During the 2017 South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC), held in Lima, Peru, from August 22nd to 24th, several discussion panels were organized to address issues in a group format. For example, one panel focused on several countries’ cyberdefense strategies. Colombia took part in it as a South American leader in this area. In order to examine cyberdefense and other topics involving the Colombian Military Forces, Diálogo spoke with Colombian Army General Juan Carlos Salazar Salazar, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Colombian Military Forces.
Diálogo: What are the Colombian Armed Forces doing to confront the problem of cyberattacks?
Colombian Army General Juan Carlos Salazar Salazar, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Colombian Military Forces: Colombia has an organization within its general command, the Joint Cybersecurity and Cyberdefense Command, which serves as an example for South America. Within that command, we bring together all the capabilities of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. We combine all of those and test not just the security of our military data but also that of some state-owned companies, private companies, and civil organizations. This brings together a common concern with capabilities, government offices, and telecommunications. We have gained skill in cybersecurity and cyberdefense from the Army War College and the Organization of American States. We are working on developing a center for cybersecurity and cyberdefense studies and monitoring. In other words, there are several endeavors relating to his matter.
Diálogo: Is Colombia working with international service members on this issue?
Gen. Salazar: We are constantly providing assistance, and they are constantly assisting Colombia. We hold Olympic-style competitions. We have put these on in our county, in Spain, and even in Brazil. At this event, there’s dialogue, exchange of information, exchange of training, and we also share ideas.
Diálogo: What is Colombia’s “multi-mission Army,” a term coined during the country’s post-conflict period?
Gen. Salazar: The complexities of the new landscape we’re experiencing in Colombia, due to the negotiated end of the armed conflict between the national government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, per its Spanish acronym), have made us delve more deeply into a series of destabilizing factors that we must confront. When we talk about destabilizing factors, [we mean] that they exist in various areas, not just in the sense of military issues and the black market economy, but also in the psychosocial realm, the judicial area, the area of infrastructure. The Army, in addition to its constitutional role to support the national government and provide security and defense, also has distinctive capabilities it can offer in terms of cooperation and the development of the country. For that reason, we say that we are a multi-mission Army.
Diálogo: What kind of progress has been made in the civil-military programs, such as Fe en Colombia?
Gen. Salazar: Our strategic military plan, which is called Victoria, is composed of three core ideas. The first involves achieving institutional control of the territory, in other words, military operations; the second has to do with cooperation and development; and the third, with institutional strengthening. The Fe en Colombia campaign relates to the areas of cooperation and development and institutional strengthening; we are in the hearts of Colombians, and that is where we will stay. What does Fe en Colombia mean? We have made ourselves into a link in the chain, into a bridge connecting public services and communities. We have direct access to and the ability to reach the most remote and least developed communities. We are bringing public services to those communities in a focused and prioritized way and achieving magnificent results in indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, which are located in the jungle, in the south, and on the Pacific Coast. That is Fe en Colombia: support for our people.
Diálogo: What is the main lesson learned by the Colombia Armed Forces that can be shared with partner nations regarding military support for the National Police, especially in the fight against narcotrafficking?
Gen. Salazar: In this area, there is a separation of roles and tasks. The National Police has its own role, as does the military, but what has happened in recent years is that the Military Forces have had to contribute to the police effort. There are areas of prime focus, such as narcotrafficking, illegal mining, the fight against smuggling and the trafficking of arms and explosives, and immigration control. All of those challenges are destabilizing factors and are the responsibility of the police. We as the military provide assistance by sharing information with them. We contribute with means, air and river transport, carrying out coordinated operations, whereas they provide the focus. But we contribute at a second or third level. We have been granted legal authority to combat extortion by kidnapping by means of our United Action Groups for Personal Freedom and have developed a general plan of direct operations. In Colombia, we work in coordination with the police to confront all agents of violence. We are currently in the process of defining the legal framework essential to protecting our personnel under the rubric of military assistance to the police.
Diálogo: Would you say that FARC is truly finished?
Gen. Salazar: FARC, as an armed, criminal group, has disappeared. Today, it still exists as a political entity, as per the terms of the negotiation. The process of surrendering their weapons has been met. There were 8,800 armed men who turned over their weapons. They are currently in the process of demobilization and gaining a new identity. Now, a political avenue exists for them as a result of the negotiations. That is, they now have the opportunity to participate in the political system, but, as a revolutionary group, it has disappeared. However, there are dissidents, a very small percentage who did not accept the peace process, and we currently refer to them as a residual armed group. All military operations are directed against them. In fact, we are making progress, but, in Colombia, there are other criminal groups against which military action must also be brought. This means that a reduction in military force will not be possible in the short- or even mid-term. In the long term, by 2030, we can think about reducing military and police forces. For now, we will keep the pressure on in order to maintain control of the territory.