Colombia is adjusting to changes brought by the post-conflict period. After five years of negotiations, the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, per its Spanish acronym) has been signed, the armed conflict has ended, and the implementation of the peace process is now afoot. The goal is to strike a similar agreement with the National Liberation Army (ELN, per its Spanish acronym); however, the country is on its way to solidifying its new reality. That is why the Colombian government designed “Strategic Consolidation and Stabilization Plan Victoria,” [Victory], a government policy which all of the national security forces participated in drafting, and which goes hand in hand with the Strategic Plan for the Modernization of the Armed Forces, set for 2030.
On April 12th, General Juan Pablo Rodríguez Barragán, commander of the Colombian Armed Forces, spoke with Diálogo about the scope of the plan being implemented by the Colombian Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Police.
Diálogo: What does Strategic Consolidation and Stabilization Plan Victoria consist of?
General Juan Pablo Rodríguez Barragán: The end of the armed conflict with the FARC means that we will be moving forward in a process of territorial stabilization and consolidation, and that we will be developing interagency strategies that will enable us to mitigate a set of factors which create instability and a lack of security. The comprehensive strategy in Plan Victoria is the institutional control of the nation’s territory, which is brought about through the united action of the state and the strengthening of governance. The end goal is the building of a stable and durable peace that is evidenced by a convergence in the high quality of life in the cities and the countryside. The main features of the plan make reference to including such concepts as priority focus areas, stabilization and consolidation, instability factors, institutional control of the nation’s territory, united action, comprehensive leadership, and decisive factors, among others.
Diálogo: What are the consolidation and stabilization goals?
Gen. Rodríguez Barragán: In the last 18 years, important gains have been made in reclaiming and controlling territory thanks to actions taken by the Colombian Armed Forces and the National Police. Consolidation and stabilization involves various tasks, in coordination with other instruments of national power, to maintain or restore a secure and protected environment: providing essential government services, supporting the rebuilding of infrastructure, and carrying out humanitarian aid programs.
Diálogo: How will this contribute to making the benefits of the peace process a reality?
Gen. Rodríguez Barragán: By tackling the social, economic, and judicial factors that create instability. Factors that, due to the interdependence between actors, methods, means, and objectives, function as a system.
To achieve comprehensive security, we must attack the criminal networks that cause the problem; the active criminal phenomena and actors that are both domestic, within Colombia, and also transnational, with international actors. This means fighting armed groups, criminal groups, and transnational organized crime in a comprehensive manner, as well as fighting dissident groups and nascent groups that are emerging in the wake of the peace accord with the FARC.
Diálogo: Will this effort be focused on areas that were previously occupied by the guerillas?
Gen. Rodríguez Barragán: Yes, 160 municipalities have been prioritized as the focus of our main effort. However, this plan is focused on covering the entire nation, as it is a jointly coordinated interagency plan. We have identified 17 areas for priority attention in Colombia – 12 on land and five in our maritime jurisdiction. In these areas, there is a significant confluence of factors that demand a prioritization of interagency efforts.
Diálogo: One of the fears among the population is dissent within FARC. Does Plan Victoria anticipate any specific actions on that score?
Gen. Rodríguez Barragán: Of course, one specific strategy allows us to step up our joint efforts in order to contribute to deterring and defeating these enduring or emerging threats by dismantling underground economies as well as focusing and stepping up our main effort against the ELN and organized armed groups to neutralize their sources of financing. Currently, there are 60,000 service members deployed to occupy the FARC’s areas of influence, as well as 15,000 service members devoted to securing Colombia’s rural areas for normalization into legality. We are aware of the great task ahead of us.
Diálogo: How will the Colombian Armed Forces organize itself for this process?
Gen. Rodríguez Barragán: Victoria is aligned with the Strategic Plan for the Armed Forces for 2030. In terms of security, there are goals and gains set forth in the plan which should allow us contribute to the nation’s development and progress. Recovering and controlling Colombia’s territory, stabilizing, consolidating, and reinforcing its institutions are strategic axes around which the mission of the Colombian Armed Forces revolve. And working together with the National Police, we will be pushing ahead with a transformation and modernization process that will enable our forces to effectively meet the challenges of the future.
Diálogo: Did the Espada de Honor [Sword of Honor] Plan, which was the previous basis for action, make Plan “Victoria” possible?
Gen. Rodríguez Barragán: In its different versions, Espada de Honor was one of the most effective strategies employed by the Colombian Armed Forces in the last five years to make it impossible for the FARC to achieve its political objectives by force and also to limit progress on the criminal objectives pursued by organized armed groups. In this context, the FARC understood that the capacities acquired by the Colombian Armed Forces were making it impossible for them to achieve their political goal through arms, and that our sustained joint offensive was leading to their defeat. They then opted for asymmetrical warfare based on indiscriminate terrorism, using terrorist support networks to preserve their organization, impacting the state’s economic infrastructure and creating humanitarian crises as a formula to pressure the government to make decisions that would cover up their own strategic failure.
The result of our military offensive, in addition to reducing FARC’s capacity to fight us in furtherance of their objectives, also offered the government the political setting it needed to formally explore and propose a peace negotiation with said guerilla group.
Diálogo: How is Plan Victoria being carried out?
Gen. Rodríguez Barragán: It rolls out over two periods. First, it achieves final status by August 7, 2018. That consists of achieving favorable security conditions and the stabilization and consolidation of a stable and durable peace. And one long-term goal for the Colombian Armed Forces, according to Plan 2030, is to have a modernized, reinforced, and motivated Armed Forces that can counter domestic and foreign threats in simultaneous situations to contribute to the nation’s development and to maintaining security in the region and internationally.
Diálogo: What results should Plan Victoria be showing by December 2017?
Gen. Rodríguez Barragán: The occupation of all of the areas formerly under the FARC’s criminal influence; a reduction in crime rates down to their lowest possible levels; the security conditions needed to support the roll-out of the FARC’s process of disarmament, demobilization, and reincorporation into society, in accordance with the provisions of the final bilateral ceasefire and cease of hostilities agreement between FARC and the Colombian Government; neutralizing ELN cells, organized armed groups, and the criminal phenomena that most impact our national security. At the same time, boosting our control of the land, sea, rivers, air, and cyberspace, and ensuring that the gains we have achieved are irreversible.
Diálogo: Does Plan Victoria provide for working with the security forces of other nations?
Gen. Rodríguez Barragán: Not for stabilizing and consolidating Colombian territory, but it does provide for carrying out combined operations with the armed forces of neighboring partner nations in border areas where there is a glut of transnational crime. This plan includes sharing experiences and lessons learned with other partner nations in order to reinforce the military strategy being applied on that issue, which will enable us to make more meaningful gains. The support we are getting from U.S. Southern Command is noteworthy, as it has been fundamental in our fight against transnational crime, especially drug trafficking.
First quarter results
According to the results presented by the General Command of the Colombian Armed Forces, the actions taken under Plan Victoria in the first quarter of 2017 yielded the neutralization of 3,834 criminals. Also captured were 111 members of the ELN; 18 members of FARC; 436 members of armed organized-crime groups, such as the Gulf Clan, the Puntilleros, the Pelusos, and others; 193 drug traffickers; and 2,823 common criminals, for a total of 3,581 arrests. Thanks to the pressure being exerted by the troops, 141 members of FARC surrendered voluntarily, as did 66 members of ELN and 13 from other organized armed groups.
Six hundred twenty nine handguns and rifles were seized, plus 74,000 cartridges of various calibers as well as 8.5 metric tons of explosives and almost $1.5 million in cash. In the fight against drug trafficking, 627 laboratories have been destroyed to date and seizures have been made of 32,546 kilos of cocaine, 10,402 kilos of marijuana, and 166,383 kilos of coca leaf, as well as 220 metric tons of solid supplies.
In a historic offensive to prevent ecological and environmental damage from illegal mining, 84 operations were carried out this year, in which 252 people were arrested and 149 machines were seized. The General Command of the Colombian Armed Forces has held three of the 17 Support and Development Campaigns planned for this year, benefitting 31,225 people in the Departments of Caquetá, Amazonas, and Guajira.