BOGOTÁ — Colombian authorities say they expect an escalation in violence now that Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terrorists have ended their unilateral two-month ceasefire.
On Jan. 20, the day the ceasefire expired, FARC rebels blew up the Transandino oil pipeline, which can transport 46,000 barrels of crude a day and is located in the southern province of Putumayo. Following a meeting with top military officials after the attack, President Juan Manuel Santos said “we are on the offensive with everything we have.”
Two days earlier, in the department of Cundinimarca, police seized an arsenal of explosives. Authorities confiscated 250 kilograms of ammonium nitrate — the oxiding agent used in fertilizer bombs — in the raid, along with detonating cord and homemade hand grenades, all of which belonged to the FARC’s Frente 22 brigade.
Speaking to reporters at the scene in the town of La Palma, Gen. José Roberto León, director of the Colombian National Police, said that among the items taken were the blueprints of two police training colleges in Bogotá, and those of an army installation.
León said the Jan. 18 seizure was the result of a three-month-long surveillance and investigative operation code-named Destello, and which, he said, “thwarted potential FARC attacks on the José María Córdoba Army College and the police training colleges of Gen. Francisco de Paula Santander and Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada in Bogotá.”
Army operation detains ‘La Caponera’
Last November, FARC commanders announced a two-month unilateral cessation of all operations as a show of “goodwill” while peace accords were underway in Havana between rebels and the Colombian government. The ceasefire, which ended Jan. 20, was seen as an attempt to force President Juan Manuel Santos into a bilateral ceasefire.
Yet Santos did not scale back any military operations during this period.
Operation Destello resulted in the capture of the 27-year-old FARC guerrilla Luz Yenny Hernández, alias “La Caponera.” Hernández, said to be a high-ranking operative with Frente 22, was wanted on various terrorism charges.
León also suggested that the guerrillas had used the ceasefire to re-organize and re-arm. Gen. José Javier Pérez, chief of staff of the Armed Forces, agreed, noting that “while there had been a 70 percent decrease in FARC operations during the ceasefire, not all regions of the country were adhering to this agreement.”
The most FARC attacks during the ceasefire both took place in the department of Cauca, in the towns of Guapi and Caloto, where guerrillas attacked a police station and detonated explosives near a school. In each case, civilians were injured.
For FARC splinter groups, it’s business as usual
While the Santos government didn’t expect attacks to stop completely during the FARC ceasefire, it was wary of scaling back military operations — keeping in mind events that took place during the government of President Andres Pastrana, when a region of southern Colombia the size of Switzerland was demilitarized. Between 1999 and 2002, peace talks were held there, yet the FARC took advantage of this period and used the area to re-arm, ship narcotics, imprison hostages and train new recruits.
“It was unrealistic to expect a total absence of violence during the two-month period, and it was impossible to see that the FARC secretariat had control over all wings and factions,” said Kevin Howlett of the Colombia-based analytical website Colombia-Reports following the ceasefire’s announcement in November.
While various FARC fronts may have obeyed orders from the political wing of the group now holding peace talks in Cuba, splinter groups — dependent on income from weapons and narcotics trafficking — continued to operate as usual in the department of Cauca and other regions in southern Colombia.
The Armed Forces said in a Jan. 19 bulletin that it had recorded 57 ceasefire violations. These included six FARC attacks against military patrols, the activation of 23 explosive devices, the setup of two illegal checkpoints, the destruction of an electricity transmission tower and nine attacks against civilians, including three murders.
FARC rebels said to be re-arming from Ecuador
Meanwhile, news reports coming from neighboring Ecuador indicate that FARC rebels in border areas used this period of relative calm to re-arm and re-group. This was confirmed by Ecuadorian Brig. Gen. Fernando Proaño Daza, who commands 12,000 soldiers deployed along the shared border with Colombia.
“From the very beginning of the peace process, we have noticed an increase in traffic here and we have captured a large quantity ammunition and weapons,” he told reporters. “So we can safely say that the FARC has used this situation to strengthen their position in anticipation of what might happen in the future.”
Besides weapons, border authorities in Ecuador’s province of Esmeraldas recently seized about 5,000 barrels of contraband gasoline and almost 1,400 sticks of Pentrite or the plastic explosive PETN. “These are months of harvest in Colombia, so drug traffickers are looking to smuggle elements used in the production of cocaine,” Proaño added.
Santos, speaking in Cauca, warned FARC fighters that Colombian soldiers are ready and will respond in kind to any terrorist action. Despite the lull in violence, Colombia suffered terrorist attacks in 14 of the country’s 32 departments during the two-month ceasefire, according to Colombia’s Defensoría del Pueblo (human rights ombudsman).
“We hope society will stay strong in the face of violence,” said Howlett. “Anecdotally, we perceive a noticeable upsurge in army and armed police patrols in Bogotá. This is a sight we may have to get used to seeing over the coming months.”
Santos has given a final deadline of November 2013 for the Havana peace talks to be concluded. These negotiations will continue with or without a ceasefire in place.