CONFLICT | 6/11/2010 12:00:00 AM
The uncontrollable region
War in the departments of Cauca and Nariño is still going strong. Why can’t the military forces weaken the illegal groups?
The authorities say that drug dealers already colonized part of this territory and that they are fighting for full control. According to the Integrated System of Illicit Cultivations (Simci), 33% of the 68.000 hectares planted with cocaine are located in the southwest of the country. This re-location of the drug dealing business is due to the effects of Plan Colombia and Plan Patriota, but it is also due to the closure of the Manta military base in Ecuador.
Some soldiers interviewed by SEMANA affirm that today drug dealers move in and out the border with Ecuador and navigate throughout the Pacific ocean with more freedom than before: “They edge around Galapagos island and then go to Mexico; their purpose is to evade Colombian controls”, a soldier said.
It is important to remember that 92% of the 390 tons of cocaine that are produced in Colombia are taken out of the country by sea. “Drug dealers change the transportation methods every now and then; now they do it in little boats, changing the cocaine several times in swamp-like areas”, says admiral Hernando Wills.
A United Nations report says that the illegal groups do not only move drugs through the border between Colombia and Ecuador; they also use it as a haven for guerrilla members and weapon trading. This makes the region a fertile environment for illegal groups like Farc, ELN, Águilas Negras and Rastrojos.
The difference with other regions that also have serious violence and drug dealing issues -but are less populated- is that in the southwest the illegal armed groups coexist with a strong legal economy. The area, considered 30% agricultural, is populated by little and big farmers.
This explains the number of displacements. According to a recent report (2009), 4 of the 12 departments with strong displacement are situated in the southwest of the country. “It is important to state that 56% of all the displaced people come from Nariño”, says the inform from Codhes (Consultancy about human rights and displacement).
Only this year, the indigenous community Awá—which lives in the region— has suffered six crimes and three mass disappearances. “without counting the dozen killed in 2009 and the 250 that were displaced in 2009”, remembers indigenous leader Evelis Andrade.
In the north of Cauca department, war with the Farc is on fire. This year 35 people (counting civilians and soldiers) have been killed. And in the port city of Buenaventura, located in close-by Valle del Cauca, Farc guerrillas exploded a carbomb that killed 9 and injured 56 people in March.
León Valencia, director of the Corporation Nuevo Arco Iris, which specializes in conflict studies explains “ 70 per cent of the Farc’s present-day operation is centered on the activities of militia commanders Cano and Catatumbo, and for them the consolidation of a pathway between the central cordillera and the Pacific ocean for drug transport and also as an escape route, is fundamental.”
Now, the challenge for Colombian authorities is huge. Even though Comando Conjunto Pacífico has captured almost 600 people that are allegedly connected with illegal armed groups, there is still a lot to do. This region is suffering like no other part of Colombia from the every day actions of the guerrilla, the illegal emerging armies and the drug-dealing business.