If the peace talks in Cuba collapse or hit a major obstacle, FARC leaders are likely to order an immediate spike in attacks.
BY CARLOS CAICEDO
On November 19, 2012, 'Ivan Marquez', the FARC's top negotiator at peace talks in Cuba announced a unilateral FARC ceasefire from November 20, 2012 - January 20, 2013. He promised the temporary suspension of all FARC offensive operations against security forces and sabotage against public and private infrastructure. The Colombian government will now come under international pressure to respond in kind with its own ceasefire. However, it has so far refused to do so, arguing that the FARC has previously broken such promises.
Although armed confrontations are still likely when FARC and Army units come into close proximity, the FARC is likely to reduce its pre-planned attacks on police stations in towns in provinces like Cauca, Norte de Santander and Chocó. These tend to use very inaccurate home-made mortar bombs that can cause significant collateral damage to surrounding buildings. If the peace talks in Cuba collapse or hit a major obstacle, FARC leaders are likely to order an immediate spike in attacks on oil pipelines and electricity distribution towers as a demonstration of strength.
The ELN rebel group, which numbers around 2,500 compared to the FARC's 8,000, has gained in strength in recent years through its belated entry to the drugs trade. Although its leaders have recently announced a willingness to negotiate, the government prefers not to allow the group to join the FARC in Cuba. The ELN carried out around 20 attacks on oil and power infrastructure in 2011, compared with over 100 by the FARC. The group is likely to continue such attacks in provinces like Norte de Santander, Arauca, Nariño, and Chocó.
The proposed two-month ceasefire period will act as an important indicator of the state of the FARC's internal cohesion, specifically whether regional commanders obey the top leaders' ceasefire order. Military commanders have already blamed a gun battle with soldiers in Caloto, Cauca, and the destruction of two electricity towers operated by ISA in Campamento, Antioquia, since November 20 on the FARC. A consistent and widespread failure to honor the rest of the ceasefire period would suggest that some FARC units are likely to break off and form criminal gangs dedicated to extortion and drug trafficking. This process would be accelerated if an unpopular peace deal is reached with the government before the 2014 elections.
Carlos Caicedo is head of the Latin America division at Exclusive Analysis, a UK-based global risk consultancy.