COLOMBIA: PARAMILITARIES ASSUMING A HIGHER PROFILE

Created: 8/31/1998

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Colombia: Paramilitariesigher Profile

In recent months, Colombia's paramilitary groups haveeries of high-profile operational and political activities, establishing themselvesorce to be reckoned vith in any effort to bring peace to the country.

Ia May, the groups committed two widely publicized massacres, leaving dozens dead and wounded.

As part of an apparent two tiered strategy for increasing their profile, key paramilitary leaders have moved aggressively on the political front, publicly pledging to support the peacecertainadopt rules of engagement aimed at humanizing the decades-old conflict with the insurgents.

The confluence of several factors is apparently spurring the paramilitaries to expand their activities.

are seeking to increase their

influence to ensure they are on an equal fooong with the guerrillas during peace negotiations with the new Pastrana admin istraoon.

press reports indicate lhat paramilitary leaders also view their recent attacksignal to the Colombian public that they are independentmore effectivemilitary, which has fared poorly in clashes wilh the guerrillas io recent years. I

ignificant breakthrough in the peace process, the paramdUaries' influence is likely to increase in the coming months. The growing sense of insecurity following the recent wave of guerrilla violence and tha public perception

lhal the military is losing the war against the insurgents art likely to bolster the groups' popular appeal, particularly in rural guerriUa-controlled areas.

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The growing influence ofthe paramilitaries is likely to complicate the twin US goals of advancing the peace process and improving the country's poor human rights record.

Some powerful paramilitary leaders' involvement with narcotics traffickers could alsohallenge to US annnarcotics interests.

A series of recent bold actions by paramilitary groups has rcfocused domestic attention on their growing influence andconjunction with the latest surge of guerrillaclimate of widespread insecurity:

Onay. the paramilitariesaring attack on the river port of Bamneaberrneja. lollingeople and kidnapping more thanthers; the kidnap victims were subsequently executed. The audacity of the attack, which occurred in an areaeavy guemlla presence and wasear earlier. left many wondering whether Colombia is on the verge of another period of intense paramiliiary violence against guerrillas and their alleged sympathizers.

Also inaramilitaries entered the village of Puerto Alvira in eastern Colombia and executed more thanillagers they accused of being guerrilla supporters; they also destroyed businesses, electrical plants, and dynamited the town's airstrip.

In addition, the paramilitaries are widely believed,

e responsible for the assassination of two top human rights activists in Bogota in April r

Recent paramilitary acuvity highlights the groups' increasing operationalstrength has expanded in recent years, to

the point that some of the more powerful groups are now able to project themselves into guerriUa-doruuiated areas in eastern and southern Colombia, which would have been difficult to imagineew years

The recent attacks and the government's inabUity to curb (he paramilitary threat also have triggered sharp domestic and internationalecent report issuedrominent Latin American human rights group accused the paramilitaries of being the leading human rights violator in Colombia and blamed the security forces for complicity in the paramilitaries' actrvities- In reaction, the government has begun an investigation of at least three Armyunior officer, and nine soldiers

accused of having links id theollowing the Barrancabermcja massacre, die Secretary General of Amnesty International condemned the Samper adrninistration for beingpossibly even criminallyfailing to safeguard the public.

Paramilitary activity has also exacerbated the problem of internal displacementthe long-runningactivity

is among the chief causes of the growing number of internal refugees, which have totaled morever the past four years.

Looking for Political Legitimacy

As part of an apparent two-tiered strategy to raise their profile and gain recognitionegitimate political actor, the paramilitaries also are moving aggressively on the political front. In late July. Carlosmost notorious paramilitarymoreozen other senior leadersidely publicized agreement with leaders of civdbusinessmen, church officials, and local politicalwhich they pledged to support the peace process and laid out rules of military engagement that were ostensibly in line with international humanitarian law.recondiuon for their participation in peace negotiations, the groups also drnanrWI the establishmentemilitarized zone in northern Colombia. Castano's demands were similar to those laid out previously by the guerrilla groups, highlighting the desire of both his group and die paramilitaries' umbrella organization the United Self Defense Groups of Colombiabe granted the same political status as the insurgents, it also highlighted, according to some local political pundits, the groups' apparent lackell-thought-out political agenda.

In late May, paramilitary leaders alsoigh-profilesecond such event in the past twoat consolidating their organizational structure and influence. This event received considerable media play, particularly the groups' subsequent announcement that three new factions were being incorporated into the AUC. They also reiterated their demand that the government recognize the AUColitical actor andriminal one.

Why Now?

The confluenceew key factors is apparently spurring the paramflitaries totheir activities.they are clearly seeking to expand

their political influence in an effort to ensure that they are on an equal footing wilh

the guerrillas during peace negotiations with tbe new administration Indeed, by publicly endorsing tbe peace process, the paramilitaries are attempting to portray themselves as legitimate political actors and not the vigilantes and military surrogates lhal the guerrillas have long accused them of being. i

At ihe same lime, according to local press reports, some leaders vieway to signalhe Colombian public that they are independentmore effectivearmed forces, which haveeriesdefeats at the hands of the guerrillas over die past two years-this themeecent press interview in which he vigorouslythe AUC is not an crgan of the state and lhat it will disband only whenas an end to guerrilla subversion and the inefficiency of themet.

Paramilitary Influence Likely To Crow p

The paramilitaries areignificant force to be reckoned with. and.ajor breakthrough in the peace process, which under the best of circumstances is likely toong and difficult endeavor, their influence is likely to continue increasing in the months ahead:

The growing public perception thai the military is losing the war against (he guerrillas, coupled with the recent wave of guerrilla violence throughout the country, is likely to increase support for the groups, particularly in rural areas where the guerrillas operate.

Clashes between the guerrillas and paramilitaries are likely to increase, particularly as the latter atiempr to extend their influence and operations imo areas controlled by the insurgents

Recognizing the need to boost their popular appeal, paramilitary leaders also are likely to continue their public relations offensive, simultaneously stressing their willingness to cooperate with the admuustration in peace negotiations while vigorously defending their right to be afforded political status.

Meanwhile, some senior militarysuspicious of (he peace process and frustrated with the military's dismal performance on themcreasmgly viewlindperhaps even offering tacit supportparamilitaries as their best option for striking back al the guerrillas.esult, informational links and instances of active coordination between ihc military and (he pararruliiaries are likely to continue and perhaps even increase.!

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Efforts by ihc groups' leadership toore formal, consolidated organization are likely to make only hauled progress for The foreseeable future, to many cases, long standing personal rivalries between key paramilitary leaders and the widely divergent objectives of the various groups will probably preclude the ere soonoherent leadership structure.esult, most groups are likely to continue operating primarily as "guns forith such disparate functions as providing prelection to cattle ranchers and acting as armed guards for narcotics groups. In many instances, such as in the high-profile massacre in Map in pan tut year, these groups will probably become involved in violent clashes with guerrilla sympathizers for reasons having to do more with "turf" issues, including conflicts over the control of illicit acuvities, thin their stated aim of eliminating the guerrillas or countering the insurgent threat.2

Implieab'ons for the United States

The growth of the paramilitaries and the possibility of increasingly violent clashes wiih theif the nascent peace process breaksundercutting the key US goal of improving Colombia's human rights record, which is already among the worst in the Americas. Moreover, although paramilitary groups have thus far refrained from attacking US citizens and fsciliues. USpuQcularly those working with human rights groups in remote areas of northernat increased risk of being targeted as guerrilla sympathizers oi of being unintended vicums of violence should paramilitary and guerrilla fighting escalate.

The growing influence of the paramilitaries also complicates the key US objective of advancing the peace process. Although many local political analysts argue lhat the groups must be included in future negotiations in light of their growing clout, their lackoordinated and coherent political program, weak organizational discipline, and ihc guerrillas' continuing refusal to participate in ncgouauons with them will hamper efforts toomprehensive and long lasting agreement. Illustrative of this fact, one of the main insurgentArmy of Nationalrecentlycheduled meeting with key members of civil society because of concern that the paramilitaries would be accorded political status.

At the same time, powerful paramilitary leaders' involvement in or links to narcotics trafficking could pose an increasingly potent challenge to US aniinarcodcs interests. For example, late last year, paramilitaries acting as guardsruck carrying cocaine were involvedhootout with police, resulting in the death ofaw enforcement officers.

1eixcil role, paraaiflitanet appear toatey from (be drag Dade (ban die guerrilla! became ofthe giwrillM ptatte iavolvemtol in narcotic) activity and tbtti abiSSyarger leniiory

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SUBJECT

Puiciili'jfieiigh" Profile

Num. APLA IRirbibubon: VP

'

HONORABLEUERTH. NATIONAL SECURJTY AFFAIRS ADVISOR.OOMOS.

NSC

ALLISON MAJOR, ANALYST

BRA1NERD. ACTTNC- DEPUTY ASSISTANTHE PRESIDENT.. OEOB

RICHARD CLARKE. SPECIAL ASST TO THER. DDL FOR GLOBAL

ISSUESJtWULTILATERAL, OEOBOBBINS, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT AND SENIOR

DIRECTOR. OFFICE OF INTER-AM. AFF,ATIONAL

(CONE. DIRK

SECURITY COUNCILIRECTOR, LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS,, OFOB

BUREAU OF INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS (ARA)

F ARNSWORTH. SPECIAL ADVISOR TO THE COUNSELOR.

DEPARTMENT OF STATE

A MCOBSON, DIRECTOR, POLICY PLANNING AND

DEPARTMENT OF STATE

LEONARD. DIRECTOR-OFFICE OF MEXICAN AFFAIRS,

DEPARTMENT OF STATE

CILARA. COLUMBIA COUNTRY DESKEPARTMENT OF STATE

SUBJECT: Colombia: ParamUittric*ighcf Profile

PubNom: istribution:

BUREAU OF INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS (ARA)

CopyF ROMERO. ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR WESTERN HEM1SHPHERE

AFFAIRS.UREAU OF INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

INR/IAA/SAJAMES E. BUCHANAN

UCHANAN. CHIEF. SOUTH AMERICA DIVISION ANLYS FOR

INTER-AMERICAN AFFRSUREAU OF INTELLIGENCE. RESEARCH. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

STATF

E ROBERTS. DIRECTOR, DVR/RES.EPARTMENT OF STATE

C BROWN, SENIOR COORDINATOR SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS.

DEPARTMENT OF STATE. ARA/SCO

LIP CHI CO LA, DEPUTY DIRECTOR. ARA. POLICY PLANNING STAFF, ROOM

EPARTMENT OFHAMILTON, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT.EPARTMENT OF

STATE

OAKLEY. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE, BUREAU OF INTELLIGENCE

AND RESEARCH, ROOMEPARTMENT OF STATE

T PONTTNG, DJR/lAA,EPARTMENT OF STATE

O HOMME, DIRECTOR, INR/IAA {ANLYS FOR fNTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS,

UREAU OF INTELLIGENCE ft RESEARCH, DEPARTMENT OF STATE

DOD

22NEWBERRY. DASD. Drag Enfowenxm Policy ft Support, Room

The Pentagon

SUBJECT CcJoccbia. Pncnhtuxnr&!i>

MrkSK APLA IR6

ousd (p) /cmd

HERIDAN, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR

SPECIALOW INTENSITY CONFLICT. ROOMI. PENTAGON

E>IA

itg Patrickm hughes, director ixth. licence agency (nx room

defense intelligence agency, then carhart, analyst,. DlAC.

bolltng. AFB

c myers, analyst,lAC,oluno.

afb

A HY

27FULLER.. DlAC BLDG

NATIONAL MILITARY INTEL I- CENTEKyDIA

ERBEH, DCI REPRESENTATIVE OFFICE OF SECRETARY OF DEFENSE.

ROOMENTAGON. NMJIC ALERT CENTER. CO CIA HELP DESK

jcs

20thomas wilson, director, intfll1gence foroomoint

chefs of staff, the pentagon

SUBJECT; Colombia: Paramilitarievigher Piofik

PrtNum; SA

Copy JOS BOWERS. SfNIO LATIN. NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY

TG KENNETH MINI HAN

31KENNETH MTNTHAN. DIRECTOR. NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY. ROOM

FORT MEADE, MD

NSA/OPS I

32KRATT, ANALYST. RoomPS I. Fori Meade

O'CONNOR.2ori Meade

lining

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