The fight against drug trafficking and criminal gangs, made up in part of former paramilitaries with ties to drug trafficking, will be the priority of the Colombian Armed Forces, the defense minister announced upon presenting his new security policy on 24 May.
The objective will be “to reduce drug trafficking to historically low levels,” Minister Rodrigo Rivera said at an event with members of the Army high command, diplomats, and foreign military attachés.
Rivera indicated that the administration’s goal is to decrease the surface area under cultivation from the current 56,000 hectares to 30,000 before 2014, when President Juan Manuel Santos’s term will end.
The drug trade is “the fuel for a great deal of crime,” the minister explained.
In a video released during the presentation, the ministry also promised to increase manual crop eradication and to seize up to 70% of production, which was 410 tons of cocaine in 2009, according to the most recent UN report, making Colombia still the world leader.
“What we have to do in Colombia is make our territory unlivable for drug traffickers, make this country the one that most firmly combats all the sequential links in the drug-trafficking chain,” Rivera said.
This policy includes the participation of the defense sector “in the fight against criminal gangs,” the term used for the new criminal organizations, made up in part of former paramilitaries, that dominate the drug trade in Colombia and continue to strike fear into the population with their clashes and massacres.
Criminal gangs are believed to be responsible for 47% of the homicides committed in Colombia in 2010, for which reason combatting them has become a priority for the government.
These gangs have “a high level of corrupting, intimidating, and armed power,” according to the document presented by the Defense Ministry on 24 May, which highlights how “they have combined the production and commercialization of drugs with violent infringement on citizens’ rights and liberties in certain rural areas and on the periphery of urban centers.”
The other priority, the Defense Ministry indicated, continues to be the fight against the FARC and ELN leftist guerrilla groups, which have been active for more than forty years and are believed to have around 8,000 and 2,500 fighters respectively.
“This administration is the first one in a long time that can propose for itself (…) the aim of putting an end to these structures,” Rivera affirmed.
The minister explained that Colombia would be divided into red, yellow, and green areas, depending on the level of danger for the inhabitants.
Red areas are expected to occupy around 6% of the territory, corresponding to sixty-eight municipalities, compared to 14% in 2004.