The war may be over, crime persists

Sergio Guzmán Escobar, a SAIS master’s student, reports from Friday’s conversation with Juan Carlos Pinzón, Colombia’s Minister of Defense, at the Inter-American dialogue. Video of the event is available here.

With the Colombian peace talks between the Government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionaras de Colombia (FARC) – the world’s longest lasting Marxist-Leninist insurgency – reaching what analysts call a “point of no return” the Colombian Minister of Defense, Juan Carlos Pinzón, discussed the country’s security outlook. The minister arrived from Davos, Switzerland where he reassured international investors about the continuity of Colombia’s security policies in a post-agreement scenario.

Moreover, he reviewed the country’s current security threats and outlined them as:

1. Armed Insurgent Groups – Communist insurgencies groups like the FARC and the Ejercito de Liberación Nacional (ELN), who engage in terrorist activities, drug trafficking, extortion, child recruitment and illegal mining.
2. Organized Crime – Remnants of the former right-wing paramilitary organization Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) and groups of organized gangs that engage in drug-related violence in both urban and rural contexts.
3. Citizen Security – street crime and urban gangs who are responsible for the palpable insecurity in the cities, including muggings and house burglary.

The fact that the negotiations come to a successful end will not necessarily mean that the country’s security outlook will improve overnight. The nature of the threats will change and the armed forces and the police will have to respond accordingly. The minister noted that Colombia has already undergone four different Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) processes and will be able to see the process through in collaboration with multiple government agencies that have experience in this field, especially the National Agency for Reintegration.

As a result of the negotiations, rumors have emerged about the future of the Colombian military possibly downsizing as part of the agreements with the FARC. The minister was emphatic that the armed forces are not going to be downsized regardless of budgetary pressures. The size of the armed forces in the next 5-10 years will remain constant. But there will be a greater mix of military police activities (the Colombian police is a under the Ministry of Defense and is a separate branch of the Armed Forces), to enable the armed forces to engage threats resulting from the peace process. “An agreement will not banish crime.”

Responding to allegations that a new rural police force would include demobilized members of the FARC, the minster remarked “No.”

A pending issue the minister failed to signal in his remarks arises from Venezuela. As the peace agreements are close to being finalized, Colombia is no longer dependent on Venezuela’s “good offices” to keep the FARC at the negotiating table. If oil prices remain low, Caracas’s economic situation will be dire. Scarcity of basic goods will cause President Maduro’s political support among the population to wane. Turbulence in Colombia’s neighbor may represent a real security threat.

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