Guerrilla Activity in Colombia

September 25, 2007

The New York Times of April 25, 1967 quoted Colombia's President Carlos Lleras Restrepo as saying the Colombian guerrillas are "not some crazy kids in the hills but instruments of a general subversive tactic supported from the cities and from abroad." The insurgents, some of whom have ties dating from "la violencia" which has claimed over 300,000 lives since it broke out on a large scale in 1948, are organized into two main groups. The National Liberation Army (ELN) operates on the Jose Antonio Galan and Camilo Torres mountain fronts in the Santander and Norte de Santander departments bordering on Venezuela in the region where the FALN has been active. According to Carlos Kassel of New York's El Tiempo (4/16/67), Venezuelan officials have confirmed the existence of an ELN-FALN pact. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) operate mainly in the areas of Caldas, Risaralda, Tolima, Valle, Cauca, Huila and Caqueta, all of which are in Colombia's mountainous southwestern region.

Guerrilla activity has increased in recent months: on February 27th, ELN forces attacked a police station in Santander; on March 3rd, FARC forces ambushed an army patrol; on March 9th the ELN ambushed 22 soldiers in Valle department; and March 28th saw 40 hours of combat between guerrillas and an army patrol which broke out when the former ambushed the army troops. The toll for these skirmishes amounts to more than 40 government troops dead and 11 wounded.

After the March 28 attack, the Army issued the following resolution: 1) Demand that the Colombian government, in collaboration with the North American Military Mission (which maintains over 30 advisers in Bogota alone) give priority to the extension of the communications network linking all police stations in the Department of Valle; 2) Establish rewards from 5,000 to 50,000 Colombian pesos for information on the whereabouts of the rebels; 3) Publish an informational bulletin to be posted in all villages advising the peasantry to collaborate with the authorities (El Tiempo of Bogota, 3/29/67). In an exclusive interview with El Tiempo of Bogota on March 29th, conducted in the battle zone of the March 28th skirmish, Colonel Ricardo Charry Sclano, Commander of the Eighth Brigade, complained about the inexplicable absence of collaboration with the army on the part of the civilian population, thereby facilitating the rebel movements.

The Colombian government has set up a counter-insurgency training camp near Mulgar,a resort area three hours outside by Colombia's President, Minister of Defense and Director of the National Police. According to the Military Attache's office at the Colombian Embassy in Washington, D.C. the United States has only supplied "some equipment," including arms, for the training center. Because of the nature of the terrain in the combat areas, General Mejia Valenzuela, Commander General of the Armed Forces, is looking into the acquisition of 12 additional helicopters.

According to Mario Menendez Rodriguez (El Espectador of Bogota, 3/27/67), author of the recent seven-part series on the Venezuelan guerrillas in Mexico's Sucesos magazine who is just back from 28 days with the Colombian guerrillas in the Department of Norte de Santander, the ELN acquires the bulk of its arms from the Colombian army. Menendez points out that the ELN forces are concerned with both agrarian and educational reform and have taught many of the peasants who have joined their ranks to read and write. Apparently not only students and peasants are involved in the resistance. A UPI release in The New York Times March 25, 1967 reported that government troops had captured 18 guerrilla leaders, "including several labor leaders of the Colombian Oil Company and officials of the Oil Workers Union."

Tags: Colombia, guerrillas, ELN, FARC

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