The FARC’s unilateral ceasefire leads to a historical drop in violence levels

Issue 3, 2015
Analysis and Security Weekly – Special Edition.

Period under study: December 20, 2014 – January 20, 2015.
Date: January 20, 2015.

At the end of the first month of the conditional and unilateral ceasefire implemented by the FARC, CERAC is yet to register a single violent or offensive act that could constitute a breach of the ceasefire and could be attributed to this guerrilla group. The levels of violence associated with the internal armed conflict – as well as other forms of violence – are the lowest CERAC has registered since 1984.

  • Since the middle of the 1980s, CERAC had not registered such null activity levels of the FARC over the course of an entire month.
  • The victimisation levels associated with the armed conflict also registered historically low levels: this statement holds true for casualties and injured, both amongst civilians as well as members of the Public Forces, post-demobilisation paramilitary groups (GPDP) and guerrilla fighters. The victimisation data indicate 8 casualties due to the armed conflict, 5 civilians and 3 Public Forces members.
  • No single violent attack against the population by the hands of armed groups has been registered during the month of FARC’s ceasefire.
  • No single attack against the country’s economic infrastructure by the hands of armed groups has been registered in this period. This statement holds true for the oil infrastructure (wells, oleoducts, tanker trucks, exploration equipment), as well as for bridges, streets, viaducts, electricity towers, gas-ducts, electronic communications and energy-generation infrastructure.
  • CERAC recorded a significant level of threats, which have all been attributed to neoparamilitary groups, some of which have been categorised as post-demobilisation paramilitary violent groups. In particular, the “Black Eagles” (“Águilas Negras”) and the “Clan Úsuga” have been responsible for collective and individual threats, all of which political in nature.
  • The levels of armed violence associated with organised crime, or instrumental violence, have also registered a remarkable decrease: this is a statement CERAC can make based on its monitoring of the press and other sources. Although we do not possess official and up-to-date data which may allow us to corroborate our affirmation, our estimates indicate that this is the case. Only one case of collective murder has been recorded, and led to two casualties. No single massacre has been registered as of yet.
  • Although the Public Forces have recorded actions perpetrated by guerrillas and GPDP, their activity levels have been much lower than the usual monthly averages, or those that are recorded towards the end of the year. The overall majority of the operations conducted by the public forces have been of judicial character (that is, in conjunction and ordered by the Fiscalía) and have been concentrated in the departments of Arauca, Caquetá, Meta and Nariño. No tactical or strategic military operations which could be understood as military offensives have been recorded, with the only exception of the operation conducted against the FARC’s “Teófilo Forero” column, an operation which have been in place since December 20.
  • Notwithstanding the low activity levels on the part of the Public Forces, no documented denouncement of their alleged reduction in the protection of communities or the infrastructure systems have been registered, nor have documented denouncement of any alleged omissions of action on their part.
  • The FARC have denounced many offensive acts perpetrated by the Public Forces against them, but none of these events mentioned by the guerrillas appear to have such offensive nature. The greatest majority of these events could not be confirmed by CERAC in other sources of its monitoring. The Centre could only confirm three casualties in clashes with the Army, in accordance with official sources.
  • Other conflict groups, in particular the ELN, have taken advantage of this period to emphasise its violent potential.
  • 5 offensive and violent acts have occurred, and still require further verification from the judicial bodies to assess the group responsible for them. All of these happened in areas where both FARC and ELN operate.
  • Three individuals have been injured by anti-personnel mines, of these, one civilian and two members of the Public Forces, a much lower level than the monthly average.
  • The FARC were involved in 3 clashes that led to three casualties (1 Army soldier). It was impossible to confirm which side moved first in these combats.
  • 20 events attributed to other armed-conflict groups have been recorded, the majority of which from the ELN (4) and GPDP (4). The events left 8 casualties, of which 5 civilians, 2 Police members and 1 Army member.

Potential violations of the ceasefire still requiring verification

CERAC registered two offensive events during the unilateral ceasefire. Albeit these have been attributed to the FARC, they require further verification by the authorities, given that the Police forces themselves have denied the guerrillas’ alleged involvement.

January 6: a pamphlet signed by the FARC was circulated in Yarumal, Antioquia, in which the guerrillas threatened the local mayor and other staff members of the municipality, as well as the teachers of the San Luís school. With respect to this, commander of Antioquia police colonel Ramiro Riveros assured that the related investigations are currently being carried out, in the attempt to establish the pamphlet’s authenticity, which he himself questioned.

Further, Democratic Centre MP María Fernanda Cabal received a threat, allegedly by the hands of the FARC, which publicly denied their involvement in the event, and for that reason must await further investigation.

Finally, a soldier kidnapped by the hands of the FARC after a combat in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca, before the beginning of the ceasefire, was freed well after the ceasefire came to place, which could be considered a temporal violations of the soldier’s rights.

 

Click here to read the first report of the unilateral ceasefire (20.12.2014 – 26.12.2014), here for the second one (26.12.2014 – 31.12.2014), and here for the third one (31.12.2014 – 9.01.2015).

Analysis:

The unilateral ceasefire implemented by the FARC has led to a historical reduction in the levels of violence in Colombia. This reduction has come in many shapes – from the forms of violence directly associated with the conflict as those forms only indirectly associated with it. Even if this has not yet led to a bilateral ceasefire, the absence of a strategic and tactical deployment of the Armed Forces against the FARC or other groups, in concomitance with the ceasefire, has generated a “virtual ceasefire” of bilateral nature.

This reduction in the violence levels could contribute to generate a favourable space for the signing and approval of the agreements by the polity, still sceptical of the importance and future of this peace process. A negotiated end to an internal conflict must face the great difficulty of securing the approval of the majority of the population, even more so when the government wishes to have it approved via the ballot, in order to strengthen its legitimacy and foster the adoption of the measures associated with the transitional violence.
What may allow for the overcoming of this difficulty could turn out to be the drastic reduction in the guerrilla-led violence. Finally, with respect to the peace process, the decrease in the violence waged by the guerrilla has also boosted the public’s confidence in the FARC’s willingness to negotiate, severely weakened by the crisis that followed the kidnapping of General Alzate, especially amongst members of the Armed Forces and groups opposed to the negotiations.

The benefits on matters of security have stretched much beyond the violence directly associated with the conflict, and – for however bold this statement may be – have led to parallel reductions of other forms of violence, including criminal violence. Different mechanisms may explain this phenomenon: first, the greater operational capacity of the Public Forces; second, the higher risk other violent groups would incur due to the greater visibility in the conduction of their offensive operations.

A third benefit in the reduction of violence during the ceasefire has been that of the result this has had for the exploratory dialogues between the government and the ELN. During its V Congress, on January 7, the ELN announced its willingness to consider dropping violence in the name of peace, to begin negotiating with the government, after a period of exploratory consultations between the two sides which has gone on since January 2014. Under this light, the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire could lead to a virtual circle, in the sense that the acceleration of the dialogues with the FARC could lead to a parallel strengthening of the peace prospects with the ELN.

In political terms, the unilateral ceasefire has generated some key benefits for the ruling coalition, now engaged with the negotiations in Cuba, in that it showed both the general public and the productive sector the benefits that could derive from peace. A crucial loser amidst all this, at least in mere political terms, has been the Democratic Centre, which has not managed to articulate a credible opposition to the unilateral measure implemented by the guerrillas, and insisted on its predictions of a rapid collapse of the ceasefire and an escalation of the criminal activities during the latter, which did not occur.

This is not to say the present conjuncture does not imply a number of risks. First, there is the paradox of the fragility which the process faces due to the very absence of violence. The peace process has never been so vulnerable to a terrorist attack (indiscriminate and on a large scale). Secondly, there is a dilemma associated with the conditional and unilateral nature upon which the agreement has been premised, which thus far the government has managed to escape. It is quite likely that, in the aftermath of a possible violent event, the government’s opposition will take the opportunity to turn this into a blow to the ruling coalition and the peace process itself. Finally, there are several doubts with respect to the formalisation of a bilateral ceasefire, of the very shape in which the government has promised it: will it take place before, simultaneously or after the agreements will be finally signed? What type of violence and criminality will it include? And can the government count on a sound judicial framework as well as on the institutional mechanisms (both judicial and coercive) to verify possible violations?

All these questions shall find an answer in the events that shall unfold this coming February. Contrary to other analysts and research centres, CERAC expects that the current reduction of violence shall continue in the near future, and will only collapse before an offensive act of large scale by the hands of the Armed Forces opposed to the negotiation process and in contrast with their institutional duties. We do not expect the selective offensive operations conducted by the Public Forces (like the ones carried out against the Teófilo Forero column, or by following up judicial rulings) will be leading the FARC to break the ceasefire. Nor do we believe that the FARC will unilaterally suspend the ceasefire without a valid reason to do so, if anything because this has allowed for a much tighter control of its troops and operations than the one they enjoyed beforehand. In sum, the benefits of the decrease in violent activities (retraining, politicisation, control over military troops and equipment, greater capacity to negotiate) go beyond their costs (defections, demoralisation, infiltration and disarticulation for criminal income).

The principal risk, in this sense, stems from the permanent presence of extortive and income-extractive activities, which could be interpreted as a violation of the unilateral ceasefire and lead to military and police operations that could turn out to be an excuse for the FARC to break the self-imposed ceasefire.

A declaration of a formal ceasefire in the short term would be, according to our analysis, an unlikely event. But the third point in the dialogues’ agenda, that of the end of the conflict, could lead to something similar, provided the agreement will follow an implementation strategy that will begin with the formalisation of a bilateral ceasefire, premised on the concentration of the FARC and on a simultaneous public declaration of their complete abandon of violence.

The implementation of such a bilateral ceasefire will be subject to the signing of the agreements, and to the conclusion of the final points still left in the talk’s agenda. This would make the process an irreversible one, owing to the high political costs which it would impose on the guerrilla’s violence.

Key events happened during the period of study:

  • (20.12.2014) FARC declare unilateral and indefinite ceasefire;
  • (22.12.2014) Jorge Tarro – supreme leader of the Urabeños – is captured;
  • (24.12.2014) Clash of Army against FARC in Vigia del Fuerte. This event denounced by the FARC would constitute an offensive action of the Armed Forces that could be interpreted by the guerrilla as a violation of the conditions which the FARC had premised their ceasefire on. This action, however, has not been registered by other sources monitored by CERAC;
  • (26.12.2014) FARC Liberate soldier Becerra, who had been captured on 19.12.2014 during clashes against the Army;
  • (31.12.2014) Alias Ricardo, second-commander of the Teófilo Forero column, is captured by the Army. The FARC denounce the attack, yet the ceasefire still stands;
  • (06.01.2015) Santos passes law 1745 to countersign the peace agreements;
  • (7.01.2015) The ELN, at its V Congress, announces that it may consider giving up the armed struggle;
  • (08.01.2015) The FARC invite the ELN to forge unity – and abandon the armed struggle;
  • (15.01.2015) Santos’ declaration to begin discussing bilateral ceasefire;
  • (18.01.2015) ELN ex-leader claims that formal peace talks may begin in 2 months, after 1 year of exploratory conversations between ELN and the government;
  • (19.01.2015) The ELN asks the government for a unilateral ceasefire.

 

In accordance with the FARC’s declaration, the indefinite continuation of the unilateral ceasefire is subject to the Public Force not carrying out offensive operations against the guerrillas. The FARC have denounced 16 military actions against their settlements and areas of influence, and consider these actions to be offensive. The events have led to a situation of “imminent clash”, two effective clashes and one ambush.

According to the FARC, in 28 days the guerrillas suffered from 16 violent actions perpetrated by the Public Forces, in regions which the FARC control by means of their various fronts.

  • December 22, 2014: In La Uribe, Meta, the army bombed two settlements of the FARC in the valley of the Guayabero and El Tigre rivers. No casualties were registered.
  • December 24, 2014: In San José del Guaviare, Guaviare, Air Force flights bombarded the area of El Trapiche, on the banks of Caño Siare. No casualties were registered.
  • December 26, 2014: In La Uribe, Meta, during a landing operation, army troops machine-gunned the house of farmer Aldemar González Álvarez, in the small rural district of La Primavera, causing physical damage, but no casualties.
  • December 28, 2014: In Bajo Cauca, the Army carried out operations against the Front 18, leaving one guerrilla fighter injured.
  • December 28-29, 2014: In Meta, Army units carried out operations against the Front 55, on the plateau of the Leiva and Guayabero rivers, located in the municipalities of La Macarena and La Uribe. No casualties were registered.
  • December 30, 2014: In Mesetas, Meta, Army aircraft carried out a bombing and landing operation in the indigenous reserve of Ondas del Cafre. No casualties were registered.
  • December 30, 2014: In Ituango, Antioquia, a clash between guerrillas and the Army took place right when the armed forces started to wage an attack against a guerrillas’ settlement. No casualties were registered.
  • December 31, 2014: In La Montañita, Caquetá, Army units moved towards the settlements of the FARC’s Front 15, located in the township of La Unión Peneya. A situation of “imminent clash” was recorded.
  • December 31, 2014: In Urrao, Antioquia, the Army carried out operations against the settlements of the FARC’s Front 34 located in the township of Mandé. No casualties were registered.
  • December 31, 2014: In Urrao and Vigía del Fuerte, Antioquia, planes and helicopters of the Public Forces machine-gunned and threw bengalas over the region of the Curbatá river and la Loma de Murrí, in between the two municipalities. No casualties were registered.
  • January 1, 2015: In Meta, the Army conducted an operation against a settlement of the Jacobo Arenas Column in an area riddled with minefields: clashes took place, which led to the death of 6 Army soldiers and the injuring of one guerrilla fighter. According to the FARC, the combat was carried out by the guerrillas as a self-defense reaction.
  • January 1, 2015: In San José del Guaviare, Guaviare, Army aircrafts machine-gunned the El Trapiche area again, without leaving casualties.
  • January 3, 2015: In Mesetas, Meta, Army units which had landed on December 30 in Ondas del Cafre fell in an ambush in a minefield, which left 4 soldiers injured. Air-bombings conducted by the Armed Forces eventually followed, and continued for many hours.
  • January 4, 2015: In Guaviare, Police and Army units landed in Salto Gloria, in the area controlled by the FARC’s Front 1.
  • January 5, 2015: The Army bombed, machine-gunned and landed troops in an area – whose location is still un-registered – close to FARC units. During the event a guerrilla fighter was injured.
  • January 5, 2015: In Cauca, the Army began operations against the FARC’s Jacobo Arenas column, without leaving casualties behind.

Violence Associated with the Armed Conflict

Unilateral Actions:

During the period under study, 14 unilateral actions took place, leaving 8 individuals injured, one of which civilian.

December 30: In Villa del Rosario, Norte de Santander, ELN fighters set up an ambush with an explosive device against a police patrol. As a result, 6 policemen were injured. The responsibility for the event was initially unconfirmed, due to the fact that both FARC and ELN operate in the area. Nonetheless, the ELN eventually owned up.

January 6: In Cúcuta, Norte de Santander, pamphlets signed by ‘Los Urabeños’ and ‘Los Rastrojos’ were circulated, and included threats to the inhabitants of three sectors of this city.

January 6: In Barbosa, Santander, ‘Los Rastrojos’ threatened more than 40 people accused of being criminals.

January 11: Quibdó, Chocó. ELN militants burnt a truck and blocked the street with other private vehicles. No victims were recorded.

January 12: Barbacoas, Nariño. 41-years-old merchant Germán Alonso Bastidas was freed after a captivity in the hands of the ELN that had lasted since january 2013.

January 12: La Montañita, Caquetá. Farmer Héctor Chacón was injured by the accidental activation of a mine in the rural district of the Unión Peneya.

January 12: Barranquilla, Atlántico. The Black Eagles (Águilas Negras) threatened 15 community leaders, trade unionists and Human Rights activists in this department.

January 14: San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá. FARC members painted graffitis on the walls of a school in the rural district of Puerto Amor.

January 14: Anorí, Antioquia. An Army soldier fell injured after having accidentally activated a mine-field. The individuals responsible for the installation of the device remain unknown.

January 14: Belén de los Andaquíes, Caquetá. Army soldier Jhon Trujillo Cardozo was injured after having accidentally activated an explosive device. The individuals responsible for the installation of the device remain unknown.

January 15: Popayán, Cauca. A litter-collection vehicle was set on fire by ELN fighters, allegedly due to an attempt to resist an extortion.

January 17: Arauca, Arauca. An unidentified armed group distributed pamphlets threatening the population.

January 18: Tame, Arauca. ELN members took part an illegal road block, and fired at the department’s MP William Cárdenas’s vehicle, who was going through that route.

January 18: Colombia. The Black Eagles (Águilas Negras) threatened 16 Human Rights activists in the country, by means of a pamphlet sent to the political analyst León Valencia. Of the threatened activists, only the land-restitution leader Carmen Palencia was identified.

For his part, ever since the beginning of the unilateral ceasefire, the Army has confirmed the destruction of 8 abandoned settlements of the FARC in Arauca, Meta and Caquetá, without there having been clashes, casualties or injured.

Clashes:

As for the confirmed clashes, three confrontations between the Army and the FARC have been recorded in the period under study. Nonetheless, and despite of the information provided by our sources, in none of these it is possible to assess with absolute certainty which side attacked first.

December 31: In Algeciras, Huila, a confrontation between the Ayíber González block of the FARC’s ‘Teófilo Forero’ Column left one guerrilla fighter injured, who was eventually captured together with another fellow militant.

January 13: In Belén de los Andaquíes, Caquetá, Army soldier Edward Velasco Medina died during clashes between the Army and the FARC.

January 14: In Baraya, Huila, 2 guerrilla fighters of the FARC’s Front 17, who were wearing police clothing, died in clashes with the Armed Forces.

Political Violence

With respect to this kind of violence, CERAC registered a total of 8 events, which left 4 dead and 1 injured, all of whom civilians.

January 5: In Caloto, Cauca, unidentified individuals killed Emiro Medina Velasco, chief of the Judicial Bureau of this municipality.

January 5: In Curillo, Caquetá, unidentified men killed the president of the Civil Defence of the municipality, Elver Rojas Toro.

January 9: In Santander de Quilichao, Cauca, unidentified men assassinated the indigenous leader Oliver Emiliano Trochez, a family member of the indigenous governor of the reserve, Guadualito Emiliano Trochez.

January 9: In Villa Rica, unidentified men shot at the vehicle of the afro-colombian leader Ari Aragón, injuring his driver, Jesús Enrique Andrade.

January 12: In Palmira, Valle del Cauca, unidentified men assassinated Rubén Arturo Ríos Carrillo, a journalist from this town. No previous threats against him were known.

January 16: In Bucaramanga, Santander, unidentified men threatened 10 unidentified teachers. The latter had to forcefully leave their workplace.

January 16: In Bogotá, threats by unidentified individuals were sent to Bogotá’s Chamber Representative María Fernanda Cabal, to Fernando Vargas Quema, victims’ spokesperson and Jaime Arturo Restrepo Restrepo.

January 19: In Barrancabermeja, Santander. Unidentified individuals threatened by means of a text message three trade unionists of the USO. The only identified victim is John Rodríguez Moreno.

Other Forms of Violence

December 26: In Cúcuta, Norte de Santander, unidentified individuals activated an explosive device close to the Police station of the Ospina Perez neighbourhood. Seven people were injured.

December 31: In Hobo, Huila, unidentified individuals threw an explosive device against a house, one person was killed and two were injured.

January 8: In Florida, Valle del Cauca, unidentified individuals activated an explosive device in the Acuavalle company’s plant. One person was injured.

January 10: In San Andrés de Cuerquia, Antioquia: unidentified individuals burnt a public transportation vehicle, and blocked the street. No victims were registered.

January 12: In San Andrés de Cuerquia, Antioquia: unidentified individuals burnt a public transportation vehicle. No victims were registered.

January 16: In El Carmen de Bolívar, Bolívar, threats against various inhabitants in the neighbourhoods of Las Margaritas y El Vergel were registered.

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