a return to the Jimmy Carter-era "punish your friends and reward your enemies" form of foreign relations.

We've been hearing for years how much more sophisticated and astute the Democratic foreign relations would be, if we only gave them the chance. Without any concrete details of what they WOULD do, of course. It will be interesting to see, going forward, how foreign policy develops.

It seems that Bush & Co. aren't the only Idealogues in D.C....
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Old 05-10-2007   #15
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Who says President Uribe is a friend given his refusal to do anything about narcotrafficking? Because he can give us a verbal massage for his $5 billion while cocaine purity increases and prices drop?

Some results would be nice for $5 billion.
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Old 05-10-2007   #16
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Default The results were....

The rollback of FARC and the ELN, which was the primary intent behind the Clinton administration's Plan Colombia, adopted and ramped up by the Bush administration. Drug issues were secondary though the pro forma and de jure justifications.

Everyone on the Hill at the time ( which includes Pelosi) understood that military aid to Colombia disguised as " drug interdiction" assistance was handed over to Bogota with a straight face but a wink and a nod. Toward the end of blunting a narco-Marxist takeover of Colombia, it was an effective and wise policy in my view, if a costly and risky one.

Let's be blunt. The left-wing of the left-wing of the Democratic Party in the House sympathizes with FARC and were bitterly opposed to aiding Colombia against Communist guerillas from the inception. Unlike with Clinton, more moderate Democratic House leaders feel no obligation to carry water for George Bush on Colombia policy. They have enough headaches with their leftist wing over Iraq.
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Old 05-10-2007   #17
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Toward the end of blunting a narco-Marxist takeover of Colombia, it was an effective and wise policy in my view, if a costly and risky one.
The danger of a "narco-Marxist" takeover of Colombia has always been zero. This is due to FARC's total lack of a program that appeals to any of Colombia's urban educated classes, as well as its general inability to appeal to anyone beyond a narrow band of the impoverished peasantry. FARC only exists because of the structural weakness of the Colombian state in the countryside, not due to any genuine popular support of its own.

It seems to me rather odd that we are subsidizing a domestic government's ties to paramilitaries whose main sustenance is the export of illegal drugs to the U.S. It's almost as if we are prioritizing the welfare of certain factions of the Colombian government (which is hardly in existential danger) over that of American citizens.
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Old 05-10-2007   #18
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Quote:
"The danger of a "narco-Marxist" takeover of Colombia has always been zero. This is due to FARC's total lack of a program that appeals to any of Colombia's urban educated classes, as well as its general inability to appeal to anyone beyond a narrow band of the impoverished peasantry"
Prior to Plan Colombia, FARC ruled over a significant section of Colombia. If they could have maintained or expanded that base while pushing the rest of Colombia into state failure a different dynamic would have emerged. That in my book is a tipping point scenario that effects foreign investment, currency flows, emigration.

Agree with you on the narrowcasting nature of the ideological appeal of FARC but that doesn't mitigate their ability to disrupt, only to attract.

Quote:
"It seems to me rather odd that we are subsidizing a domestic government's ties to paramilitaries whose main sustenance is the export of illegal drugs to the U.S."
The paras and FARC rely on drug money to pay for their operations ( or at least defray costs. So do many other non-state actors. Our domestic policy on drug use seriously boomerangs against the U.S. on a strategic level.
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Old 05-10-2007   #19
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Default Complexity

I usually have little use for Robert Novak but this time he is right on the money. I have been engaged in Latin America for the past 45 years, I am a LATAM FAO and served as the Chief of Policy & Strategy in the USSOUTHCOM J5. Until I retired from government service last summer, I was on the faculty of the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies where we taught Latin American civilians and military from the defense sector of their countries about the management of the defense sector. Among my students was the former Vice-Minister of Defense for Colombia and the current deputy chief of the DAS (intel service) was my immediate subordinate while I was research director. I am putting this out only to establish that I have some bona fides on this subject.

The Colombian civil war is one of the most complex insurgencies I have ever come across. Most scholars suggest that it dates from the founding of the FARC in the 1960s. They are wrong. This war began in 1946 and evolved into the Violencia of 1948 - 54 +/- and after a short truce began again and seriously heated up in the 60s. Central to both periods is the figure of manuel Marulanda (Tiro Fijo) who emerged in the 80s as the major leader of the FARC.

It should be pointed out that the AUC (commonly called the paramilitaries) were founded in the 80s by members of the Medellin and Cali drug cartels AND, independently, by the cattle ranchers to defend against the depredations of the FARC, ELN, and M-19 guerrillas. As an aside, it should be pointed out that Colombia has perhaps the best record in South America of continued democracy while at the same time the worst record of political violence. Indeed, the only period of relative peace since independence was from 1902 when the War of 1000 Days ended until 1946 when La Violencia began.

Perhaps, the best way to describe Colombia's troubles is to use COL Joe Nunez' term, the Hobbesian Trinity, as a metaphor for the war among the government, FARC, and the AUC. Note that one past president of Colombia was so involved in drug trafficking that the Clinton Administration cut all support to his government. Only when Andres Pastrana was elected was Plan Colombia put forward. This was an international plan with both security and developmental components to it - a majority was financed by Colombia itself; the second largest increment (mostly development funding) was to come from the EU; the smallest amount from the US was mainly security assistance. Only the EU never met its goals.

The situation was complicated when President Pastrana ceded a significant part of the country (on the plains) to the FARC under a ceasefire. Referrred to as the despegue, it provided the FARC a sanctuary to regroup, grow coca, and make cocaine. Much of the debate over the FARC consists of whether they retain any revolutionary ambitions or are simply another cocaine cartel. Journalist Linda Robinson, of US News, who has interviewed FARC leaders believes they are still very much interested in overthrowing the government.

In turn, this sort of brings us to the Uribe government - which inherited the situation left by Pastrana. The latter, at the end of his term, did recognize the error of the despegue and rescinded the agreement. But it was up to Uribe to dismantle the depegue which he has done. Uribe has had success in getting the AUC to both demobilize and disarm and most have been reintegrated. Some, however, have refused and remain outside the agreement. So, while the Hobbesian Trinity is no longer quite the problem it once was, it does remain. Uribe's most successful COIN effort is a program known as CCAI (the Combined Center for Integrated Action) which brings together military, police, and civilian agencies to provide security and development in the conflict zones. CCAI's major weakness is that Uribe has not institutionalized it and it is likely to disappear when he leaves office. But, in the meantime, it has achieved much success along with AUC demobilization and efforts to defeat and destroy the FARC.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Uribe Administration has been prosecuting those who are tied in with death squads and drug traffickers and is the source of the media's stories on the links between high placed individuals and nefarious actors.
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Old 05-10-2007   #20
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Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
The situation was complicated when President Pastrana ceded a significant part of the country (on the plains) to the FARC under a ceasefire. Referrred to as the despegue, it provided the FARC a sanctuary to regroup, grow coca, and make cocaine. Much of the debate over the FARC consists of whether they retain any revolutionary ambitions or are simply another cocaine cartel. Journalist Linda Robinson, of US News, who has interviewed FARC leaders believes they are still very much interested in overthrowing the government.
Agreed on all aspects of this, including FARC's continued delusions. Nonetheless FARC did not win the safe zone militarily - it was ceded by the Pastrana government in a failed attempt to see a political solution, an attempt that foundered again on FARC's delusion that it can win a military victory.

Quote:
In turn, this sort of brings us to the Uribe government - which inherited the situation left by Pastrana. The latter, at the end of his term, did recognize the error of the despegue and rescinded the agreement. But it was up to Uribe to dismantle the depegue which he has done. Uribe has had success in getting the AUC to both demobilize and disarm and most have been reintegrated. Some, however, have refused and remain outside the agreement.
I think you are a little bit over-optimistic with regards to the success of the "demobilization" program and also with regards to the non-state nature of the paramilitaries' origins. AUC originally formed out of the narcotraffickers and their private armies, in alliance with the cattle barons, but also with the assistance of state interests, namely the Convivir militia which were famously backed by Uribe when he was governor of Antioquia, and which proved key in the recent indictment of Chiquita for its collusion with the AUC. Uribe has admitted meeting with AUC leaders like Salvatore Mancuso when he was governor of Antioquia, though he has declined to specify why.

Moreover the "reintegration" program has succeeded mainly in enabling the paramilitaries to consolidate areas under their control. Paramilitaries were not required to divulge or return any assets that came about from drug trafficking, confess their crimes including participation in massacres, or even to give their aliases. Indeed, while large-scale massacres at the hands of the AUC have largely stopped, the selective killings of trade unionists, journalists, and witnesses against it go on at the same level as they have since the 1990s.

Quote:
Finally, it is worth noting that the Uribe Administration has been prosecuting those who are tied in with death squads and drug traffickers and is the source of the media's stories on the links between high placed individuals and nefarious actors.
I really doubt that Uribe is the driving force behind the parapolitics scandal. Firstly, the scandal only kicked off when an opposition politician revealed connections between paramilitaries and certain Uribe supporters in the Colombian Congress in 2005. Also if he was so aggressive in rooting out paramilitaries, I doubt that he would be so critical of the Colombian news media for divulging things like the connections of the DAS, which reports directly to him, with paramilitaries and death squad murders, or have been so conciliatory or employed Jorge Noguera as his head of DAS for so long.
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