The Colombian Military Presence on the Border with Brazil

By Dialogo
August 24, 2011

As soon as you cross the border, a Colombian National Police post immediately attracts your attention. Armed officers carrying submachine guns closely observe who enters and leaves the country. Leticia is the capital of the department (state) of Amazonas and the largest Colombian city along the border with Brazil. It is also the export location for a significant portion of the drugs produced in the country, a portion which enters Brazil through Tabatinga.

A strong military presence is noticeable on the city’s streets. Foot patrols by Army soldiers are frequently seen, at any hour of the day or night. The armed military personnel conduct random searches and check the documents of suspects. On the Solimões River, the Coast Guard and the Navy carry out patrols, searching for illicit cargoes and for guerrillas who might enter Brazil or Peru to obtain medicine and medical care. The region is a triple border area, and on the other bank of the Solimões is the Peruvian village of Santa Rosa.

Leiticia is the site of the headquarters of the 26th Jungle Brigade, part of the 6th Division of the Colombian National Army. It is a special area command that carries out border-protection missions, missions to protect critical energy infrastructure, and river surveillance, in addition to joint interdiction operations with the Anti-narcotics Police in the fight against coca cultivation.

The 26th Jungle Brigade is active throughout the department of Amazonas, along a border of 400 km with Brazil and 1600 km with Peru. Its components include the 50th Jungle Battalion, the 84th Counter-Guerrilla Battalion, and the 26th Service Battalion. This Colombian Army Jungle Brigade uses the Israeli Galil assault rifle as its basic weapon, in the 7.62-caliber and 5.56-caliber versions and the MAG 7.62 and .50 machine guns, as well as 81-mm and 60-mm mortars and 40-mm grenade launchers.

As its primary mission, it has been conducting area-control military operations from its five bases in the region. Two of these bases are located opposite Brazilian Army Special Border Squads, and the other three are located along the Peruvian border. These operations are often conducted with support from the Navy – the Southern Naval Force –, from Leticia’s Coast Guard unit, or by way of the use of a Caravan aircraft from the attached air wing, which carries out reconnaissance missions to detect coca crops and unidentified movements along the border.

For the past five years, no combat has been recorded in this region, because FARC units have abandoned the area, but military information indicates the existence of small core groups responsible for cocaine trafficking, which use the Apaporis River to reach Brazil and the Putumayo River to reach Peru. Although there is no visible guerrilla activity in the region, the presence of FARC cells performing intelligence work in Leticia has not been ruled out.

In the course of military operations, extraordinary results were obtained in the form of crushing strikes against paramilitary groups, especially hitting their command-and-control capabilities. There were also a large number of demobilized individuals who no longer wished to continue causing harm to the country and who understood that they too had the possibility of living as good citizens.

This is an important time to continue strengthening military and police action to eradicate once and for all this scourge that threatens and harms the country and all of Colombian society.