Thursday, October 19, 2006

Every which way I go...

...I see the same terrorism.

We had a very significant terrorist event here in Bogota today. It occurred at a Military University on the 100 with the 9th avenue. For those reading this that came to my wedding, that's about 5 minutes closer to the mountain from the hotel you stayed at. This picture from El Tiempo says it all.

Now, when I say "major event" I don't mean "major" as in "a lot of people killed." In fact, depending on who you believe, there were either 2 people killed or none at all (23 injured). However, it was major in the sense that this University is one of the most "secure" in Colombia. It also houses not just a University, but also a major command post.

The governmental response to this was a quick, "FARC did it," which, I suppose, wasn't a surprising statement. Did FARC actually do it? I don't know, but I would be surprised if they were behind it. I'm starting to wonder just how much of a boogeyman FARC really is. Clearly, the organization exists. They still do kidnappings and they still have hostages. But can anyone name the last "major" event that was actually proven to be the responsibility of FARC? I think we're going back 4+ years here.

What's my point? Well, it's this: Colombia is a nation with a 50 year war. The population has become so accustomed to violence that when major events happen, the blame always falls on FARC. Perhaps they deserve it, but at this point, there are significant indications that FARC is clearly not as strong as they were previously. Do they still have the capability to infiltrate a highly secure military installation and blow up a huge car bomb? I have my doubts.

My doubts about the strength of FARC are coupled with the clear evidence that the Colombian military is a corrupt organization often in bed with narcotraffickers, which could mean, FARC as well (the distinction between FARC and narcotrafficking has clearly been severely blurred). Witness the September killings of 7 or so military personel. At the time, FARC was blamed for the attack. However, now the evidence clearly indicates that a corrupt military officer killed those 7 people over a dispute about money (and a lot of it). There was also a bombing before the election that targeted the military as well. Same blame on FARC, same evidence later that it was an internal military dispute.

Now, I'm not that great at predictions, but the trends seem to indicate that the Colombian military has become the greater problem. I don't have statistics readily available, but in the last year there have been a number of incidents, including the execution of an elite police counternarcotics unit, that have been conducted by the military. On top of that, a report in the US released recently gives creedence to the theory that military corruption is a problem (the US helped Colombia institute an anti-corruption program for the police in the early 1990's, but have never pushed for a similar program with the military).

Consider the facts:

  • Numbers of executions orquestrated by the military are increasing
  • The role of the military in fighting FARC is decreasing
  • Military pay for the lowest level is $480,000 CP/month (roughly $200)
  • The military was in bed with the paramilitaries prior to their "disbandment"
  • The public believes that any and all violence is the fault of FARC
  • "Terrorists" managed to get a huge car bomb through TWO high secure military checkpoints
  • The bomb was targeted at the top Commander of the Army
  • Much of the recent violence has been directed at military targets, whereas FARC has generally been indiscriminate with violence

If you add it up, it looks like a serious problem. The Colombian military has certainly become more professional and skilled over the years. But they've also committed a number of atrocities that are just inexplicable. It looks to me that we're having an internal military struggle and I think that bodes ill for Colombia. As long as corruption reigns in the military and the public believes that all violence is attributable to FARC, I think things will get worse.

I'm worried about the direction of this country.


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