Security | 2/6/2009 12:00:00 AM
The truth about the bombings in Bogotá
A bombing in the north of Bogotá is part of an extortion arrangement between the FARC and common criminals. They have set off 30 bombs during the last year alone.
After the terrorist strike, the national government and the mayor’s office announced a package of extraordinary measure to rein in this kind of attack. The formation of special groups on behalf of all the intelligence agencies, reinforcements of police and a compensation network were some of the announcements made after the attack.
Although those measures are important, what raises questions is the delay with which these determinations were made by the mayor’s office and the Police. The warning signs began long before last week’s Blockbuster attack.
In just the last 12 months, Bogotá has suffered more than 30 terrorist attacks in different parts of the city. Romero and Mora were not the first victims of those events. In June and October last year, two others died as a result of explosions, and in the last year more than 30 people have been wounded as a result of these terrorism acts.
Just last week authorities publicly recognized the serious problem that the city is facing with a wave of extortions by the guerrillas. Although the series of attacks, one every two weeks on average, has been going on for a year, it was only last week that the mayor’s office accepted and recognized that the FARC was behind them. (see boxed text)
The attacks have not been indiscriminate, and on the contrary, the targets reveal evidence of the FARC extortionist plan. The Blockbuster chain has been a victim of three attacks. Big chain stores like Éxito and Carrefour have also been the target of explosive devices. Transport companies like Panamericana have lost six buses that were burned. Other smaller businesses, like construction companies, auto-repair shops and even a textile store and a meat market have suffered from terrorism.
Although the Police, the military and the DAS, a national security agency, among others had information proving that the terrorist attacks were the work of the FARC, the political polarization affected the issue of the city’s security and resulted in delaying consensus about what needed to be done. That is how a year passed with 30 attacks, when finally last week everyone came to an agreement about adopting corrective measures.
Everything for money
It is clear that the FARC is the main group responsible for these attacks. Some of the reasons that guerrilla factions have launched such an offensive on Bogotá have to do with seeking a way out, via extortion, to the precarious economic situation of one of the main structures of the group known as the Bloque Oriental (Eastern Block) which unites several fronts under the orders of Jorge Briceño, alias “Mono Jojoy.”
The offensive that the Army has undertaken for several years against “Jojoy’s” men the east of the country has succeeded in breaking up communication and supply lines between the block and the fronts. For more than two years, some of those fronts have not received money, among other things, sent by “Jojoy” for the operations of those armed structures. Some of the most affected are the 51st and 53rd fronts in Cundinamarca, very close to Bogotá, and the Antonio Nariño militias, that operate in Bogotá.
The attacks registered in the capital city are not a part of a guerilla strategy to show strength or a means in which they try to prove that, despite the tough blows they have received, that they are “alive” and can damage and destabilize.
Neither does it have to do with a structured plan to put the capital in check or a strategy to prove the weakness of the policy of democratic security of the Álvaro Uribe government by striking the heart of the country. Proof of that is that in the 30 attacks during the last year, 26 of the FARC’s objectives were merchants, stores or transportation companies. What the FARC is doing in Bogotá is simply using a tactic of common crime, like extortion, with the goal of seeking resources to enable it to survive. Resorting to that crime is a relatively effective strategy for the guerrilla group.
Extortion is one of the most difficult crimes to combat, and at the same time, it is one of the types of crime that requires the least amount of infrastructure. Unlike kidnapping that in the past has been one of the big sources of income for the FARC, extortion is undertaken by very few people and does not require complex planning or logistics like kidnapping.
Threatening pamphlets and intimidating calls are enough in many cases to get the extortion payment. To that add the fact that the majority of the victims do not report the cases despite that statistics show that when they do make a report, there are excellent results by the authorities. Nine out of every ten cases reported before the Gaula of the Police, an anti-kidnapping and extortion unit, end with the capture of the extortionists.
That lack of collaboration by the victims has been one of the causes that have facilitated the increase in extortion. “In the last year we have found cases in Bogotá in the big chain stores that have been victims of extortion for several months, but they only reported it when a bomb is set off because they rejected to continue to pay or because they have delayed in doing so. That attitude of hiding the problem is not unique to the big chains and that makes it difficult to find those responsible,” says a Gaula official.
SEMANA learned that at the end of 2007, following instructions by “Jojoy,” the 51st and 53rd fronts and the “Antonio Nariño” militias that operate in Bogotá were told to come up with a list in which more than 100 companies in the city to be extorted. Many of them had already been victims of small bomb attacks in the last year. To make their threatening calls and receive payments, the guerrillas have allied themselves with common delinquent gangs that specialize in extortion, with whom they share the loot.
What is important in the fight against this crime offensive, apart from the fact that the authorities are finally recognizing what is happening, is that the citizens also do their part. It isn’t about a rise in guerrilla activity in order to cause panic –although it is achieving just that – like what has happened in the past. Rather it is about a criminal phenomenon with economic goals orchestrated, in many cases, by the FARC. That’s why, apart from an effective response by security agencies, reporting by citizens is key in order to put a halt to those terrorist acts.