COLOMBIA: DESPEJE CENTRAL TO PEACE PROCESS

Created: 6/7/1999

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Central to Peace Process

Pastrana's primary motive for continuing despeje is to sustain peace

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Colombia's Despeje: Central to the Peace Process

Key Points Q

President Pastrana's extension of the despeje or demilitarized zone inhird time underscores the essential role he believes it plays in sustaining the peace process. The decision prompted the Defense Minister to resign and severely strained relations with the military, who are insisting they bereater voice in the peace process.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is using its stewardship of ihe despeje to reposition and augment its forces in an unconstrained environment, build up intelligence and logistic capabilities, and train its political cadre. The FARC has increased its presence in the area at least threefold, but such practices as forcedarbitrary detention, and extortion hamper efforts to build popular support.

No significant increase in drug activity has been detected in the despeje since il was first established in

ercent of Colombia's primary coca growing areas fall within the zone, although some new coca cultivation has been reported in the northeast

Relatively few cocaine processing laboratories have been identified; four laboratories were destroyed by the police shortly after the despeje was created.

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Alihough Pastrana appears willing to tolerate ihe FARC's current level of drug-related and political activity in theignificant increase in either could prompt him to forciblyovernment presence in the area.

The Despeje and ihe Peace Process In Septemberrudent Pastrana and the Revolutionary Armed Forces or'Colombia (FARC) agreed toespeje in southern

Colombia by removing all government security forces Irom five municipalitieseriod ofays. Itemote region about twice the size of El Salvador but with only0 inhabitants. The purpose of Ihe despeje was io provide the FARCafe place lo engage in peace talks.

The despeje was establishedovember and extended in February for anotherays. In May. Pastrana and the FARC agreed to renew the despeje and enter into substantive peace negotiations basedpoint agenda

of political, economic, and sociala small proportion

Analysts believe Pastrana's primary motivation for continuing the despeje is to sustain peaceadministration's top priority. Meanwhile, the FARC's control of the zone, which it insists is indispensable to continued peace negotiations, allows ihem to consolidate their influence over the five municipalities and givesolitical stage for dealing with visiting dignitaries, civic groups, and the

ercent of Colombia's primary coca growing areas fall within the zone.'

Limited Drug Activity

Although the despeje is situated in southernsource of overerceni of the

world's cocaine supply (see

Drug'Relaled Activity.

coca cultivation in ihe northeast section of the despeje. The extent and significance of the cultivation in this area are not ycl clear.

Processing.

the FARC is providing guidance lo coca farmers in the despeje on cultivation,to whom coca can be sold, andcommissions on cultivation and cocaine processing. This probably does notignificant change in FARC policy.l

uspected base and cocaine refining laboratories have been identified in the despeje in recent years, as compared to the thousands of laboratories known or suspected to be operating throughout the country.)

Military/Political Activity. The FARC is using its stewardship of the despeje to reposition and augment its forces in an unconstrainedbuild up intelligence and logisticand irain its political cadre.

Shortly after the despeje began, theNational Police destroyed four drug-processing laboratories in the area andons of finished4 percent of such seizures in

nave oeen madeoan leading from San Vicente del Caguan southeast to an area where many airfields are located: it could sup-port narcotics or logistic activities.

FARC measures to assert control over thepopulation, for example, by compelling local inhabitants to work on FARC civic projects such as road construction, continue io hamper efforts to build popular support:

April

several truckloads of precursor chemicals bound for the despeje.

Transportation.

irfields in the despeje and its vicinityercent less than in1

Increased Guerrilla Activity Presence. The FARC hasombatants (outotal forceocated in and around the despeje. This represents athreefold increase since the despeje was created last fall.

Reports from ihe presstring of FARC abuses in the despeje, includingayor, forciblyminors, arbitrarily detaining people, and extorting assets from merchants and| |

Despeje Central to Peace Strategy

Pastrana appears intent on engagingynamic process thai would undercut their rationale for fighting and eventually make ihem more susceptible to external political pressure. He appears lo have calculated that

extending Ihe despeje is essential lo sustaining (his dialogue. This has led to several decisions lhat have appeared contradictory:

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itcd flights over the area in response tofrom the insurgents, blunting Bogota's ability to mount counterdrug and surveillance operations in the sparsely populated and remote area.

He publicly admonished the FARC for excesses that he says violate standingbut most observers doubt that Bogota ever established specific ground rules with the insurgents, n

approach has been perceived by theas too concessionary, severely strainingnot to the point that seniorwould consider taking extraconstitutional actions. Public opinion surveys also reflect widespread unease with the President'sof the peace process and its failure lotangible results. Pastrana is under strong pressure to find ways to mollify theprobably by integrating it more effectively into lhe peaceassuring the FARC that the despeje will continue as long as peace talks remain productive. | |

Negotiations are expected to be long, difficult, and prone to fits andbecause of intense mutual distrust, lheeak negotiating position, and insurgent resistanceease-fire:

The FARC most likely will use the talks to pursue immediate goals,risoner exchange, continued government pressure on paramilitary* groups, and fundingARC-managed alternative development program in lhe zone.

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Both sides probably will use this time to develop long-term, comprehensive negotiating strategies and improve military capabilities.

Outlook for the Despeje Within the despeje, the FARC is unlikely to expand drug-related activities largely because they want to avoid the appearance of using the peace processover for criminal activity. Some drug-related activity probably willbecause the FARC does not want to risk losing the support of local coca farmers and traffickers who operate in the zone. The FARC, however, gainers most of its drug-relatedfrom activities outside the zone and might support some decrease in cultivation in the despeje, if the government agreed toARC-led alternative development program.

The FARC probably will continue toand mobilize inhabitants on its behalf. Recruitment wiltigh priority. The FARC may have to temper its activities if the proposed international accompanying commi-sion is allowed free access to the despeje.

Government Options. Although Pastrana appears willing to tolerate the current level of drug-related and political activity in theignificant increase in either could cause him to terminate the despeje and order security forces to forcibly reestablish apresence. Other developments that could propel Pastrana to use military force include the FARC's use of the despeje to stage attacks on nearby military or police bases, reports of major human rights abuses or terrorist acts committed by the FARC in the despeje, an escalating conflict involving the FARC and paramilitary groups in the zone, and theof the peace process.

Original document.

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