The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) called a ceasefire with the Colombian military forces from December 15th, 2013 until January 15th, 2013, which gave hope to analysts observing the ongoing peace talks between FARC representatives and the Colombian government in Havana. With exception of a bomb attack on December 16th that injured five in Anori, a northern town in the department of Antioquia, the last month has been relatively quiet in Colombia with regard to the violence that has destabilized the nation for the last five decades. The government refused to observe the ceasefire, insisting that it was merely a ploy to give FARC rebels breathing room to regroup and plan additional attacks on key institutions of the Colombian state.
Unfortunately, events that have unfolded since the end of the unilateral ceasefire on January 15th affirm the government’s cynicism. Beginning January 16th, FARC has persistently attacked military, business, and public targets throughout the state. The first attack occurred in the municipality of Pradera, in the southwestern portion of the Department Valle del Cauca, which killed one and injured 61. FARC guerrillas loaded a motorcycle with explosives and detonated it near Pradera’s police station and town hall. Ricardo González, FARC’s representative in the Havana negotiations, contends that FARC does not attack public places, although González may be playing semantics, contending that police stations are institutions of the state, rather than public.
The attacks escalated tremendously in the following days. On Sunday, January 19th, FARC’s 33rd Front attacked an army outpost with machine guns and homemade mortars in the town of Hacari, in the department of Norte de Santander. Additional attacks on the 19th included the destruction of electricity towers in Orito, in the southwestern department of Putumayo, and a sabotage of oil installations in the town of La Hormiga. In the fourth major attack, on Monday the 20th, FARC destroyed an oil pipeline belonging to the Ecopetrol oil company, one of the major energy players in Colombia. FARC’s 45th Front launched grenades on a police station in Piamonte in the southwest of Cauca department, and in a sixth and final attack of the offensive, rebels attacked a Bell transport helicopter further north in the department in Calota.
Of course, the Colombian government reacted strongly to this wave of guerrilla activity. President Juan Manuel Santos stated on January 21st, “We are on the offensive. We had an open discussion and I received a lot of intelligence information about suspected operations that this organization had planned and is planning after this moment [and we are] taking all the precautions, all the measures to make sure these actions are neutralized.” Colombian security forces have retaliated three times in municipalities of Tolima and Meta in the department of Arauca, near the Venezuelan border, killing 26 FARC rebels and capturing 18.
This escalation of violence has severely impeded the diplomatic negotiations in Havana. Just last week, FARC representation presented a plan to regulate the production of coca, poppies, and marijuana, and to end the aerial eradication of crops for “medicinal, therapeutic, and cultural use” similar to the Bolivian model. FARC also proposed to designate these growing areas as Farmer Reserve Zones (ZRCs). Other negotiations in the past months have centered around land reform (up to one-quarter of the Colombian population lives in rural poverty) and political integration of the FARC, similar to the integration of the FLMN in El Salvador. It seems extremely unlikely that within this violent context that Colombian government officials would be willing to negotiate on these issues, although perhaps the FARC is banking on driving the government to a point of desperation.