Sábado, 22 de octubre de 2016

| 2009/03/31 00:00

Clear and present danger

The FARC’s plot to assassinate the Defense Minister and his brothers in Anapoima, near Bogotá, shows that the guerrillas aim to pull off high-profile attacks against the establishment.

Enrique Santos, director of the Inter-american Press Association (IAPA) and brother of Defense minister Juan Manuel Santos

For the past year and a half, the National Police had information that Patemala, one of the commanders of the hit men deployed by the FARC’s Teofilo Forero Mobil Column, was planning something big in Girardot, Melgar and Anapoima, the resort spots popular among elite Bogotá politicians and executives. The first evidence of the conspiracy emerged following the capture of several guerrillas in San Vicente del Caguán, southern Colombia. In addition, authorities last year discovered that the FARC was planning to attack U.S. military personnel and contractors in Melgar, in Tolima province.

The plot was confirmed beyond a doubt in November following an Army attack on Patemala’s rebel camp. A notebook with the guerrilla’s handwriting contained information on the movements of several members of the family of Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos. The notes included commuter routes and the days and methods of transportation of Enrique Santos, the president of the Inter-American Press Association, and Luis Fernando Santos, the president of El Tiempo. There were also photos and details about the brothers’ routes for hiking and horse riding on the outskirts of their country residence in Anapoima.

More than any other plot against the Defense Minister and his relatives, this one was the most fully developed. The guerrilla cell, led by alias Caballo, or “Horse,” had purchased a nearby property where he had assembled motorcycles, weapons, and police uniforms. He also made at least eight trips to FARC camps to receive instructions. The plan called for the rebels to disguise themselves as police agents doing their normal rounds in the resort areas and then to simply gun down their victims. It’s believed that the attack was to take place in the coming days to comply with the order from the FARC secretariat to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of rebel commander Manuel Marulanda alias “Tirofijo” (“Sureshot”) with bombs and bullets.

The plan fell apart with the capture of 10 suspected conspirators, two of whom acknowledged that they were members of the Teofilo Forero Mobil Column and admitted their roles in the criminal plot. According to the police, the plan included the kidnapping of a U.S. contractor, a former American soldier based in Girardot and involved in Plan Colombia. He was to be kidnapped in order to increase the number of the so-called “exchangeables” - hostages whom the FARC is trying to trade for imprisoned guerrillas.

Breaking apart this FARC criminal ring was important for several reasons. It foiled the FARC’s medium term plans to attack and kidnap influential people from the capital in the Girardot-Melgar-Anapoima region. It was also a death blow to the criminal ring of Patemala, who was known for bloody attacks on high-value targets using common criminals as hit men.

For example, Patemala was involved in the killings of the Turbay Cote family in Caquetá, southern Colombia. He financed the 2006 assassination of Liliana Gaviria, the sister of former President Cesar Gaviria. He also ordered several attacks on the former mayor of Neiva (capital of Huila province) and planned to blow up the house of Congressman Luis Fernando Almario.

Although the Teofilo Forero Mobil Column has been weakened in areas of the country where it carries out conventional warfare, it maintains groups – like Patemala’s – to launch terrorist attacks and assassinations against members of the establishment. These criminal plans fall within the FARC’s concept of class warfare and could have an enormous impact on the country. Although such attacks are not especially sophisticated, they create the impression that the insurgents maintain their firepower.

Up to now, the first anniversary of Sureshot’s death, which the FARC hoped to exploit as part of its resurgence, has led to a series of terrorist attacks with little real effect rather than a true military offensive. Though the police and army often succeed in disrupting these attacks, it’s no easy task. Last week, the FARC ambushed an Army patrol in Guaviare state and killed five soldiers. And without a doubt, the rebels will attack again.

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