Pushing too far? FARC steps up infrastructure attacks

The FARC has stepped up the intensity of its infrastructure strikes. On Thursday the insurgency shot dead three policemen patrolling part of the Pan-American Highway. Utilising explosives, it then brought down an energy pylon in its latest significant attack, leaving roughly 500000 without power in the southern region of Caqueta.  These attacks come after the infrastructure strike in Buenaventura, and the insurgency’s ambush in Cauca in April, killing 11 soldiers.

President Santos has called the latest attacks ‘irrational’, and according to Colombia Reports stated-

‘Nobody can explain this type of actions…if this is the way to seek peace, if this is the way to seek support for these peace talks, they are entirely mistaken because what this generates is exactly the opposite’

Santos is right in this statement- these attacks are further contributing to the diminishment of popular support for negotiations.  It is obvious that these recent attacks on infrastructure serve a particular purpose.  They mark an attempt by the FARC to draw the Colombian government into agreeing to a bilateral ceasefire in this current round of peace negotiations.  They are also a deliberate attempt to anger the Colombian population, in order to mount pressure on the Colombian government to declare this.  As I have noted in a previous blog post, bilateral ceasefires have been rarely agreed upon in previous rounds of negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC, with a key exception occurring with negotiations under the Betancur administration (1982-1986).  Whilst there has been mounting pressure for a bilateral ceasefire to be declared, Santos has continuously stressed that this will be unlikely- despite it being potentially necessary in order to boost current negotiations.

Given the present stage of negotiations, the FARC is engaging in a risky strategy with such significant attacks on infrastructure. In this current climate, is likely that such attacks will backfire.  Granted, this strategy is not new for the insurgency, who have been engaging in military strikes against infrastructure and government targets for many years.  However in recent times, arguably the FARC is pushing too far in terms of its current choice of targeting.  Whilst there have been positive achievements in these rounds of negotiation, it is evident that many Colombians are beginning to become disenchanted with current peace process attempts.  According to an April survey by Gallup, there has been a large decrease in support for the process, falling 17 points from the previous poll from 69 percent to 52 percent.  Given that Santos won his second term in office riding on support for peace, this is a worrying sign. It is also detrimental to popular perceptions towards the insurgency.  With diminishing popular support, no current ceasefires in place, and the present state of the insurgency, such attacks are not the strongest strategy by the FARC to keep the peace process on track.

On a slightly more positive note, on Wednesday the EU vowed to provide a fund to aid in the implementation of a peace deal, announcing it will contribute roughly $29M to projects should the process be successful.  This is imperative for successful DDR, and necessary in promoting the appeasement of agrarian grievances.  In the press release, it was stated that-

‘a programme worth almost €21 million will aim to overcoming the social and economic disadvantage of the marginalised and conflict affected regions. The programme will support local sustainable development in remote areas. It is expected to foster income generation opportunities for almost 2000 peasant families and improved livelihoods of around 3000 indigenous and Afro-Colombian families living in National Parks, where all kinds of social and environmental conflicts rule. This action will constitute the first building block of the EU’s support to the Colombian peace process’

The FARC is engaging in a huge risk by attacking infrastructure largely affecting the Colombian population, one that likely won’t directly result in a bilateral ceasefire. The FARC and the government have been in negotiations since November 2012, and there are still two agenda items to be agreed upon- the victims and the end of the conflict.   Given that there hasn’t been a common consensus yet as to how to adequately punish war crimes committed in the past five decades, nor how to compensate the millions of victims affected by the protracted conflict, it appears that unfortunately another hurdle in the process has been reached.

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